Mockers Celebrate 10 Years of Practice

On the fourth floor of Reneau Hall, you will find Mockers. These students receive class credit each fall and spring semester as they prepare for simulated trial competitions. Anyone can be a mocker, regardless of major.

Formally known as The W Mock Trial Team and housed in the Department of Legal Studies in the College of Business and Professional Studies, the team has been an institutional member of the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) since 2013.

Each year, in August, the AMTA releases case materials that provide students with legal documents, witness materials, rules and forms needed for the annual trial competition. The type of cases alternate each year between civil and criminal, giving students the chance to experience a different case the next year. The students utilize class time and outside practice time to prepare their case theories, prep witnesses and gear up for competition.

Students must prepare to play both sides: prosecution/plaintiff and defense. During the AMTA Regional

Competition, students compete in four rounds of trials, playing each side twice. Traditional competition occurs in a face-to-face format with students traveling to a variety of scrimmages and invitationals before the regional competition for additional practice. Despite the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team adapted and continued to compete through a digital format via Zoom.

Mock Trail

Legal Studies Professor Ashley Chisolm said, “It’s been an amazing opportunity working with phenomenal students across disciplines. Mock Trial is a unique course where students are gaining such practical experience. These students have extra meetings outside of class, weekends spent away at competitions and have to learn to work as a cohesive unit.”

Though the primary focus for the team is preparation for competition, The W’s Mock Trial Team has been fortunate to have additional opportunities along the way. Outside of the traditional classroom setting, Mockers have dined with three-judge panels from the Mississippi Court of Appeals, attended the Lowndes County Bar Association Lunch and Learn featuring Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Kenny Griffis and presented medical malpractice condensed cases before nursing students on campus. Additionally, students also were invited to dinner with Federal Judge Carlton Reeves, Southern District of Mississippi.

“The skills students acquire in mock trial are transferable regardless of major,” Chisolm said. “When I see students have that ‘lightbulb’ moment over Rules of Evidence for an objection battle, connecting with a case theory or seeing a student take on challenges and seeing significant personal growth throughout the year, that’s what makes everything we do worthwhile.”

Over the last decade, multiple student competitors from The W’s Mock Trial have been recognized at competitions for their performances as witnesses and attorneys. Most recently, at the 2021-2022 Regional Competition, The W had two students recognized for Best Performances. William Balestrino, a former legal studies major and now a 1L at the University of Arkansas School of Law, received a Best Attorney Award.

Christopher Marshall, a former psychology major, received a Best Witness Award having gained a perfect score from judges. Other alumni have been recognized at regional competitions. Bryn Bailey, a former legal studies student and now Assistant District Attorney in Detroit, Michigan, was recognized as a Best Attorney. Yvonna Herron, a former legal studies student was recognized as a Best Witness.

In 2021, the idea of establishing legal clinics within paralegal programs was researched. Traditionally, law clinics are established in and affiliated with law schools for law students to gain practical legal experience. However, an increasing number of undergraduate paralegal programs have implemented a clinical experience for students under the supervision of licensed practicing attorneys. Through this experience, students learn about professional responsibility while offering essential legal services to under served community members.

“Our community has an unmet need for legal aid,” said Wesley Garrett, professor and director of legal studies and author of law clinic proposal. “Cases are turned down every day because of lack of resources. This clinic is an opportunity for the Legal Studies Department to support the local community and provide students with real-life experience serving as the paralegals on the cases.”

Wesley Garrett and Ashley Chisolm

The proposed clinical experience will offer students three credit hours as their required paralegal internship course and will feature practice and classroom components. Students will prepare for and conduct client interviews, research relevant laws and draft legal documents and client letters, under the close supervision of an attorney instructor. The attorney instructor, who may be a current legal studies faculty member or an adjunct practicing attorney, will determine the legal area of the clinic each semester. Possible areas of law include divorce, expungement, wills and trusts, guardianships and landlord/tenant matters.

Said Chisolm, “Working as paralegals, our students will gain invaluable experience with interviewing skills, legal research, drafting legal documents, and working under a supervising attorney. “

Thanks to a recently awarded MUWAA Faculty Enhancement Grant the proposed law clinic will become reality. The clients of the legal clinic will be residents of the area who are in need and appropriate for the clinic’s legal subject matter. The grant money will be used to purchase basic office needs, including a filing cabinet with a lock for client confidentiality, a voice recorder/dictation recorder with a headset, client file folders, a printer and software. The MUWAA Faculty Enhancement Grant was awarded to Garrett during the 2023 Homecoming Convocation.