Mock Trial Team Builds Skills, Confidence
Mock Trial Team Builds Skills, Confidence

by Jackie Hennessey
Communications and Public Affairs Writer/Editor

The binder is well-thumbed and highlighted. Emily McGinty ’14 and Liana Teixeira ’14 have read it so many times they know each page.

It holds the pertinent documents of the criminal case that all university mock trial teams in the nation argue this year.  And every time they and their 15 UNH mock trial teammates review the pleadings, the indictment, the relevant parts of the criminal code, the summaries of court decisions, the documentary exhibits and the affidavits, they discover something new.

Earlier this semester, UNH's mock trial team competed in its first competition out of state.

“Preparing for mock trial is a huge undertaking,” McGinty said. “Charges must be understood, characters pieced together, evidence analyzed, a plan made and then the hard work starts. As college students with a full course load, we have to fit in time to write out a full trial including openings, directs examinations, cross examinations and closings for both prosecutions and defense.”

Interest in mock trial teams and competitions has grown at universities around the country and here at UNH in recent years. Four years ago, it was a challenge to fill the slots for one team; now there are two UNH squads, captained by McGinty and Teixeira.

The team was invited to participate in the Colgate Invitational in last month. The team placed well, and McGinty came away with a top witness award, earning 19 out of 20 possible points.

“We were honored to be invited, that other schools were starting to notice us,” said Teixeira. “Not only was it our first time at the Colgate Invitational, but it was also our first competition out of state.”

Queensborough Community College in New York also requested a scrimmage, which will be held in December. The team will compete at an invitational at Quinnipiac University in January and the regionals at Yale University in February.

That the team is having one of its best seasons and fielding requests for more scrimmages comes as no surprise to coach Tom Geisler, practitioner-in-residence in the legal studies program.  “They have worked extremely hard, and they work very well together,” he said. “They have great leaders who are highly motivated and organized.”

The team is coached by Geisler and Walter Bansley IV, a New Haven attorney and adjunct instructor in the legal studies program and is supported by Donna Morris, associate professor and director of the legal studies program.  “The fact that we get actual practicing attorneys to help us is a huge help,” Teixeira said. “They have years of experience with the law, and they break down what we need to look for and how to interpret the law.”

The season stretches from late August through February, and the team members dive in immediately, poring over legal documents in the case, taking on roles and encouraging each other.  It works because the team members know how to strike the right balance between team and individual work, said Teixeira. “There are days where we just sit in a classroom, discussing how we can reorganize our case theory to benefit the team,” she said. “We really build off each other.”

Geisler calls it an excellent example of experiential education and learning for the sake of learning. “They all have an interest in how the American legal system works,” he said. “The trial part of it is rather exciting and dramatic. You get to act, as an attorney or witness, and in the process learn a lot about how trials actually work.”

The experiential nature allows the team members to further develop skills they say are relevant to their future careers. McGinty, a liberal studies major, plans to pursue her MBA and hopes to run a nonprofit organization one day.

“I want to be in the public eye, advocating for change for the nonprofit organization I’m working for,” McGinty said. “I love mock trial because I get the chance to practice public speaking and also learn law hands on.” 

“I think we all like it because it’s brain exercise,” she added. “But it’s also a lot of fun."

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