Mock Trial aims high

The W&L club hopes to qualify for the national championship for the first time since 2017

Luke Fountain

Washington and Lee’s Mock Trial Club is hoping to qualify for the national championship for the first time since 2017 as they return to in-person competitions this fall.

Last year, competitions were completely virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic. But this year is different. 

Both groups of students on the university mock trial team, the white team and the blue team, have been able to travel up and down the east coast to compete in two-day competitions against other universities.

On the weekend of Oct. 16, both mock trial teams competed at their first trial of the year.

The white team placed fourth out of 22 teamsat the Happy Valley Invitational at Penn State University, outperforming Yale, who is ranked second in the nation. They also took home three individual awards.

New member Catherine McCurdy, ’24, said that she was not expecting an award.

“I have never done Mock Trial before, ever, and I feel leagues behind in experience compared to everyone on the team. I try my best, but I definitely fumble,” McCurdy said. “It felt great to know that I was doing something right, and that I can add to the team.”

The blue weam placed fifth out of 22 teams at the Charm City Classic hosted by defending national champions the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. The next weekend, both teams competed again, earning honorable mentions and individual awards.

Member Victoria Mittner, ’25, said she is most excited to have in-person trials again and be able to bond with the team. Competing comes with many benefits, she said.

“Students learn how to convince members of their community on important issues, speak publicly and think analytically,” Mittner said.

The university’s mock trial team has competed at the national championships six times since 2006 and won five all-American awards, according to the team’s website.

But this success does not come without hard work. According to Mittner, students can practice for up to nine hours a week, prepping and discussing the case.

“What makes a trial a success is being able to both perform well but also knowing rules and procedures,” Mittner said. “If we can do well, and present our case successfully, then we get a good score overall— and a little recognition never hurts.”

But Washington and Lee has not qualified  for nationals since 2017, which weighs on the minds of current team members.

Mock trial president Alex Wilkerson, ’22, is hopeful about prospects for qualifying this year.

“We got agonizingly close last year, and I’m confident that we have the talent to be successful this year,” Wilkerson said.

Each year, the American Mock Trial Association creates a fictional case for mock trial students to focus on for the year.

This year’s case stars the defendant Dakota Sutcliffe, a firefighter on trial for aggravated arson. He is accused of burning down his own bar to receive an insurance payout that would cover his debts. In the process, firefighter Jaylen Williams tragically lost his life.

Washington and Lee’s teams will first have to place in the top four teams out of 32 total at regionals in early April in order to qualify for the national championship. It will be conducted on Zoom from April 16-18.

The team is heading into a long year of competitions with a positive mindset. McCurdy said that the hard work is worth the process along the way — and the potential end result.

“I enjoy everyone on the team, and I do want to do well for everyone,” she said. “Mock trial, while difficult and detail oriented, is extremely fun, and I love being able to compete and hopefully qualify for nationals this spring.”