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Learning Litigation

In preparation for a legal showdown at Maine West’s home Mock Trial tournament tomorrow, the team has analyzed the facts, plotted strategies, and transformed from a group of high school students into a legal team of lawyers and witnesses.  

This year, Mock Trial Team takes up a case about a hazing incident at a college, in which someone dies during an initiation game. Despite the cases being hypothetical, the laws being violated are genuine.  

Having the opportunity to bring their case to lo cal courthouse competitions, the team has already seen a great deal of success. Junior Matthew Montanile received an award for outstanding witness performance at the DuPage County Mock Trial Invitational on Feb. 4. The team also competed in the Lake County Mock Trial Invitational on Feb. 25 where juniors Tom Scheck, Caty Buchaniec and Matthew Montanile received awards for outstanding performance.  

When facing down the opponent, “there’s an inherent competitive spirit. But unlike a sport, you can’t force your way through it,” senior Lucia Garrett said. “Mock Trial is a battle of words and wit.”  

The team will also be hosting their first home Mock Trial competition tomorrow. Schools from all over the Chicago area will be participating in the tournament including Maine South, Niles West, Highland Park, Evanston and Whitney Young. Essentially, the trial is like a real criminal or civil court case.  

While the details are theoretical, the procedures are the same: competitors prepare opening and closing statements, questions for the witness, and arguments to counter the other side based on the out lined facts. “Whenever you start a case, it’s a learning experience. You have to constantly go back and rework the case over and over again,” coach Richard Rosenberg said. “Through that process, you get better. You put in the work and effort, and you reap the results.”  

Students must analyze the information given to them and utilize it to craft their claim and support it with evidence. Most of the cases are used in law schools to teach practicing lawyers.“I really think it’s all about continuously learning and upping our game,” Rosenberg said.  

Understanding the case as a whole and devising an argument is only half way to victory. The students must be prepared to defend their stance during heated debates with the other team. “You can’t just ask your witness a question and stand there as if it was over,” junior Norris Tran said. “You have to be able to respond to objections but also learn how to make objections.”  

Mock Trial is a great opportunity not only to become familiar with the legal system, but also to gain valuable character, communication, and advocacy skills. “Mock Trial presents an interesting balance of logical thinking, leadership, improvisational acting, and the ability to think quickly on your feet,” Garrett said. “It’s a nice intersection for flexing your skills in all of those areas.”  

Although Mock Trial they aren’t battling on a field or court, the sense of teamwork, commitment, and competitiveness are all embedded within the group. “Honestly, it works like a football team; no one is on their own,” Tran said. “Even if a lawyer is in the process of asking questions, they are allowed to have a moment with their team and wrap up any loose ends.”



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