For 21 years, Patsy Brock has been instructing groups of Middle School Project Explore students in the research, writing, speaking, listening, poise and presence skills required for participation in mock trial, a simulated trial-level proceeding conducted by students to understand trial rules and processes.
To help prepare students for this activity, teachers call upon lawyers, judges, law students and other legal professionals to work with participants on the various aspects of preparing a case and conducting a trial.
Brock had 10 students in the group this fall; the attorney who has assisted them the past four years is Lynn Wiese of Iowa Falls.
Now in its 30th year, the Iowa Middle School Mock Trial Program is the largest in the nation. Each fall, students in grades six – eight are presented with a challenging legal problem and set out to prepare and present both sides of the case to a panel of volunteer lawyers and judges.
The Webster City Middle School Team attended regional competition Nov. 7 at NIACC in Mason City.
“The students receive both individual and team scores, based on their performance, not on the merits of the law,” Brock explains. Students also receive written feedback from the judges.
She says the cases vary every year; either a criminal or civil case. Every school group in the state gets the same case, and the kids break into prosecution and defense teams, attorneys and witnesses to prepare and present each side.
“The kids think it’s hard, but when they break it down piece by piece, they get a sense of accomplishment,” Brock says.
The case’s topic explores and teaches lessons about a societal issue. The theme of this year’s case was about the impact of media and how it has contributed to fear desensitization in society.
“I liked the challenge of the cross-examination,” says team member Grace Hoffman.
“I liked getting to argue,” says Elycia Obrecht.
Haley Johnson says her favorite part of Mock Trial was “… playing the role of the doctor.”
The teacher also gains knowledge through the experience. While the mock trial students learn about the law, legal system and courtroom etiquette, “I’ve learned along the way, too,” says Brock.