Mock trial is a competitive trial simulation activity for college undergraduates. In mock trial, students play the roles of the lawyers and witnesses involved in trying a fictional court case. The team from one school portrays the lawyers and witnesses on one side of the case (prosecution/plaintiff), and the team from another school portrays the lawyers and witnesses on the other side of the case (defense). Students portraying attorneys must question witnesses, make arguments and objections, and enter evidence, while the students portraying witnesses must act out interesting and credible characters while being questioned by their own attorneys and attorneys from the other team. Mock trial rounds are judged and scored by practicing attorneys and judges. These scoring panelists determine a winner of each round by scoring team members' performances, and also provide feedback and constructive criticism to the teams after the round is over.
Undergraduate mock trial competition in the United States is run by the American Mock Trial Association, or AMTA. Each year in August, AMTA writes and releases a case problem that all of the undergraduate mock trial students in the country learn and use to compete against each other. This case problem contains all of the material that is needed to simulate a real trial: eye witness statements, expert witness reports, photographs and other pieces of evidence, applicable statutes and case law, rules of evidence, and several other legal and procedural documents.
Starting in the fall, students from all over the country compete in invitational tournaments hosted by individual colleges and universities. These invitational tournaments range from small to large, and from casual to extremely competitive. However, there is no "elimination" at this stage of the season. All teams, no matter how well they do in invitationals (or if they even compete in any) have the opportunity to move on to the next stage of competition: an AMTA Regional Tournament. During February, AMTA hosts more than 20 regional tournaments around the country. Over 600 teams enter these regional tournaments every year.
For about two-thirds of these teams (400+), their AMTA Regional Tournament is the end of their competitive season. But, the lucky one-third of teams (about 200) which place at the top of field in their Regional tournament qualify for the next level of competition: one of the eight AMTA Opening Round Championship Series (ORCS) tournaments in March. At the ORCS tournaments, the competition is even more unrelenting. Only the top one-quarter of ORCS qualifiers (about 50 teams) place high enough at their ORCS tournament to qualify for the National Championship Tournament in April. This prestigious tournament plays host to the best mock trial teams in the country each year, and at the end a new National Champion is declared.
After the National Championship Tournament, college mock trial teams take a break for a few months. Final exams in May and the summer academic break are the slow season for mock trial. But, by the time students return to campus in August, a new case problem has been released and it's time to start preparing for a new season!