Close to 1,000 students at 115 schools are preparing to make their case in the MBA's 21st Annual Statewide Mock Trial Program, with competition beginning in January and continuing through the finals on March 29.
"Teams are beginning their preparation right now," said MBA Community Services Administrator Seth Boyd.
Open to all public and private high school students in Massachusetts, the Mock Trial Program promotes the development of fundamental knowledge, sound judgment and critical thinking skills. In Mock Trial, students are placed in a simulated courtroom situation where they assume the roles of lawyers and witnesses in a hypothetical case.
Boston's Brown Rudnick Berlack Israels LLP is sponsoring the event for the eighth year, through its Brown Rudnick Center for Public Interest, with a $25,000 donation.
Schools participate in three preliminary trials in January and February. The winner of each of 16 regions then proceeds to the advanced rounds of the tournament. In all, 54 venues across the state hosted trials, including courthouses, town halls, public libraries and law schools. Last year, the finals were held in the Great Hall at Faneuil Hall in Boston.
Teacher orientation programs were held recently in which this year's case was presented: A product liability civil case involving a portable global positioning system (GPS) device that may or may not have been responsible for a car accident. The Mock Trial committee has developed the case since August.
"We've tended to rotate between civil and criminal cases," Boyd said. "The goal is to provide the students with a learning experience every year and expose them to different areas of the law and show them the various ways they might fit into the law profession."
Each team of at least six students argues the case as both the plaintiff and defendant. While there is no limit to how many students may be on any team, no more than nine students can participate in any one trial.
"In the preliminary rounds, they know going in which side they'll play," Boyd said. "We make sure they play each side of the case at least once in the preliminary round. In the advanced rounds, the sides are determined by a coin toss."
With initial preparation underway, attorney volunteers are needed now to both judge trials and coach teams.
"We try to have an attorney coach for every school. We do have some need for attorney coaches," Boyd said. "They'll work with the teacher coach and the students to learn about the law related to the case, courtroom etiquette and possible legal strategies for the competition."
Last year, 109 attorneys participated in the program, and Boyd is hoping for a similar response this year.
"We are actively seeking volunteers to serve as attorney coaches in the program. At the moment, we have about 15 schools in need of attorney coaches across the state. We are also seeking attorneys to volunteer to judge trials across the state," Boyd said. "Feedback from the attorneys who've been involved as judges or coaches has been overwhelmingly positive, and we encourage as many members as possible to get involved in the program."
For more information on volunteering, send e-mail to [e-mail mocktrial] or call (617) 338-0570.