Suggestions for Teacher Coaches

This outline will provide you with some suggested guidelines for use in helping your student team prepare for the mock trial experience.

SUGGESTED PREPARATION TIME: 5-8 weeks of meeting several times/week.

Find an attorney coach to work with your team:
1. While the Massachusetts Bar Association is available to help locate an attorney to coach a team entered in the competition, you, as a local teacher, are often the best judge of a suitable person to assist your team. Possible sources include: parents or relatives of students, alumni, acquaintances, local law firms, county attorney's office, school board members or local judges. (If you are unable to find an attorney to work with your team, contact the Mock Trial Program office at the MBA.)
2. Since attorneys have time limitations, they should be used as consultants when their expertise is needed but do not need to be present at all team activities or practices. As a consultant, the attorneys should advise students, but should not author any portion of the team's trial materials.
3. Contact your attorney coach as soon as possible to:

  • Invite him/her to attend the teacher's orientation in your area.
  • Provide him/her with a copy of the mock trial materials so he/she can become familiar with the case problem and rules of competition, evidence and procedure.
  • Discuss meeting times and places with students.
  • Discuss the case and the attorney's suggestions regarding strategy and arguments for both sides.

Before meeting with your attorney coach:
1. Have the students learn the statement of facts and witness affidavits as thoroughly as possible. You might try having the students quiz each other - one student looks at the facts and affidavits and asks the other student(s) questions; then reverse roles.
2. Try brainstorming with your students to elicit factual arguments for both the plaintiff/prosecution and the defense; i.e., which facts support the plaintiff's/prosecution's case and which facts support the defendant's case?
3. Have students try to string facts together to make a logical assumption about the case.
4. Have students read through the procedures for trial of civil/criminal cases, the simplified rules of evidence, and the mock trial rules. Discuss with your students and be sure to write down any questions they have for your attorney coach.
5. Conduct lessons designed to familiarize students with the court system and civil or criminal procedure. It will help your team if they observe a real trial before the mock trial. Contact the clerk of the district court in your county to find out when a trial is scheduled at the courthouse. The public is invited to attend these trials.

With your attorney coach, work on:
1. Knowledge of the facts, procedures, and mock trial rules.
2. Establishing a case strategy and develop a theme for the case. The entire team should work together on this process. You should be sure that the attorney understands that his/her role is to serve as a consultant to the students, not as a director or decision-maker for the team. The team members must be the ones who develop their own strategy for presenting the case.

The following are some points to consider when developing your team strategy:
1. Identify strengths of your case. These are the points and issues you will want to develop.
2. Identify critical weaknesses of your side and prepare a counter-argument for them.
3. Be sure all of your strategies are integrated into a theme that runs through the case. You should work as a team during the course of the trial. You must always know where you are headed.
4. Brainstorm to identify possible holes in your strategy so that there are no surprises. You must be prepared to cope with the unexpected.
5. Identify a key witness that you will want to exploit during cross-examination.
6. Realize that you don't necessarily need to use all of your allotted time if your strategy has been achieved.
7. While it is not necessary for mock trial purposes, you may wish to research cases cited as references in order to better understand the trial.
8. Other considerations:

  • Which order to call witnesses
  • Physical position in the courtroom
  • How to use time wisely
  • How to handle surprises

9. How to present the opening statement and closing argument, and what information each should contain. (Again, remember that the coaches may give the students ideas, but should not write the statements for them.)
10. Questions to ask on direct and cross-examination of all plaintiff/prosecution and defense witnesses.
11. How to present a closing argument and what it should contain.
12. How to avoid asking objectionable questions and what to do if one of your questions is objected to.
13. How and when to object to the opposition's questions.
14. How to introduce exhibits and offer them into evidence.
15. Understanding and practicing courtroom decorum and good sporting behavior.

Before your first scheduled trial in the mock trial competition:
1. Practice the trial in full, including direct and cross-examinations, in front of your attorney coach or another local attorney or judge who is willing to sit in and offer suggestions.
2. Set up an invitational round (scrimmage) with another school, to give teams the full flavor of participating in a mock trial. Arrange for a local attorney or judge to preside, and conduct the trial in a courtroom setting, if possible.
3. Observe a real trial in county or district court.

Consider asking a speech or drama teacher to observe your team in action and offer suggestions for improving the students' presentations.