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From the OJEN Blog

Building a Better Mock Trial: Don’t Forget the Debrief

In the 8 months I’ve been at OJEN, we have run a lot of mock trials.  A lot of mock trials – dozens, maybe hundreds.  They make up only about a fifth of the programs run by our college and university volunteers (the group I work with most), but that still adds up.  And those ones all have a certain shape: a team of volunteers recruits some lawyers, goes into a classroom or community organization, coaches the participants through their preparations, and then the participants hold their mock trial (sometimes in a courtroom or overseen by a judge, JP, or lawyer) as the big finale.

But now I’m rethinking this structure, which we use over and over again.  Back in December, I tagged along for the culminating event of our Charter Challenge program, where students argue an appellate-level case at the Court of Appeal for Ontario. After their mock hearing, they sit down with a few law clerks* from the Court of Appeal to receive feedback on their performance and debrief the exercise.

Watching this back-and-forth between the students and the law clerks, we immediately saw the benefits. For students, being able to talk their experience over with someone who works in the justice sector made a huge impact on their learning, far beyond the details of the case at hand.  Students talked about the challenges and frustrations involved in their roles, how their opinions of the case changed as they put their arguments together, what would happen next if the case were real, and all kinds of other things. The clerks were able to add from their experience, correct misunderstandings, and explain aspects of how the legal system works in real life which would never come up in other context.  It was, in short, amazing.  (The students thought so, too.)  And it’s got me rethinking why this follow-up chat isn’t part of every mock trial program we run.

In the next year, I’m going to challenge myself to build better mock trial programs, and it’s going to start with this: giving students the opportunity, wherever possible, to benefit from the expertise of justice sector professionals after their mock trials, to process what they have learned, as well as before.

And I challenge everyone who runs a well-established mock trial program to think through how they can build on the successes of the past and introduce new elements that will make the experience deeper and richer. We’re off to a pretty good start.

By Michelle Thompson


*Law clerks in this context are people who have finished law school and are providing judges with legal research and support in order to fulfill LSUC’s articling requirements before being called to the Bar and being licenced as lawyers.  They are different than most Law Clerks, who have totally different duties and training and usually work at law firms.


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