What is Trial Practice?

M. Lupica

Trial practice is a legal education course, usually offered in law schools, that is designed to teach students the anatomy of a trial. Usually the course will present each student with a fact pattern that he or she will use throughout the duration of the course. Each student will then have to act out each stage of a trial representing the fictional client to whom he or she has been assigned. There is little substantive law that is taught in the class, but it is usually a prerequisite that any enrollees have taken evidence — a course in which law students learn the rules of admissibility of the various types of evidence in a trial — or its equivalent.

Trial practices allow students to experience a mock trial.
Trial practices allow students to experience a mock trial.

At the beginning of a trial practice course, the instructor will usually hand out a fact pattern to each student detailing the situation that has been brought by a fictional client. The trial practice professor will then likely go over the various stages of trial that the course will test. These typically include opening statement, direct examination, cross-examination, and closing statement. Each student typically must create a strategy for his or her approach to each stage based on the fact pattern that was assigned. Over the course of several classes, each stage will be performed by each student and subjected to constructive criticism.

Law students may engage in mock trials.
Law students may engage in mock trials.

Although there is generally no substantive law taught in trial practice classes, students will have to apply the rules of evidence when planning for and performing during each stage of the trial. For example, a student may have to discern from a list of witnesses which ones are qualified to testify. He or she will likely also have to follow the proper procedures for admitting a document into evidence if the assigned fact pattern so dictates.

Additionally, trial practice class may present and test students on ethical issues. For example, a student may be presented with a fact pattern where the client insists on testifying but is planning to lie on the stand. The student would then have to determine whether or not he or she is obligated to put the client on the stand for questioning, and if so, how to proceed when the client begins to give false testimony.

Trial practice classes usually conclude with a mock trial where students conduct all of the stages of a trial in a single session. Generally, the course will seek out volunteers to act as witnesses and the professor will act as the judge. The students will typically be graded on strategy, performance, and their handling of any ethical issues that may have come up.

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