University to Host 23 Teams for Regional Mock Trial Competition

UT Dallas Mock Trial team

UT Dallas mock trial head coach Michael Gunnin (left) and team members stand in front of the Supreme Court building during their visit to Washington, D.C., for the Hilltop Invitational.

More than 200 students from across the region will gather at UT Dallas Feb. 14-16 to compete in a team activity that combines public speaking, acting and law.

The University has been selected by the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) to host a regional mock trial competition for the second consecutive year.

Twenty-three teams from 15 universities will compete. AMTA's 25 regional tournaments are the first round of the association's annual national tournament structure.

The top seven teams at each regional tournament will advance to the Opening Round Championship Series in March. The National Championship Tournament will take place April 11-13 in Orlando.

“[Hosting brings] exposure for the University and visibility for our program,” said UT Dallas mock trial head coach Michael Gunnin. “The Texas regional had shuffled around to a lot of different schools, and we hope it has found a permanent home here. We have the staffing and infrastructure to do that.”

Opportunity to Simulate Trial

UT Dallas Mock Trial team

Mock trial team captain Blake Eaton (right) practices in UT Dallas' Champagne Courtroom, a replica Texas courtroom that serves as a training facility.

Now in its eighth year at UT Dallas, the extracurricular activity, hosted by the Pre-Law Advising and Resource Center (PLARC), offers students the opportunity to simulate a trial by acting as witnesses or attorneys.

The program has three full-time staff members: Dr. Anthony Champagne, director of the Pre-Law Program; Anne Dutia, associate director; and Gunnin. Graduate student Jennifer LaPrade and local attorney James Young serve as assistant coaches.

For this year’s regional tournament, the case involves a robbery at an amusement park, Gunnin said. The person who committed the robbery fled, so another person who may or may not have been a co-conspirator is on trial.

A tournament consists of four rounds, and each round has two judges. The judges score the competitors as a team, with each competitor receiving a 0-10 score for each performance. Judges also give individual recognitions.

Students Participate for Various Reasons

Although a majority of the UT Dallas team members have aspirations to join the law field, Gunnin said the students come from different backgrounds and participate for different reasons. The witness roles often appeal to theater students, he said.

Tournament Lineup

The following universities are expected to compete at the UT Dallas regional tournament Feb. 14-16:

• The University of Texas at Dallas (two teams)
• The University of Texas at Austin (two  teams)
• Southern Methodist University (two teams)
• Rhodes College (two teams)
• Collin College
• Houston Baptist University
• Tulane University (two teams)
• The University of Texas-Pan American
• Texas A&M University (two teams)
• The University of Texas at Arlington

“It doesn’t help you get into law school necessarily, because a lot of applicants have mock trial on their resumes, but what I’m hearing from the alumni is that it really helps you succeed in law school,” Gunnin said. “When they take evidence, when they take procedure, they know a lot more of the vocabulary than a lot of their law school classmates do, and there’s an added confidence that comes from participating in the program.”

LaPrade, who is earning a master’s degree in political science, was on the team last year. She said the competitions improved her confidence, as well as her public speaking and teamwork skills. She also learned more about the courtroom environment.

“[Mock trial team members] learn to think on their feet,” LaPrade said. “They learn to analyze facts and how to present the best argument. They learn a lot of things that will make them better in whatever professions they choose.”

A Strong Start

Blaire Bayliss

Blaire Bayliss holds the first place witness award she received at the Guardian Invitational.

UT Dallas began the 2013-14 season by sending two mock trial teams to compete in three invitational tournaments last semester. At the Arch Invitational, hosted by Washington University in mid-October, sophomore Jaslin Hughes was recognized in the witness category. The teams also competed at the Guardian Invitational, hosted by the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in late October, and the Green and Gold Invitational, hosted by Baylor University in November.

The Guardian Invitational brought a milestone for UT Dallas. One team went 6-1-1 to take the championship, while the other went 6-2 for second place. UT Dallas also won two individual awards while in New London, Conn. Freshman Blaire Bayliss was recognized in the witness category and sophomore Alexandra Noll was recognized in the attorney category.

Gunnin said the wins were unprecedented; UT Dallas had never won a full-sized tournament before the October event.

The Hilltop Invitational, hosted in January by Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., was the team’s only spring tournament before regionals.

In four of the past five years, a UT Dallas team has advanced from the regional competition to the Opening Round Championship Series, Gunnin said.

“I think we’re really strong this year; we’re just stronger across the board,” he said. “I’m looking forward to showing what we can do at the regional tournament.”

UT Dallas is the only university in the state to field teams in all three major undergraduate legal advocacy competitions: mock trial, moot court and mediation. For more information, visit the Pre-Law Advocacy Teams website or email Gunnin at [email protected].

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].