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The Art of (Legal) Persuasion: Mock Trial and Moot Court

The Buffalo State Mock Trial team took part in the Finger Lakes Regional Mock Trial Tournament held at Syracuse University in February. “We did better than we did last year,” said team coach Jon Lines, lecturer in the political science department.

Until last year, it had been several years since the college fielded a mock trial team. The new team came about when Laurie Buonanno, chair and professor of political science, and the pre-law committee wanted to increase opportunities for students interested in pursuing a law degree.

“To join the Mock Trial team, students can be any class rank and any major,” said Lines. “No matter what a student goes on to do, the skills learned from being on the team will be useful, especially the presentation skills and the teamwork.” All students are welcome to join.

The Mock Trial team belongs to the American Mock Trial Association, which sponsors the tournaments. In 2009–2010, mock trial teams from other area colleges will join Buffalo State’s team in a “scrimmage day” on campus in preparation for the annual tournament in February 2010.

The Mock Trial team is a student organization, and therefore not to be confused with Moot Court, which is a class. For many years, Judge Joseph Mattina taught the class; he retired in 2008 after serving the college as an instructor over a span of 30 years.

Town of Tonawanda Town Justice John J. Flynn now teaches the Moot Court class, which is cross-registered with political science, criminal justice, and sociology and is reserved for juniors and seniors. “My class is based on a murder trial,” said Flynn.

First, Flynn teaches the law and the legal procedures involved in a case tried in court, including the opening statement, direct examination and cross-examination of witnesses, and the closing statement. During the second half of the semester, the class is divided into prosecution and defense. He meets with both sides and helps students prepare presentations such as the five-minute opening statement.

Flynn, whose father was a lawyer, earned a bachelor’s degree from Bowling Green State University and a law degree from the University at Buffalo. He joined the United States Navy and served as the officer-in-charge of the Office of Legal Counsel at the United States Naval Academy, where he also taught military law and an ethics seminar. Currently, he is a commander in the United States Naval Reserves.

“I enjoyed teaching,” said Flynn, “so I was glad to have the opportunity to teach Moot Court here.” Flynn said the most common major for law students is philosophy. “There is no required major for law school,” he said, “but most students have majors that are analytical, such as philosophy or sociology.” He also emphasized that very strong writing skills are essential to succeed in law school. “Law schools don’t offer multiple-choice tests,” he said.

The School of Natural and Social Sciences supports students interested in law school through a pre-law committee headed by Virginia Grabiner, chair and professor of sociology. Kelly Boos, assistant to the dean, works with students interested in attending law school. A pre-law handbook is available to students, and a legal studies minor program is in review.