Five Mock Trial Final Rounds to Watch

mock trial Feb 08, 2023

The American Mock Trial Association is a nonprofit dedicated to developing college students’ public speaking, critical thinking, and trial advocacy skills since 1985. Their national championship rounds represent the culmination of every yearly competition, showcasing the best of what their participants have to offer.

While every final round hasn’t been preserved for posterity, many recordings taken between 2001 and 2022 are available on their website. You can watch these rounds here.

Here are five rounds that will help every competitor understand the activity more deeply.

First, watch the 2003 final round between the University of Iowa and Howard University.

Iowa won this round; they were named back-to-back national champions. You can see why: they perfected the now-classic sympathetic witness, expert witness, and character witness lineup, introduced the ubiquitous “three simple facts” structure (which mirrors an easy-to-follow five paragraph essay), and showcase aggressive objections and effective impeachments. Howard University displays a far more conversational style, more reminiscent of what real-world attorneys would do. The case is easy to follow; it's a negligence case about an alleged drunk driver who struck a child; the defense claims the child died from a pre-existing condition.

Second, check out the 2011 final round between UCLA and New York University.

UCLA won this round, earning their third national championship. Many elements of this round—from NYU’s terrific opening statement, spellbinding sympathetic witness, and enjoyable character, to UCLA’s hilarious character witness (ModernBrain’s own Dr. Iain!), tough-as-nails expert, and charismatic closing attorney—are used as teaching aids across the country. This case is similar to the 2003 case: the plaintiff alleges the defendant’s company was negligent in allowing a toy to poison a child, while the defense claims the child was afflicted by a pre-existing condition.

Third, view the 2015 final round between Harvard University and Yale University.

This is the most contentious final round in the history of the activity. Harvard and Yale go blow-for-blow in a case concerning election fraud; Harvard alleges the defendant (the incumbent) hired a criminal to distribute misinformation to keep people from voting, while Yale argues the misinformation didn’t change the outcome and the incumbent lost because they were a bad candidate. Every cross examination is memorable and dynamic, and no other final round demonstrates how well the rules of evidence can be used to attack the other team’s case.

Fourth, jump one year ahead to the 2016 final round between the University of Virginia and Yale University.

UVA shows how the University of Iowa’s “three simple facts” structure still works over a decade later, presenting a clean-cut case about a defendant who killed an undercover police officer to protect her drug trade but left blood evidence at the scene. Yale is spectacularly entertaining, arguing the police ignored an alternative suspect with the most theatrical cross-examinations in any final round. The witnesses, in particular, are a lot of fun—from a Turkish gas station owner UVA witness to a British performance artist Yale witness, everyone is entertaining.

Finally, watch the 2021 final round between the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Yale University.

This is the only online mock trial national final round recording. It represents the best use of online exhibits and demonstratives out there, which is helpful in understanding a complex case about whether an apartment knowingly let bedbugs inside or if the plaintiff planted them there on purpose to win a lawsuit. UMBC’s closing attorney is one of the most confident and unflappable performers in any national final round, and Yale’s character witness (ModernBrain’s own Coach Sean!) gives perhaps the most authentic, sympathetic, and believable witness portrayal in a final round. It’s also the closest final round in history—with eleven scoring judges, five went for the plaintiff, five for the defendant, and one called it a tie!

After you’ve watched these rounds, if you want to sharpen your mock trial skills, sign up for ModernBrain’s mock trial class, mock trial Nationals Team, or private tutoring! We work with middle schoolers, high schoolers, and college students.

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