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  • InsideTrack
  • November 18, 2020

    Mock Trial Competition Moves Online, Students to Tackle Murder Mystery Case

    High School students will argue the case of a murder under quarantine – as the High School Mock Trial tournament moves online for 2021. Volunteers are needed as referees for the online regional and state tournament competitions.
    student online learning

    Nov. 18, 2020 – The State Bar of Wisconsin’s High School Mock Trial Competition is moving online.

    The competition, which gives high school students an opportunity to act as attorneys and witnesses in a court case developed by State Bar members, was cancelled in the middle of its 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Moving to Zoom

    For 2021, the competitions – typically held in locations around the state, with finals in Madison – are moving to Zoom.

    “The State Bar is purchasing Zoom accounts to be used by each coordinator for each regional competition, with the various rounds taking place in break-out rooms,” said Katie Wilcox, State Bar Customer & Consumer Services Manager, who manages the program. “This platform is also used by almost all courthouses across the state, so attorney coaches and judges will be quite familiar with it for the tournaments.”

    Regional online competitions will be held in four rounds on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 6-7, 2021, and the online state finals are March 6-7, 2021, with two rounds per day.

    Expanded time for each round allows for issues, such as a student losing connection during a session. “The clock will stop for connection issues,” Wilcox said. Exhibits and witness affidavits can be annotated virtually. “Students will still need to think on their feet and adjust their performances to what is actually taking place during the trial, which will provide an indication of how well they know the case materials.”

    The state finalist team will compete with a new case at the National Mock Trial competition, to be held in May. Hosted in Evansville, Indiana, the competition will also take place online.

    The Case: A Death in Quarantine

    Teams in this year’s Wisconsin High School Mock Trial Competition are tackling a murder mystery set amid COVID-19 quarantining.

    The 2021 case was developed by the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Mock Trial Writers Committee, headed by Kristen Lonergan.

    The setting is in the fictional city of Clearwater, where a resident of an historic mansion is killed in the middle of the family’s quarantining. The family, considered eccentric, is at the center of gossip. While local police think they have the mystery solved, students will represent both sides of the case in their attempts to get the jury to agree.

    “The committee did great work creating an old-fashioned ‘whodunit’ murder mystery set in the time of COVID-19 and in the context of quarantine-related family drama,” said Kristen Lonergan. “While the eccentric family behind it all may be over-the-top, life complications created by COVID-19 and quarantine are familiar to us all.”

    Volunteers Needed for Online Tournaments

    Volunteers – whether attorneys or judges on the bench – are needed for competitions taking place online in February and March.

    Volunteers needed as judges for:

    • Statewide virtual regional competitions, Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 6-7, 2021. There are two sessions per day, at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. each day.

    • Semi-final virtual competitions are Saturday and Sunday, March 6-7, 2021. There are two sessions per day, at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. each day.

    Generally, volunteers choose to be judges for either the morning or afternoon competitions.

    The state finals will take place online in March 2021, with dates TBD.

    To volunteer, visit and click the volunteer button. If you have questions, contact Katie Wilcox by email or by phone at (608) 250-6191, or (800) 444-9404, ext. 6191.

    What is Mock Trial?

    Students compete in the March 2018 final championship round in Madison.

    Students compete in the March 2018 final championship round in Madison.

    The Mock Trial program provides high school students with an opportunity to act as attorneys and witnesses in a court case developed by State Bar members.

    “Mock trial is more than an extracurricular, it’s a one-of-a-kind, career-level experience that shapes a person’s life and career decisions,” said Judge Emily Lonergan, chair of the committee. “We hope that the experience will lead to a career in law, but in reality, Mock Trial alumni are applying their skills to just about every career field.”

    Students will argue the case in teams of six to 12, first at the regional level, then the top 24 teams will advance to the semifinals, and the top two advance to the finals.

    “The final round is a special event for the top two teams,” Lonergan said. “These two teams have an opportunity to argue their case in the Wisconsin State Capitol, and the winning team advances to the national competition.”

    The Mock Trial program is funded by a generous grant from the Wisconsin Law Foundation, the charitable arm of the State Bar of Wisconsin, which supports law-related education and public service programs statewide.

    Since its inception in 1983, the Wisconsin High School Mock Trial Program has brought our legal system to life for thousands of students. Using facts and case materials developed by Wisconsin attorneys, students gain a deeper understanding of the court system as they develop their arguments and build their cases.

    Students have the opportunity to:

    • analyze and prepare a case
    • present as a witness
    • argue their assigned role
    • receive input and feedback from attorneys and judges

    In 2019, around 120 teams – approximately 1,500 high school students assisted by 550 attorney volunteers – participated in the program, competing in regional trials statewide in February, and semifinals and finals in March in Madison. In 2020, competitions were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state finalists compete in a national Mock Trial championship, typically in May. The 2021 championship will be held virtually.


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