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Top Mock at Furman—no ordinary courtroom simulation

High school juniors and seniors from nearby and far-flung places hone courtroom skills during Top Mock. The final competition took place in Greenville's Federal Courthouse.

Rising high school juniors and seniors with a serious penchant for mock trial took their skills to a whole new level when they participated in Top Mock at Furman University July 15-20. At Top Mock, one of the oldest and respected high school mock trial programs in the country, students took a deep dive into evidentiary rules, techniques for crafting direct and cross examinations, and strategies for developing witness portrayals, among other courtroom essentials.

In addition to attracting participants from nearby states, the program drew students from California, Texas, New York, Maryland and Ohio, and one who even traveled from Donegal, Ireland. In all, Top Mock hosted a record 22 students for the week.

Celi Cooper of Greenville, North Carolina portrays a prosecuting attorney.

While there’s no shortage of summertime mock trial intensives throughout the nation, Furman’s program combines top-flight faculty with members of Furman’s award-winning mock trial program to create a “formidable teaching and coaching team,” said program director and Dana Professor of Politics and International Affairs Glen Halva-Neubauer.

Joining Top Mock for this year’s round was 2010 Furman alumna Meredith Mayer-Dempsey, an assistant New York City district attorney, and Jason Adkins, a professional actor and adjunct faculty member for Furman theatre.

After completing a competitive application process, Top Mock recruits were expected to prepare for camp well ahead of arriving on campus using fictional case United States of America v. Parker Barrow. The case pits the United States against defendant Barrow, a bank teller accused for his role in an armed bank robbery.

Besides poring over the case in advance, Top Mock participants were required to fashion five-minute opening statements and present them before their peers, faculty and counselors within hours of entering Furman gates. And lest anyone thought they might wing it, statements were also video recorded for evaluation purposes. Welcome to Top Mock.

Top Mockers strategize for United States of America v. Parker Barrow.

Said Halva-Neubauer, “Top Mock not only works on polishing and perfecting the presentation and critical and analytical skills of participants, but it also teaches leadership skills, which are crucial to the success of mock trial teams.” Indeed, part of the camp includes the Clifton StrengthsFinder Assessment, which allows teams to be assembled based on individual talents.

From 7:30 a.m. wake-up till 11:30 lights out, the scheduled was jam-packed with nightly counselor meetings and training on how to map out the case, opening and closing arguments, direct and cross examinations, case theory and practice, voice and acting skills, and more. Still, the experience wouldn’t be complete without lots of great food, an outing in downtown Greenville, and information sessions about what Furman has to offer.

After hours of case practice with Furman student assistants, faculty and counselors, the week culminated July 20 at the Federal Courthouse where Top Mockers were introduced to judges, and then the highly-anticipated competition ensued.

Mock attorneys and witnesses applaud a job well done.

Following trial debriefing and awards, Top Mockers enjoyed some well-earned downtime at a White Oaks pool party on the closing evening.

Reflecting on the week, Celi Cooper of Greenville, North Carolina said, “Top Mock has been such an incredible learning experience. It has not only given me a better understanding of trial both in competition and as a professional, it has opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and expressing my thoughts.” For Brandon Babauta of Fresno, California, the program was “life-changing.” “Top Mock has been the road to what I see as a long career in law – I could not have asked for a better place for my journey to begin,” he said.

For more information, contact Paige Blankenship in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at 864-294-3547 and paige.blankenship@furman.edu.

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