Competition helps law students sharpen courtroom skills

December 13, 2018

Laura Hamilton stands in Quinnipiac's ceremonial courtroom speaking to an audience of fellow students

As Emily Hall, JD `20, prepared her arguments for the final round of the Mock Trial Society’s 2018 intramural competition, she knew she was in for a legal chess match.

“My partner and I tried to anticipate which objections that opposing counsel would make and what our counter responses would be,” said Hall, who represented the prosecution.

The annual competition, which was held earlier this semester, exposes students to the many nuances of trial work, while enabling them to sharpen their skills for regional and national mock trial competitions. It consists of a preliminary, semifinal and final bench round.

“Through mock trial, students are given the opportunity to learn important trial advocacy skills which are not always taught in the classroom setting,” said Nicole Dwyer, JD ’19.

As the Mock Trial Society’s director of the intramural competition, Dwyer handpicked the cases for the 2018 competition. For the final bench, she chose The State of Lone Star v. Richard Grouper, a hypothetical murder case developed for mock trials that is often used at national competitions.

“I picked this case because I felt that it would expose students to a variety of evidentiary issues, and because there were credible arguments to be made for both the prosecution and the defense,” Dwyer said.

Hall and her fellow prosecutor Laura Hamilton, JD `20, attempted to prove that Grouper, a registered sex offender, kidnapped, murdered and attempted to conceal the body of Sarah Salmon, his 14-year-old neighbor.

The complexities of the case, coupled with the severity of the charge and the time restraint on preparation, posed a welcome challenge for their opponent, Caitlin Murphy, JD ’20, a member of the defense team.

“I saw the case as more of a puzzle,” Murphy said. “I knew what the state needed to prove Mr. Grouper’s guilt, so I began to look for missing pieces.”

Those missing pieces included Salmon’s father, who Murphy and her partner, Alissa Korwek, JD `20, alleged was abusing Salmon. They also pointed to a family friend who mysteriously disappeared after the murder.

Weighing compelling arguments from both sides in the final bench round, attorneys Ryan O’Neil and Sean McGuinness plus Hartford Superior Court Judge David Gold ruled in favor of the defense.

Murphy, who hopes to participate in the national mock trial competition, felt a surge of confidence from the victory.

“I absolutely think that this competition helped sharpen my trial skills,” she said. “I feel much more confident having had this opportunity to practice.”

Hall also plans to compete nationally. Despite the loss, she said the mock trial experience forced her out of her comfort zone and sharpened her public speaking, advocacy and teamwork skills.

“Completing a trial against an opposing party really challenged me to practice thinking on my feet and adjust to different rulings,” she said.

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