Take Trial Advocacy

This past summer, I took Trial Advocacy with Professor Hatcliffe. Unlike most of my other classes, there wasn’t a final. Instead, the class culminated in a mock trial. During the mock trial, Professor Hatcliffe presided as the judge, while the students presented a case that was substantively, procedurally, and visually like a real trial. The “trial” was conducted in a simulated courtroom with the appropriate furniture and structures (e.g., a jury box, witness stand, plaintiff and defense tables, etc.). The student lawyers made opening statements, directed and cross-examined their witnesses, engaged in objection sequences and pretrial motions about the admission or preclusion of evidence, conducted mid-trial and post-trial motions, and gave closing statements, etc. One fun feature of the class was that former students of the class, some of whom participate on the trial advocacy teams, visited as guests. They inspired us on how the skills that seemed so daunting, (e.g., speaking in front of a group without any notes), can be taught and learned, especially with practice.

Be a Juror

Recently I had the opportunity to interview two individuals who served as jurors in our mock trial. Even though they had to give up a day to serve as a juror for the mock trial, both jurors enjoyed their experiences. Neither juror had ever served on a jury before. Juror 1, a lay person, remarked “the closest I have been to this, is watching Law and Order.” He concluded that after the experience, he felt better prepared to serve as a juror, should he ever be called. Juror 2, a law student, remarked how interesting it was to see some of our classroom lessons about tort law come to life in a realistic way. Finally, for non-citizens with an interest in our legal system, being a juror in a mock trial is the only way to get this type of experience.

Do Not Confuse Your Juror

Both jurors complained about the advocates using terminology that they did not know. In our case, the term “boom lift” was used multiple times without explaining to the jury what it was.  Juror 2 thought she might have lost focus, missed important facts, and thought it was a bad start to the trial. Juror 1 looked up the term on his phone and didn’t listen to what was going on while he googled “boom lift.”

Do Not Bore Your Juror

Both jurors were unhappy about the moments in the trial when the student lawyers were repetitive, took up too much of their time, or required them to process too much information at once. Although they were interviewed separately, they recalled the same experiences that made them so bored that they got frustrated.  Notably, the Federal Rules of Evidence and Rule 403 in particular, can relate to these jurors as it aims to conserve judicial resources and promote efficiency because it permits the court to “exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger” of a number of factors including: “misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.”[1]

How to Engage Your Juror

Juror 1 noticed when the student lawyers made eye contact with the jury.  He ultimately decided in favor of the side that he thought made more eye contact with the jury because he found that side to be more persuasive. Juror 1 liked it when the student lawyer asked the witness to step down and demonstrate something in front of the jury. Finally, Juror 1 commented that it was a long time to remain focused. The upshot of it is that jurors can be easily bored, so using exhibits, demonstrating them right in front of the jury, and making a lot of eye contact with the jury keeps them more engaged, and ultimately, they may be more persuaded by your arguments


To conclude, taking Trial Advocacy was a lot of fun and improving your oral advocacy skills will have practical applications no matter where your J.D. takes you. As for potential jurors, please volunteer for a final trial, you’ll have a lot of fun and gain a realistic view into our courts.

[1] Fed. R. Evid. 403.