February 3, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 2°F


New team to plead case in mock trial competition

A group of Ithaca College students will be making its case this weekend before a panel of legal judges — in mock court.

Jake Lifschultz/The IthacanFrom left, junior Helene Weiss, Michael Whelan, mock trial team adviser, and senior Genna Petre discuss their first mock trial meet this weekend.

The Ithaca College Mock Trial Team, made up of 16 students, was founded in September for people interested in legal studies. The group will spend Saturday and Sunday in Rochester, N.Y. The students will become the first from the college to compete in an event associated with the American Mock Trial Association, an organization that holds intercollegiate mock trial competitions around the nation. The team will then travel to the American Mock Trial Association Regional to compete against students from schools in the region.

The team was formed when student alumni of Courtrooms and Communications, a mock trial-based course taught by Michael Whelan, associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies, came together to practice the skills they learned in the course outside of the classroom.

Junior Kyle Schiedo took the class as a freshman and later worked as a teaching assistant for Whelan. He teamed up with junior Helene Weiss to create the group.

“It’s the most hands-on experience for legal studies majors or minors that you could possibly have,” Weiss said. “This is something we needed.”

The AMTA gives students an opportunity to experience courtroom proceedings and etiquette before they spend three years and thousands of dollars in law school. While involvement in mock trial groups is not a crucial factor in most law schools’ admissions decisions, Schiedo said working with the team gave him assurance for his future.

“It makes me excited for law school because by doing the stuff that I would do after I finish, I can figure out that I actually like it and say, ‘Hey, I could actually be a lawyer,’” he said.

While the team has been preparing its case for months, Whelan, who serves as the faculty adviser to the group, said he expects this competition will introduce the college community to mock trials. He said if the group is successful in passing the preliminary, he will consider it a victory.

“We’re a new team, so we’re not looking to walk away with a trophy, but we want to be competitive,” he said. “If we come out of the first round it’ll be a tremendous achievement.”

However, he said the group hopes to expand next year and is looking to attend mock trials in the fall as well as the spring. This semester, the team has budgeted about $5,000 to attend the trials, Whelan said. The communications studies department and a college alumnus who currently works as an attorney donated the funds to the group.

Laurie Arliss, professor and chair of the communications studies department, said the current forensics team offers only a speech and debate team and participation and performance festivals, so the mock trial team offered an outlet for the growing interest in legal communications on campus. She said the department is committed to supporting the team both this semester and next year.

“For any student interested in law school, having participated in mock trial is good experience,” she said. “Even for students who don’t go that route, they have a better understanding of how trials work. It makes them better citizens, better-qualified law school candidates and better consumers.”