Over the months of April and May, hundreds of high school students throughout the province gained a new understanding of the legal profession as they tried their hand at arguing a mock trial in courtrooms throughout Ontario. After weeks of coaching sessions with lawyer volunteers, hours of legal research and after-school huddles with their team members, the students’ efforts culminated in hard-fought courtroom showdowns with peers from neighbouring schools.
The fourth year of the OBA/OJEN Competitive Mock Trial Tournament (OOCMT) wrapped up with 17 regional trophies handed out. 175 schools sent teams, nearly double the number from the first year of the competition. Approximately 1600 students in every region of the province participated, making 2018 the largest and most successful tournament since it was launched.
Directed from OJEN’s provincial office, the OOCMT is facilitated by local committees that coordinate the activity in their own communities. As interest in the competition grows, new committees are being formed to accommodate the increased demand from schools. Currently, 14 local committees throughout Ontario are involved in coordinating tournaments. Developing more local committees is a goal for OJEN in the future.
New to the competition this year, Strathroy District Collegiate Institute exemplifies the significance of this program for student participants. Law teacher, Jason Hatch, says that it was his students who drove the decision to enter the competition. Responding to their enthusiasm, he offered an extra-curricular mock trial activity a couple of times a week. Ten students signed up. With the help of a John Graham, a retired lawyer from London who came every Tuesday, the students learned about the process of preparing a case for trial.
“John was fantastic,” Jason states. “He answered all their questions and took the time to tell them what it was like to be a lawyer.”
Several of his students were interested in careers in the justice sector so the career aspect of the activity was very meaningful for them. It was an opportunity for a career “test drive” to get some insight into what life as a lawyer or law clerk would actually be like.
Mock trial team member, Kevin Linker, is one such student. “I think the mock trial is a really good experience for people who might want to have a future in law, but want to get that hands-on experience before they decide to go to school to study law. I think overall, the mock trial can be compared to an actual trial because of the amount of preparation you put into it, it seems like a real trial.”
His team mate, Emma Timm agrees. “As someone who is highly interested in the law with a dream of becoming a lawyer, the mock trial team was an amazing experience. I was able to learn about several different aspects of a trial and collaborate with my peers, teacher supervisor, and lawyer coach to build up our case and ultimately come out victorious.”
But the effort they put into preparing for the mock trial gave them much more than career modeling, Jason says. “They developed research skills, learned how to approach critical analysis, how to make an argument and defend it… It was a lot of work, a lot of effort, but I saw them get more confident as they went along.”
Emma says, “I believe that this opportunity could be beneficial for many students as it teaches you not only how to properly present yourself and your ideas in court, but allows you to build upon your confidence and your ability to work with others. It was an opportunity to become comfortable in an intimidating setting.”
On the day of the tournament, the Strathroy team was so excited they were practically bouncing off the walls, Jason recalls. They really enjoyed being at the courthouse and soaking up the experience.
“From the preparation to the trial at the courthouse, I loved every second of it,” says Emma. “I was grateful to the lawyers that volunteered their time to judge the trial, give us constructive feedback, and answer any questions that we had.”
“The competition itself was really well run,” adds Kevin. “Having the judges who were there not only to score, but to give feedback was a big help because they let you know what you can work on.”
And their hard work was rewarded. They became the winners of the second annual Central Southwestern Ontario Mock Trial Tournament.
“Of course they were thrilled,” Jason says. “The trophy was tangible evidence of their success. But in a way the trophy was ancillary. They were happy just being there.”
“Overall, the mock trial was an absolutely amazing opportunity that I would participate again in a heartbeat,” says Emma. “The Mock Trial Team is one of my favourite memories of high school.”
Enormous thanks to all the volunteers who put so much effort into organizing tournaments, coaching mock trial teams, judging competitions and taking care of the hundreds of details involved in coordinating such a massive endeavour. Enjoy the summer. We’ll see you all again same time next year!