By Katharine Webster
The university’s mock trial team earned a 5-3 record at regionals for the first time ever last month, besting Bowdoin, Colby, MIT, Northeastern, Wellesley, among others, to earn a bid to a qualifying tournament for the national championship.
The team’s three “lawyers” and co-captains – seniors MacKenzie Mahoney and Amanda Robinson and junior James Christopher – couldn’t be happier. They’ll be in good company at the Opening Round Championship Series in Wilmington, Del., this month with teams from Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis, Dartmouth and Harvard.
“We were 0-8 our first year, 2-6 our second year and 4-4 last year,” Mahoney says. “We knew leaving the regionals last year it was going to be the same three lawyers coming back, so we just said, ‘If we perfect our skills, memorize the case materials and get witnesses who know their parts, we should be able to do this.’”
The students largely credit their coach, pre-law adviser and attorney Frank Talty, who started the mock trial program eight years ago.
“I call Prof. Talty my biggest mentor throughout my time at UMass Lowell,” Mahoney says. “He took me and Amanda under his wing, he put us in his 400-level class for mock trial our freshman year, which was a huge thing for us, and he’s guided us.”
Mahoney, a political science major, peace and conflict studies minor and Honors College student, has aspired to be a lawyer since she was a child. She took a mock trial class her junior year of high school in Peabody and started a competitive team her senior year. She says that when Talty talked about the mock trial team on Accepted Students Day, it cemented her decision to attend UMass Lowell.
“I emailed the then-president of the mock trial team that day and said, ‘Hi, I’m an incoming freshman, I’m going to be here. What can I do? How can I get on the team? What’s the case?’” she laughs.
Mahoney dragged Robinson, her freshman year roommate, to the first team meeting. At the time, they were both pre-law.
Robinson, of Hingham, is now a business major with a concentration in finance and already has a job lined up with Fidelity Investments, which she’ll join after graduation in May. She says her mock trial experience prepared her to be president of the Student Government Association as a junior and to serve as the campus’ student trustee to the UMass system Board of Trustees this year.
“The mock trial team is the best hands-on legal training you can get as an undergraduate.”
-Team Member James Christopher
“I really fell in love with mock trial,” Robinson says. “It teaches you public speaking skills, analytic skills and to be able to think on your feet, which are strong skills to have in most careers, including business.”
Mahoney also recruited Christopher when she returned to Veterans Memorial High School in Peabody to judge a historical mock trial. Christopher, who is double-majoring in political science and philosophy and is this year’s SGA president, quickly became a valued third member of the team and a fellow officer in the Pre-Law Society.
Christopher says he pushed the team members to work harder this year on their trial, which involved a bribery case, and recruit more talent to build the team growing forward. This year’s win at regionals will only increase that momentum, he says.
“We had great lawyers and great witnesses, and on top of the 10 who competed at regionals we had five other students who helped us prepare,” he says. “There’s a newfound commitment on the team now that we know we can compete with these top schools in the Northeast.”
Christopher says the mock trial team confirmed his commitment to a law career.
“The mock trial team is the best hands-on legal training you can get as an undergraduate,” he says. “You get to deal directly with rules of evidence and pre-trial motions, establishing lines of questioning for witnesses and examining witnesses who may not want to cooperate with you.”
Mahoney – who also leads the campus cheerleading team, serves as an honors ambassador and works as a substitute teacher for special needs children at the Northshore Education Consortium – is now choosing among several law schools that can help her become an advocate for children with special needs.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with these (special needs) kids and I felt like I made a difference in their lives, however small,” she says. “I want to be an advocate lawyer for families who may not know how to get the resources their kids need for school.”