This spring, Oklahoma Christian University’s mock trial team looks to prepare students for the professional world, while allowing them to compete against larger universities.
Junior Turner Smith said he had the idea to start a mock trial team on campus near the end of the fall semester in 2017. After seeing how many of his friends in high school were doing mock trial in college, Smith said it sounded like an incredible opportunity.
“As someone who wanted to go to law school, I couldn’t help but notice that OC didn’t have a ton of things established specifically for preparation in that field,” Smith said. “We have a couple law classes on campus, but that’s about it. I thought a mock trial team would be a great way to fill that gap for students who were thinking about law school but wanted to get a hands-on experience and see what a career in that field would actually be like.”
After introducing his idea to John Maple, the history and pre-law advisor, Maple gave Smith his support. Smith asked Brian Simmons, associate dean of the college of liberal arts, to be a faculty sponsor for the organization. Simmons then inquired about funding, looked into potential coaches and handled all administrative logistics.
“I handled recruitment and spreading the word among students,” Smith said. “I posted fliers all around campus, made announcements in Taking Sides chapel, in departmental chapels and in the student announcements email; contacted every person listed as a pre-law student at OC and just generally attempted to convince every person I thought would be a good fit for the team to give it a shot.”
The mock trial team officially started the second week of the semester, with nine people committed to the team. Smith said after the success the team has had this season, they might hold tryouts to accommodate a large number of applicants for next year.
The team currently consists of Smith, Sonia Coffin, Brighton Frost, Drew Eckhart, Zoe McDaniels, Sam Day, Luana Miranda, Abigail Kent and Elizabeth Freeman. Four of these are pre-law students, but Smith said being a pre-law major is not a prerequisite or requirement.
“The common thread among these students is they have a desire to learn to speak, debate and act better,” Smith said. “Though it doesn’t sound like it on the surface, mock trial is for every single student on OC’s campus. Any person, regardless of major, who wants to learn to effectively speak and communicate their ideas has an incredible amount to gain from being a part of this program. You’ll be pushed to learn to communicate more effectively than you ever knew you could. It’s such a unique opportunity that would help any student become a more well-rounded and successful professional.”
Though Simmons helped start the program, he now mainly works with the team in improving their communication skills, according to Smith. Stephen Eck, Oklahoma Christian’s chief legal officer, is the full-time sponsor and coach.
“Mock trial is a great tool for learning to think like a lawyer and to think on your feet,” Eck said. “It is highly competitive, fast moving and mentally exhausting. I could not be more pleased with the performance of the OC mock trial team. For our first year of competition, we are doing extremely well.”
Freshman Sonia Coffin joined the mock trial team in August after she heard about it through the Honors program and friends telling her to sign up.
“I joined the team to get experience for law school and to make new friends who are also interested in law,” Coffin said. “Although I did not do mock trial in high school, I did do speech, which very well prepared me.”
According to Coffin, the team meets for an hour and a half twice a week, but during tournament weeks they practice daily.
“Although the amount of preparation that goes into mock trial is very time consuming, the memories that come forth through mock trial make all the time spent completely worth it,” Coffin said. “I know I have a group of lifelong friends because of mock trial. Not only was I blessed with lots of fun, I also feel much more prepared to take on law school in a few years.”
This season, the mock trial team has competed in the Sooner Invitational at the University of Oklahoma and the Kangaroo Brawl Invitational in Sherman, TX. They will compete at the American Mock Trial Association’s Regional Tournament in Dallas Feb. 8-10.
“At each of these tournaments, we’ve been lucky enough to compete in real courtrooms in front of practiced attorneys, and it’s been an incredible experience,” Smith said. “We’ve fought hard against massive universities, beating some along the way and getting better with each tournament.”