New Mock Trial Team is on the Case at Manhattan College
The team recently participated in its first national competition.
When Anthony Campolo ’25, was preparing for college, he knew he wanted to become a lawyer. While attending Bethel High School in Bethel, CT, he participated in a mock trial team, something he wanted to continue doing as a Jasper. There was only one obstacle: Manhattan College didn’t have a mock trial team. While others may have found this discouraging, Campolo saw it as an opportunity.
“When I came to Manhattan College’s open house, I asked the faculty members if there was a mock trial club and I was told that there wasn’t,” Campolo said. “On campus, I would ask students if they were interested in joining a mock trial team and I ended up getting a lot of interest.”
Campolo said that about 30 students attended the team’s first meeting with a mix of liberal arts, business and engineering majors. On September 22, 2022, the new program was officially launched.
To learn how to run a successful mock trial team, Campolo leaned on the work of the American Mock Trial Association, a national organization that hosts nationwide college competitions. He continued to market and advertise for events and many students expressed interest. But there was still a lot to learn about making a mock trial team work.
“We didn't have a coach,” Campolo recalled. “I had only particpated in high school mock trial and none of our team members had ever been involved in mock trial at any level, so they were all brand new to this.”
While this was unfamiliar territory for many, they continued to practice and make progress. And with the assistance of Adriane Bilous, associate director, Center for Graduate School and Fellowship Advisement, the team began to take shape.
Last December, they received their first case for a February 2023 national competition and started preparing their legal argument. The team was assigned the fictional civil lawsuit of a woman suing an airline for negligence in the death of her spouse. Campolo admitted that the collective lack of experience made him uncertain about how the team would fare.
“There were so many times between August and February where I said to myself, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to be able to pull this off,’” he admitted. “A lot of people told me that we didn’t have to compete this year, and that we could push it off until next year. But I saw my team’s talent. I saw their dedication. The only way we're going to get that expertise is to just go in and compete, no matter the consequences.”
The first competition was held in New London, Connecticut at Connecticut College, and the team competed against some of the top schools in New England. The tournament consisted of four trials, with the first trial against Wesleyan University, a school that ranks in the top 20 nationally. Mock trial team member Madison Fields ’26, recalled that she felt anxious preparing for that first trial.
“At first, I was kind of expecting the worst,” she said. “But once we got into it, I began to feel more comfortable.”
Fields admitted that she was initially disappointed that she had been assigned a witness role rather than the generally more desirable attorney position.
“When I was assigned the witness role instead of the attorney role, I was a little upset,” she said. “But as I started to get into the witness role, I realized that it gave me more room to be creative. I ended up having more fun than I thought I would.”
Fields ranked fourth in the “Outstanding Witness” category in the team’s second round matchup against the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Manhattan College lost to UMass Amherst by only two points. Campolo ranked third as outstanding attorneys during the first round.
Campolo was proud of the team during their first competition and is looking forward to participating in future touranments. “We’re going to keep this going,” he said.
After the competition in New London, the team brought in David Merlino ’16, a New York-based attorney, as their first coach. On April 13, the Honorable Rachel E. Tanguay, acting New York Supreme Court Justice, came to the College to meet with the team and pre-law students.
Campolo said that even if students aren’t planning on attending law school, there are many skills they can develop as part of the mock trial team.
“No matter what field you go into, self advocacy, public speaking and critical thinking skills are important and super useful,” he said.
“It's a great way to build connections,” Fields added. “You get to connect with other students, teachers and attorneys who have real world job connections.”Students who wish to learn more about the Manhattan College mock trial team may contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
–by Taylor Carroll '17, '23