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Oct. 2, 2014
By Alexandra Mortallaro, media relations assistant
The Northwest Missouri State University mock trial team will host its fifth annual Bearcat Invitational Mock Trial Tournament Friday, Oct. 3, and Saturday, Oct. 4, in the J.W. Jones Student Union.
With 21 competing teams from universities in Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Texas, the tournament has doubled in size since the inaugural tournament. This year’s participating schools include Northwest, Drake University, Creighton University, University of South Dakota, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Washburn University, Southern Methodist University, University of Central Missouri, Saint Louis University, Columbia College, Missouri Southern State University and Hamline University.
“We think we have one of the best-run tournaments in the region and the fact that we have this team and host the tournament really puts us on the map,” said Daniel Smith, assistant professor of political science, pre-law advisor and mock trial coach.
Much of the tournament’s success, Smith says, is due to the team’s tournament director, Ashley Phelps, a senior marketing and management major.
“This is Ashley’s fourth year running our tournament and she’s done a tremendous job,” Smith said. “She’s even been recruited by other schools to help run their tournaments.”
The tournament is coordinated entirely by mock trial student members, advisors and volunteers. It consists of four rounds judged by volunteer attorneys and local judges as well as Northwest alumni from the region who are lawyers, judges, law students and former mock trial participants.
“Students learn how to perform in a courtroom and argue evidence, and they receive feedback from different judges, students in law school and practicing attorneys,” Smith said.
Former Northwest mock trial participant Ryan Williams, who completed his bachelor’s degree in political science at Northwest in 2013 and is in his second year of law school at Washburn University, attributes much of his success in the law field to mock trial.
“The terms used in mock trial carried over well to law school,” Williams said. “I can't count how many times we were beginning to learn a new topic in which the professor would explain something that I had already learned in mock trial. I feel like I have to learn less than many other students and ultimately cram less around finals because I already came in with such a vast knowledge of the area from mock trial.”
Northwest’s mock trial team competes in regional and national competitions sponsored by the American Mock Trial Association. Students prepare cases and play the roles of attorneys and witnesses during simulated trials before professional judges and attorneys. Mock trial gives undergraduate students an opportunity to learn firsthand about the judicial process and the work of trial attorneys, as well as honing communications skills.
“All of our team members benefit from learning the legal system, trial process, speaking skills and thinking on their feet,” Smith said. “Those students going to law school have directly benefitted, some even getting accepted to law schools or receiving scholarships due to mock trial success.”
Williams earned a scholarship for his law school because of his mock trial experience.
“Law schools are really looking for people with mock trial experience and often offer substantial scholarships to students that have competed,” Williams said.
The Bearcat Tournament concludes with a presentation of awards to the first, second and third place teams and the top outstanding witnesses and attorneys. The Bree Berner Civility Award is the final award given and is named after Bree Berner, who earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Northwest in 2011 and completed her law degree from University of Missouri-Kansas City this year. Berner organized the first Bearcat Invitational, and the award is given to the team that participates in the tournament with remarkable sportsmanship, as recognized by other participating teams.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468