Mock Trial Team Goes to National Championships

One of just 48 teams to qualify—out of a starting field of 700 colleges and universities—the Fords were one of the only completely student-run teams at the tournament.

For only the second time in school history, the Haverford College Mock Trial team reached the American Mock Trial Association’s National Championships this year. In a field that began with more than 700 colleges and universities nationwide, the nine-member team, which included two alternates, advanced through the Regional Tournament in Washington, D.C., and later the Opening Round Championship Series (ORCS), to become one of just 48 teams that qualified to compete for the national title in Memphis, Tenn., in April.

The Haverford team finished 20th in its division, in which defending champion Harvard emerged as a finalist. In the end, the Crimson lost to UCLA, another perennial powerhouse, whose team took the championship.

The entire experience, though, from start to finish, was “phenomenal,” says Ceci Cohen ’24, who co-captained the Ford team with Rachel Schiffer ’23, the sole senior.

Other team members include John Donovan ’24, Ben Fligelman ’26, Rebecca Stern ’24, Isabella Otterbein ’26, Chyane Sims ’26, Ethan Minzer ’26, and Bella Salathé ’25.

“It was such an event just being there,’’ Cohen says. “It was definitely a different experience from any other that we have had because we were among the top 48 teams in the country, which makes it feel really cool and impactful. A lot of teams don’t even make it to ORCS. We all felt really proud.’’

This is the fourth consecutive year the Fords have made it past Regionals into ORCS. The only other time that Haverford reached the National Championships was in 2018, when the senior-laden team that had founded the program four years earlier finished in 11th place.

This year’s achievement is even more impressive given the group’s relative inexperience and the fact that Haverford was one of the only teams at the national tournament that is completely student run. “We don’t have faculty or staff members who help us prepare,” says Schiffer. “We don’t have local attorneys who are with us. It was literally just us—the entire team helping each other prepare.’’

“It was almost funny to watch how many people would be in the back of the courtroom on the other team’s side,” Schiffer adds. “I think that’s part of the reason why we’re so proud. There are heavily coached teams that don’t have to worry about managing logistics, getting flights, writing all the material, performing, and doing their finals all at the same time.’’

The American Mock Trial Association provides each team with a new case each August, and that is the trial case for all tournaments held over the fall and winter, up to and including ORCS. At Haverford, auditions for new members are held in September, with an initial set of tryouts and a round of callbacks that eventually whittles applicants down to the competing teams.

Those who audition are asked to memorize a speech and are given a fact pattern by the established students on the team. On average, the team conducts three two-hour practices a week. The students prepare each other as attorneys, witnesses, and planners—roles that might be played by faculty advisors or outside mentors for teams at other schools. The season consists of several tournaments at colleges in the region in which the team can fine-tune its arguments.

The Haverford group did all this, organized their trip to Memphis, and made the most of it once there. Besides Harvard and UCLA, other schools at the tournament included Yale, Penn, Baylor, Michigan, Brown, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Georgetown, Virginia, Fordham, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.

“One of the coolest moments was in the airport on the way back to Philly,” says Cohen. “I bumped into some members of the UCLA team who had just won. It was really neat to be talking about our experience with some of the best mock trial [competitors] in the country.

“Definitely a huge part of this event is the networking opportunity—getting to talk to people from all around the country who share a similar interest and spend a lot of time doing the same thing you do.”

According to Cohen, funding for tournament travel and for other team necessities has come sporadically from alumni donations. “That actually allowed us to go to Nationals,’’ she says. “If we didn’t have that money, we probably would have to pay out of pocket, and I don’t know if that would have even been possible. But we’ve essentially depleted that fund. Meaning next year, if we go, we’re going to need all the financial support we can get.’’

The group hopes that reaching Nationals will attract that kind of support, and perhaps even interest from those in the legal community who could offer guidance as well. With all but Schiffer returning to the team, the potential to improve upon this year’s success is great.

“What I want the group to take away from this is how the work they put into it paid off,’’ says Schiffer. “They are national competitors and should be really proud of that.” She also hopes they will value the skills they have come away with: “To speak in public, think on your feet, write your own material because no coach is doing it for you, and organize a group to travel. They will use all of that for a long time.’’

—Sam Donnellon