Teresa Nesbitt Cosby (Furman University), To the Head of the Class? Quantifying the Relationship Between Participation in Undergraduate Mock Trial Programs and Student Performance in Law School, 92 St. John's L. Rev. 797 (2018):
This Article seeks to answer the question of whether students who engage in undergraduate mock trial competitions gain a competitive advantage in law school. The Article will examine the pedagogy of experiential learning methods by analyzing how student performance in undergraduate school compares to how these same students perform in law school, and, importantly, whether these students are gainfully employed in a law-related career after law school. This is accomplished by conducting four interviews with Furman alumni who participated in the undergraduate mock trial program during their tenures, and a survey targeting law school students and recent graduates who participated in mock trial and those who did not participate by comparing LSAT scores, law school class standing, job market success, and other related factors. As a result of this study, this Article qualitatively and quantitatively discusses the benefits and detriments of an undergraduate mock trial experience in relation to successful law school performance and subsequent legal careers.
Conclusion. Mock trial is a competitive intellectual activity engaged in by very smart people. The average undergraduate grade point average of participants is 3.51 and the average SAT scores are between 1200-1400 for critical reading and math, which places these students in the 751 percentile of all test takers nationally. Just as mock trial students perform at a higher academic level than the majority of students who sat for the SAT and ACT, so do all law students who participated in the survey. The data shows that very smart students participate in mock trial and very smart students go to law school. The LSAT scores of students also showed similar results where the scores of all law students and students who participated in mock trial were within the same ranges. Finally, law school class ranking and law review participation, which are indicators of how well a student performs when compared to other students in their law school class, show that there is no significant difference between the academic performance of non-mock trial law school students and students who did participate in mock trial. The data shows that the majority of students who participate in mock trial do so because they think it will help them with their academic performance in law school. However, this belief is not supported by the data. Rather, the data show that there is no significant academic advantage for mock trial participants over their nonmock trial colleagues. Therefore, students may want to evaluate whether this activity will help them to achieve their goals. This conclusion is supported by the observations of Audrey, who felt that mock trial was not a good tool to prepare a student for the pedagogical process of law school.
The hindsight reflections of Audrey and Cindy support an interesting and surprising finding in the data that, while mock trial may not help a student to gain an academic advantage in law school, it does provide some advantages to students:
- Students in interviews and from survey data report that they felt more confident in law school than their counterparts;
- Students in interviews and from survey data report that they had a better understanding of legal terminology than their law school candidates;
- Students in interviews report that they had an advantage in several substantive courses like Torts, Evidence, and Criminal Law;
- The two interviews of practicing attorneys suggest that students benefitted most from mock trial in their litigation practices.
While participation in an undergraduate mock trial program may not catapult a student to the head of the class, the advantages to participation are meritorious. Law schools are often criticized as institutions that do not prepare students for the actual practice of law. Rather, the pedagogy is designed to hone the reading, writing, advocacy, and critical thinking skills of future counselors. Law schools are encouraged to expand upon this survey to explore further the benefits of an experiential learning model like mock trial by expanding the reach of the survey to its students, faculty, and alumni. If mock trial can serve as a high-quality engaged-learning tool where students are immersed for four years in an activity that hones the mechanical skills of advocacy, then this combination may work to benefit law students, especially first-year students, the practice of law, and the clients that are represented. Students who want to be litigators in the courtroom or on paper should be encouraged to engage in an activity that replicates the Dewey "guild and apprentice" model to develop exceptional skills in applying theory to practice toward the goal of becoming excellent lawyers.