Seton Hall’s Mock Trial team, which enables law students to put their trial skills into practice competitively, went to nationals for the first time in 13 years on April 14 through 16.
Seton Hall Mock Trial is the No. 1 ranked New Jersey Mock Trial team and was one of 48 teams competing in the nation-wide competition held at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.
“There’s always surprise when you make it to nationals,” Dominic Pope, a senior political science major and vice president of the Mock Trial team, said. “Even teams that go pretty much every year, they are always super excited to make it out like that previous competition beforehand.”
Pope said that the team was “losing their minds” once they found out they were going to nationals.
“Crying, just tears of joy, an extremely happy night, immediate enthusiasm to get started on the next case and get ready,” he said.
Sophomore Lily Veits, captain of the A-team and holding the role of attorney, attributed the dedication of her fellow team members to their success.
“We couldn't have a functional team, let alone a nationally-qualifying team, without everyone involved being invested and ready to work and that is exactly what we saw this competitive season,” said Veits, an international relations and diplomacy major. “It feels absolutely amazing to make it to such an elite level of competition. I'm so proud of my team and all the work they've put in throughout the semester.”
Sophomore Michael Guarnieri, holding the role of witness on the team, agreed with Veits.
“We could not have made it without everyone's hard work and dedication,” said Guarnieri, a management major.
Pope said the previous three years led up to this accomplishment.
“My freshman year, we went to the opening round [of the] championship series, which is the tournament you have to do good at to make it to nationals,” Pope said. “We came one ballot short of making it. Last year, it was kind of the same story; we were just a little bit shy. Each year, it’s been closer and closer, and I feel like this year has been when we were able to make that breakthrough.”
Pope said the goal is to continue the forward momentum.
“For us, we don’t want going to nationals to be a one-time thing,” Pope said. “We really want to continue to hold that place as the top program, not only on the East Coast, but now in the nation. We want to keep on bringing great things to Seton Hall and really get Seton Hall’s name out there.”
Veits said she wants the team to do their best and enjoy themselves.
“The top 48 teams in the nation make it to nationals, and our goal is to win a few rounds to get ranked in the top 40 teams,” Veits said. “As cliche as it sounds, we want to have fun while we're there and enjoy the level of competition.”
Guarnieri summed it up. “The goal of nationals is to not get last.”
Pope shared his enthusiasm about making it to nationals. “It’s really exciting, to be honest,” he said. “At a certain point, I didn’t think it was possible.”
Pope said that winning nationals blew his mind as they are going to be one of the top 48 programs in the country. “You’re talking over 600 different programs in the whole nation, and we’re going to be in the top 48,” he said.
Veits talked about the team’s dedication.
“Every single person on this team has put a massive amount of time and effort into preparing arguments for a silly fake trial,” she said. “Our coaches consistently give up their weekends and weeknights to watch us compete and help us formulate our arguments and presentation, and my co-captain is more bought in and invested than just about anyone else.”
“We really care about Mock Trial, a little too much maybe,” he said. “We always call it, ‘Oh, they got the bug,’ for Mock Trial. It’s something that you kind of obsess over and really get into it and find something that makes you passionate during your time at Seton Hall.”
He added that getting into nationals is a group effort. “What I feel distinguishes us from other programs is that we have a really good culture,” he said.
The team doesn’t just compete, Pope said, they like to gather outside of the organization. “We hang out on the weekends that maybe we’re not competing [in],” he said “I always like hosting barbecues, inviting the team over, and always really like to have a good time.
The event was divided into four rounds with each round being a different mock trial, Pope said.
“We have one round on Friday, two rounds on Saturday and one round on Sunday,” Pope said. “Usually, each round goes about three hours, so it’s pretty intensive. Direct examinations, cross examinations, opening statements, closing statements, objections – kind of like if you were to take a big trial and squeeze it into the span of three hours. Whoever has the best records at the end of the tournament from each division, they then go head-to-head in the national championship.”
Pope said his Mock Trial experience has been one of the most beneficial experiences for him during his time at Seton Hall.
“It taught me how to step up as a leader, make sure things are getting done, accountability for myself and others and the actual process of competing at Mock Trial,” Pope said. “It’s been really beneficial in terms of public speaking and practicing those professional soft skills.”
Alyssa Carrier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.