2017 Season: Expanding Horizons

Dear Teams:

On behalf of the Empire Family, I am writing to you about the 2017 season.  We are so excited that it’s almost here.  But before you start those applications, and begin planning logistics, I want to talk to you about some of the improvements that we have in store for this year and, more importantly, our thought process as we assessed our programming this “off-season.”  Keeping our Family both informed and engaged with the organization is incredibly important to us.

Last year was a monumental season for the organization.  In celebrating 10 years of Empire, we implemented a series of changes that made our competitions more intellectually rigorous and, consequently, more educational for our students.  Challenging students to think critically in the courtroom rather than mindlessly public speak was, and continues to be, the driving force behind our competition changes.  We also continued to develop a new part of our mission: helping young people become more socially aware and respectful of others.  Through our case and guest speakers, we asked students to contemplate complex issues related to national security and discrimination.  

We have a lot in store for this year.  I’m excited to share it with you below.

Expanding Horizons: Mock Trial & Social Justice

In 2017, we plan to expand our students’ horizons by continuing to encourage them to engage with current events, contemplate complex social issues, seek out those who hold different viewpoints, and use their advocacy skills for good.

Our organization cares deeply about empowering young people to be respectful and knowledgeable citizens, who possess the life experience, confidence, and advocacy skills necessary to make a difference in the world.  There are so many different ways that we can positively impact society, from the practice of law to simply treating others that you meet with respect and dignity.

We will try—as we have over the past 2 years—to convey this message to our students through cases, speakers and other materials.  To highlight our broader mission, we have prepared the following video:

We are so grateful to the speakers, alumni and staff who contributed to this work.

Expanding Horizons: Competition Improvements

Before turning to 2017, we did an internal review of last season.  We assessed all of our 2016 changes including, but not limited to, the introduction of the following:

  • an original and topical case, which was dense and complex;
  • pre-trial oral arguments;
  • removal of specific time restrictions—teams could now allocate time how they saw fit;
  • an EXTEMP category to the scorecard;
  • the Guest Witness (“GW”)—requiring teams to direct examine one student from another school  (beta tested at New York only);
  • housing schools in Times Square at Empire New York;

While we were incredibly pleased with the changes overall, the organization is always looking to improve.  We would be doing a disservice to you—our Empire Family—by being complacent.  So we carefully considered the feedback that we received from coaches, students, judges, Blue Shirts and the Leadership Team.  There was appreciated praise; but there was also genuine constructive feedback that we took very seriously.  We then identified weaknesses, developed objectives, and created an attack plan for 2017.

This year, the organization’s focus is to make the Empire experience even more enjoyable for our Family; this includes both before and during the competition days.  We are actively seeking to mitigate the administrative and competitive pressures associated with preparing for and traveling to a mock trial tournament, without compromising the academic rigor that distinguishes Empire’s programs from others.

Accordingly, I have summarized the 2017 improvements below, and referenced specific sections of the site, when helpful:

  • Our case will be significantly shorter.  We are very proud of our first ever original case, U.S. v. Canjoe.  However, in attempting to involve the 3 competition sites in the fact pattern, the case expanded beyond what we initially intended.   You can expect an equally interesting and socially relevant case in 2017, but one that is substantially more compact than its predecessor.
  • The Guest Witness will be implemented across all 3 sites but in a simpler form.  The Guest Witness (“GW”) beta test went incredibly well at Empire New York with students and judges enjoying it immensely.  We’ve made a few modifications to the GW program that will make it easier for you to prepare the roles.  It will also make it much faster for Empire to assign GWs to rounds (which was an issue last year).  For a full explanation of the 2017 GW program, please review the Guest Witness section of our Apply page, now featuring a video!
  • Trials days will be shorter.  At Empire New York, introducing the Guest Witness and the Pre-Trial Evidentiary Argument extended trial days by almost 2 hours.  When you couple that with transit time to and from the hotel, our competition days suddenly became significantly longer.  We have made the following schedule changes that we expect to save 2 hours each day (you can review our updated schedules here):
    • Cut the available time allotted for students to present their case.  Instead of 65 minutes, they’ll have 55 (keep in mind the case will be shorter).  Trials will need to be finished in 3 hours (our pre-2016 rule) instead of 3.5.
      • Note: the overall oral argument time will remain unchanged (10 minutes).
    • Overlap the Pre-Trial Conference and the GW Introduction.  They were staggered last year.  This saves 10-15 minutes.
    • Overlap the GW preparation period and the Pre-Trial Evidentiary Arguments.  While 2 students are arguing their motions before the Court, the Guest Witness and her/his directing attorney will be outside the courtroom practicing their direct.  This allows us to start trials immediately following the Pre-Trial Conference, saving approximately 30 minutes.
      • Note: this means that an attorney may not direct the Guest Witness on the side in which she is delivering the oral argument.
    • Moved Closing Ceremony to Monday morning in NY & SF.  This reduces the burden placed on teams to attend, and staff to prepare for, a formal ceremony on a Sunday night, after 2 long trial days, that often does not end until 11 PM.
      • Additional rationale.  Teams have always been required to stay at the competition city through Monday afternoon in case they qualify for the Championship Round; thus, this decision does not require teams to miss an extra day of school or stay an extra night at the hotel beyond what was always expected.
  • We’re making it easier for you to travel to the competition site on Friday morning.  We’ve done this by pushing the start of the Opening Ceremony to Friday at 2:00 PM across all 3 competition sites.  Teams are still welcome to travel to the host city earlier than Friday to scrimmage and sight see, however, we do not want teams to feel obligated to do so.
  • The uninterrupted portion of the Pre-Trial Evidentiary Argument has been reduced.  Advocates will be given 90 seconds of uninterrupted time to establish their argument before being questioned by judges.  After watching dozens of oral arguments, and speaking with our judges, we decided that this would add to the realism of the proceeding as well as make it more challenging for the students.  You can read more about the oral arguments on the PEA Section of our Apply page, now featuring a video!

If you’ve made it this far, I thank you for taking the time to read this!  Your love and support means the world to us.

We hope to see you in the fall!  So start those applications soon.

Justin Matarrese
Executive Director
Empire Mock Trial


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