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Mock trial club sends teams to nationals

Irena Zajickova | Monday, March 30, 2009

Mock trial is one of the more time-consuming activities available at the University, according to Bill Dwyer, the coach of Notre Dame’s mock trial team.

“You know the TCEs they pass out to students?” Dwyer asked. “This class is in the top 1 percent of all classes in terms of time spent working for it.”

Mock trial is not only a club but also a credited course. It meets every Thursday night for two hours, and students practice on their own in order to fully grasp the skills taught in class.

Ryan O’Connor, a senior political science major, said preparation gets more intense when the spring semester arrives.

“Fall semester, I practice about four hours a week,” he said. “But in the spring when we have most of our competitions, it can be eight or 10 hours a week.”

A mock trial competition consists of four rounds. Two rounds are spent presenting the case from the plaintiff’s side, and two are spent arguing for the defense, according to O’Connor, who has been accepted into Georgetown University’s law school.

This year, Notre Dame sent four teams to regional contests. Three teams qualified to advance to the Opening Round National Competition, which took place last weekend in Hamilton, Ohio.

Four Notre Dame students won individual awards at the Opening Round competition. Mary Margaret Skelly won an Outstanding Attorney award, while O’Connor, Cameron Shane and Katie Matic won awards for Outstanding Witness.

Allison Ciesielski, the team’s current president, said she considers the time commitment one of the most challenging aspects of participating in mock trial.

“It’s a lot of travel on the weekends and a lot of individual practice time,” she said. “The difficult part is becoming proficient at it and finding the appropriate amount of time to devote to it.”

Matic, who was elected team president for the 2009-2010 academic year, said the Mock Trial fosters skills that are helpful in later life.

“We don’t only learn about the law and how to speak in front of people,” said Matic, who wishes to study corporate law after graduating from Notre Dame. “We also learn how to think on our feet and make spur-of-the-moment arguments in a convincing manner.”

Notre Dame’s mock trial team consists of 32 students, 16 of whom participated in the Opening Round National Competition. Many of the students wish to attend law school after they graduate from Notre Dame, but some members simply consider the mock trial team to be an important part of their extracurricular life.

“Most of them have a serious interest in law school,” Dwyer said. “But some of them do not. We have a few pre-med and engineering majors.”

Dwyer, who lives and practices law in Chicago, said mock trial is very challenging and that the students are often not recognized for their efforts.

“It’s kind of an underappreciated activity,” Dwyer said. “These students spend an enormous amount of time on it and they’re very good at it.”