The Texas Tech School of Law’s mock trial team is preparing for a win at the Texas Young Lawyers Association National Trial Competition, beginning Thursday in Dallas.
Tech’s mock trial team is composed of six students: DaNae Couch, Stephen Higdon, Larrisha Jackson, Philip McLemore, John Muniz and Brian Sullivan.
Rickie Cayton, an assistant district attorney for Lubbock County, and Frank Sellers, a criminal defense attorney, coach the team as the members participate in an imitation trial with realistic components.
“Mock trial is a fake trial,” said Couch, a second-year law student from Coppell. “As advocates for this, we represent either the plaintiff — the person bringing the suit — or the defendant — the one who’s defending against the suit. We do opening statements, call witnesses, do cross examinations and closing arguments. It’s the entire trial process as you would see it in an actual courthouse.”
The students use the same procedures and follow the same rules as in a real trial, said Sullivan, a second-year law student from Austin, which helps in preparing for a career of law.
“Everything that we do in this activity is real in the sense that we use the same rules of the court,” he said. “Any objections made or any discussions lawyers have with the judge during the trial is meant to reflect live situations. The parties aren’t real, but the issues are real, and the way we conduct the trial is completely the same.”
Fake names and fake places are used to plot the trial, Couch said, and sometimes reflects the humorous side of the hearing.
“The case for (this) competition is in the state called Lonestar (instead of) Texas and the city of Armadillo instead of Amarillo,” she said.
Sullivan said the competition the team is preparing for is based on a civil trial, where the argument is typically money or damages.
“This case in Dallas is a civil trial where we’re arguing liability,” he said. “We’ll argue who is held liable and who has to pay money.”
The team has been practicing four times a week since the beginning of the year, Sullivan said.
“We came back to school about two weeks before classes started to meet as a group,” he said. “We have two teams that compete separately, but we prepare together. It’s helpful having two teams, because we can practice against each other.”
Mock trial gives law students an opportunity to work with professionals who volunteer their time to coach, Higdon said.
“This team is a chance to learn from experienced attorneys, who have tried many cases in front of juries,” he said. “The practical, hands-on education we get is something that is not typical in law school, so it’s an invaluable learning experience for us.”
Schools from both Texas and Louisiana will be involved in the regional competition in Dallas, said McLemore, a third-year law student from San Antonio.
Higdon, a second-year law student from Kingwood, said the top two teams from each region advance to nationals.
“Last year, Tech law won in our region to qualify, so we’re hoping to repeat that performance,” he said.
Tech has only won the national competition once, in 1982, Sullivan said.
To be on the team has been a good learning experience, especially while studying law, Couch said.
“The upcoming competition is incredibly prestigious,” she said. “To be able to have this opportunity in the mock trial competition is a huge honor. To be on this team is a huge honor.”