UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Penn State Law 1L Mock Trial is a tradition that students look forward to annually. This year, though, the event, which is entirely student run by a committee of the Student Bar Association, looked a little different.
Shushan Sadjadi, a third-year student, participated in the competition in her first year of law school. She recognized then the impact and value it brought to students, but also noticed areas that could be improved upon for the future. As this year’s mock trial committee chair, she led the effort to implement many of those changes, along with committee members Bob Gross, Mackenzie Koppenhofer, Will Sandman, and Ellie Vanier. Notable updates to the competition included a new competition structure, three scoring judges rather than one, and increased coaching and lessons on advocacy basics, bringing a fresh look to the competition.
The 2018 1L Mock Trial, held in March, included 59 first-year student competitors in 1- or 2-person teams. Teams utilized whatever resources they could to teach themselves the basics of trial advocacy, as most first-year law students have not yet had an opportunity to take courses in advocacy. The second- and third-year students on the mock trial committee acted as coaches to the teams, and many looked to professors outside of class for guidance.
This year’s winning team, Kathryn Dutton and Amber Bynum, drew on the experience and knowledge of their coaches to prepare. They also worked closely with many Penn State Law professors, going so far as to FaceTime a few of them throughout the process.
“I was told by a current student at my Admitted Students Day to do the 1L Mock Trial,” said Dutton. “It was a great opportunity to get courtroom experience that I didn’t have to try out for and I wasn’t graded on. It allowed me to fully take advantage of the experience and learn as much as possible.
“Throughout the process of the mock trial, you learn the mechanics of a trial, how to think on your feet, and how to speak confidently and make your arguments without reading from a paper. It was a little scary at first, but it was definitely a great experience.”
Much of the value that the competitors took away from the weekend was by design.
“We incorporated many things that we felt were important to know before you leave your first year of law school, like the basics of courtroom etiquette, that a law class doesn’t necessarily cover,” said Sadjadi.
And while the event was indeed a competition—the winners took home a trophy, after all—the overall theme of the mock trial was one of camaraderie and learning.
“Everyone helped each other out and wanted to see that the other teams learned from their mistakes after each round, even though we were all competitive,” said Bynum.
“That really speaks to the Penn State Law culture,” said Sadjadi. “The rest of the committee and I were so impressed by the 1L class.”
Dutton and Bynum are already planning to help with next year’s event, and recommend anyone that is interested get involved.