Clubs Goin’ Up at West: Mock Trial

By Erin Kaihara

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Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of 10 features about clubs at West.

In a large, desolate courtroom, with pens and legal pads scattered on the table, a judge walks in and everyone rises as all whispering ceases. The judge commands everyone to be seated, and after a few words about the trial, the prosecution introduces themselves. While this may seem like a normal court case, upon closer inspection, you’ll find that the lawyers are not adults with law degrees, but merely high school students. These high school students are trained in law and are prepared to handle any situation that may range from robberies and stolen cars to battery and assault.

Dressed in black suits and pants with red or white shirts and ties, the Niles West Mock Trial team takes the stand, airing confidence and sophistication, determined to show what they can do.

Led by coaches Jason Stanford and Dana Kanwischer and captains, seniors Sebastian Sulewski and Alex Ehrenberg, Mock Trial is a competitive law club where students get the opportunity to discover and experience what goes on in a courtroom.

A total of 12 teams are invited to every competition, however, each team is only up against one other team. There are two rounds and each team argues for both sides, the plaintiff/prosecution and the defense. One round is spent arguing for one side, and then the roles are reversed when the next round begins. Each round lasts around one to three hours. Competitions are even held at real courtrooms.

It’s intense. Some of the schools we go against, especially the private schools, don’t joke about this stuff. It’s very serious, but they are also very nice. The atmosphere is intense, yet welcoming in a way,” junior Asma Akram said.

Although Mock Trial was only formed two years ago, the team has made incredible strides rank-wise. During their first year, they placed 22nd out of 24 teams at Dupage County and at State, they placed 40th.

Last year, the team’s hard work and dedication payed off as they jumped to 5th place at Dupage County and were top 10 at State.

Sulewski’s said he is excited for this year because the team is more experienced than ever.

“I am really excited to help lead the team this year. I feel that we have learned a lot in the past year and are stronger than ever,” Sulewski said.

Unlike other clubs offered at Niles West, Mock Trial provides a unique opportunity to develop your public speaking skills, become more confident, and work on your critical skills all the while learning how our legal system works. Despite the amount of hard work, those involved in the club say it is the people that make the club really special.

“It’s really the students that make this team special. It’s a great group of students. They work hard, they’re open to ideas and suggestions on how to improve and they’re just fun. It’s a good group,” Stanford said.

Most students in the club enjoy critical thinking and are interested in the criminal justice system and see it as a possible future career.

“I enjoy all the critical thinking that goes into preparing for a case. There is an immense amount of information that has to be considered when planning how we will frame our cases. We deliberate extensively to make the best arguments possible and it feels great to translate this into the court atmosphere,” Sulewski said.

As for new members, although it took them some time, they soon became familiar with the legal jargon. After that, Mock Trial became very interesting and they couldn’t wait to be at competitions at courthouses.

“It was hard to understand in the beginning but once I understood the language, it got easy and interesting. I like it and I think other people should join because of the knowledge you can get. If you like to compete and make statements about what is right and wrong, you should join,” freshman Sarah Feroz Sundrani said.

Everyone is welcome to come to the meetings after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays in room 3015 until Sunday, Nov. 1, when the state case is released by the Illinois Bar Association. At that point, they ask for their members to be fully committed to the club and focus and analyzing every aspect of the case until the State competition.