Did You Actually Just Say That?: Combating the Bad and the Ugly in Trial

By Camille Wyss

High quality themes, theories, and character lines are hard to come by in mock trial. You want to be memorable, but professional, catchy, yet appropriate. Some teams just don’t spend enough time finding the perfect balance when it comes to creating perfect themes, theories, and character lines, and it inevitably leaves their competitors highly confused. So what are you to do when something truly bizarre is said in trial?

The Theme that’s “Out of the Box”

I’ll never forget my very first scrimmage, I was the defense closing attorney on my high school’s B team. The Prosecution opened with theme, “The defendant is like a rose. He looks sweet but when you get closer you see his thorns.” I actually laughed out loud (only to be reprimanded by the judge and my coach later on). That was my first error. Even if a theme is literally the worst theme in the world, you, as the opposition, cannot show it on your face. My second error was to not counter it. I assumed that because the theme was so awful, it didn’t merit a response. That was wrong. Failing to acknowledge even the worst of the worst makes you look like you can’t think on your feet. Suddenly the attention is taken off of how awful the theme is and is put on your inability to roll with the punches in trial.

Crazy Cross Answers

One of the team legends that was handed down on my high school team was the story of “Magic Cop.” A witness on the opposing team was portraying an officer, and when asked about evidence mysteriously moving during his investigation, he responded by saying “it was magic.” In situations like these, where you either must be dreaming or the witness is definitely insane, the only thing to do is focus in on that one ridiculous thing the witness said and make it apparent to every person in the room that this witness is ridiculous. Don’t forget to bring it up again in closing just to remind everyone that the opposing side subpoenaed a crazy person.

Clichés, Similes, and Quotes

I can’t even begin to count the number of times I had to counter a theme that was a cliche, simile, or quote; everything from JFK quotes about truth, to “the plaintiff is like a hunter wielding a gun of vengeance and extortion.”  Let me take these situations one at a time.

Cliches: treat them like any other theme and counter them. You have to hope that the scorers know it is also a cliche, but show your ability to creatively counter even the most overused of phrases.

Similes: show every reason why your client isn’t similar to whatever the opposition is comparing him or her to. I would not recommend sassily throwing a similie back at them like “my client is like Mother Theresa” or “opposing counsel is like a smoke screen trying to distract you from the real issue.”

Quotes: the best thing to do is hope that you (or someone on your team) knows a quote by the same person but that somehow relates to your case. That will make you look so spontaneous and clever.

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