Now in its 10th year, the LitiGators, UF’s Mock Trial team, is having its best year yet. In only its second trip to nationals, the LitiGators placed 8th out of the 48 top teams at the American Mock Trial Association tournament in Los Angeles in April. The team’s coach, Associate Professor of Political Science Laura Sjoberg, says this young team has done impressively well. “The students are incredibly dedicated," she says. “They spend 20 hours a week preparing."
Each year, the students work with 200 pages of the same case material. This year’s mock topic is an online dating attempted murder. Team members play both attorneys and witnesses. “The witness will have an affidavit but no specifics, so the students get to create the characters,” says Sjoberg. “The character can play up or down the flaws in the affidavit and mold the character. It's like Dungeons and Dragons for the courtroom."
Matthew Solomon is a senior who is applying to law school and plans to become a lawyer. “Being a member of the UF Mock Trial team has prepared me more than I could ever properly explain. This organization teaches you fundamental lawyering skills: how to think abstractly and analytically about problems, how to write and speak with purpose and brevity, and how to ‘think like a lawyer.’ Being able to analyze evidence and possessing an advanced understanding of the intricacies of trial advocacy allow former mock trial competitors to excel in law school and beyond,” he says. “Members of the Mock Trial attend some of the most prestigious law schools in America, and become members of legal journals, law school trial teams, and law school moot court teams.”
Brian Kitchen, a 2015 graduate who double-majored in history and philosophy, can attest to this. Kitchen is now a second-year law student at Harvard. “Aside from GPA and LSAT, Mock Trial is one of the biggest predictors of law school admittance,” he says. “It gives you an easy way to demonstrate genuine interest and to pivot back to a selling point on your résumé. It came up in every interview that I did, and I’d say it was a major selling point for me. So, from just a logistics standpoint, it’s very advantageous. About an eighth of my class at Harvard has some Mock Trial experience.”
Kitchen says that he was actually terrified of public speaking before pursuing mock trial. “I distinctly remember that my hands were shaking at my tryout. Mock Trial helped me get over that and it’s a skill I use all the time,” he says. “Mock Trial is a community, which seems like a trite thing to say, but it’s true. Because people who do mock trial typically go on to law school, and the contacts you make in the program can be very valuable. I was recently in DC and ran into an old rival. We got to talking about Mock Trial. He’s at a major firm in DC known for its trial practice. Other people I met through the team are at some of the largest firms in New York. A close friend is with the Manhattan DA. Mock trial is fun, but it’s also a huge tool for professional connections.”
Katie Iley is a junior and the membership coordinator for the team that she’s been a part of for all of her three years at UF. When she first tried out as a freshman, she was intimidated. “Mock Trial is competitive, and the demonstrations I watched mimicked real court trials.” Each year, more than 300 students try out for the team. While Iley does not plan to pursue a law degree, her future endeavors were shaped by her Mock Trial experience.
“Being a part of the Mock Trial Team has shaped my interests in ways I did not expect. I did not know I had a passion for law and the legal system until I became a LitiGator, and through my experiences on the team, I have discovered that my passion will endure throughout my eventual professional career,” says Iley. “Though law school is not in the cards for me, I plan on going after a career in the legal field to a degree. My goal is to obtain a PhD in legal psychology and go on to hopefully help reform our justice system.”
Mock Trial also is useful for those interested in careers that involve teamwork, public speaking, acting, or analysis. Sjoberg points out that she’s had computer science, mathematics, urban planning, and electrical engineering majors join the team to improve their communications skills. She says, “I am always impressed by the way all of the students handle themselves.”