In a courtroom in Hinds County Saturday, Emily Shy stood before a jury.
She was trying to argue that the grieving mother of a young girl killed in a car accident should receive compensation from the driver of the other car. The doctor’s defense attorneys had already made their closing statements. Shy had five minutes to respond.
“They claim we’re hunting for a scapegoat,” she said, “But they are the ones that camouflaged the truth.”
Shy is not an attorney. She’s a senior at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science who has competed in mock trial for more than two years — since before she was accepted to MSMS as a junior last year.
The MSMS mock trial group is made up of two teams — Team A and Team B — who took home second and third place, respectively, after Friday and Saturday’s Mississippi State Bar Mock Trial Competition. District Attorney Scott Colom who coaches the teams.
About 20 teams of high school students participated. The teams presented cases in a real courtroom in Hinds County before real lawyers and judges.
“In the championship round … we competed absolutely the best we ever have,” Shy, who is on Team A, said. “It was exhilarating finishing just because of how successful it felt.”
Colom has coached the team for five years now. This year’s teams have been working on their case since August.
“You do a lot of work to get to this point …,” Colom said. “You have to have the discipline to continue to work up until the point where you actually compete.”
The students get the case, including witness statements and evidence, at the beginning of the year and have to prepare arguments for both the plaintiff and the defense, Colom said. They have to know the rules of evidence and their own argument, inside and out, and still be able to adapt to whatever may come up in the mock trial.
Mariat Thankachan is an MSMS junior who competed in mock trial for her old school in Clarksdale. She joined to learn more about how law works.
“Forming a persuasive argument against a tough opposing team is an art,” she said. “And mock trial teaches you how to be good at it. Not only does it teach you critical thinking skills, teamwork and public speaking, it teaches you how to think on your feet because when the other team objects to your statement, you have about 10 seconds to come up with a response that uses the rules of evidence and the law.”
Her fellow teammate, junior Mariana Strawn, said even that’s too generous.
“I would say it’s less than 10 seconds, because immediately after they object, that judge will look over at you in a matter of two seconds and ask for a response, and then it’s up to you to think of something convincing,” she said.
The students also have to be memorable — mock trials are often far more dramatic than real trials, said senior Claudia Vial.
“Just watching the jury’s face when Emily said the ‘camouflage’ part, they would just smile (like) ‘Oh, they just got them!'” she said.
Mock trial helps the students improve on public speaking, on teamwork, on learning the rules of law and evidence and even on acting skills, as some kids portray witnesses, Colom said. But mostly it teaches them critical thinking.
“You honestly have to think like a lawyer,” he said. “That’s what I always tell the students.”
He’s exceptionally proud of how they did this year, he said. Team B, which took home third place, is made up entirely of juniors without any experience pretending to be lawyers for mock trial, and his two teams actually competed against each other right before Team A went up against a Hattiesburg school for the championship round.
“It was a pretty interesting fight,” said Hayden Stokely, a junior on Team B. “(Team A) was very good. They definitely won. But it also showed our team, Team B — full of novices — … that we could give them that hard a fight.
“I’m pumped for next year,” she added. “I want to win next year.”