Courtesy of Michael Paz

An eventful, anticipated season awaits the Yale Mock Trial Association — a team that has consistently been ranked as among the top in the country. 

As the team starts preparing for the regional competitions necessary to qualify for the annual national competition in April, many factors beyond competition and conquest have been on the leadership’s mind, most notably diversity and club culture.

Mock Trial is a popular club that lies at the intersection of law, speech and debate. Every year, the American Mock Trial Association, the body that oversees local chapters on college campuses, releases details of a single case to be used for local and regional invitationals — and another for the national competition. The objective is to argue on behalf of a defendant or plaintiff. Over the months, however, new nuances and updates for the case are posted on the website, forcing the arguments of college teams to evolve in complexity alongside the case.

The Yale chapter is broken down into three teams that compete under the leadership of separate captains at different competitions. This fall, nine new taps were admitted, four of whom had not participated in Mock Trial as high schoolers.

“The fall season [is] structured in [a] way that … helps people grow and learn, to give the people who don’t have that experience a safe and comfortable environment to learn the ropes before they’re put into a competitive team,” said Michael Paz ’25, one of the team captains. “Oftentimes, a product of the lack of diversity is most evident in the judging pool that you can find at … tournaments.”

At Yale, the fall is more “experimental” and offers members freedom to taste unfamiliar roles before teams are stacked in the spring, according to Emily Aikens ’26, one of this year’s taps. Having served mostly as an “attorney” in high school, she noted that she has had the opportunity to branch out with her roles, occasionally playing a witness.

Mock Trial, similar to many public speaking competitions, often recruit volunteer judges to score contestants over the course of several rounds. Knowing that the law field is comprised of a very specific demographic and that many existing judges are older male lawyers who have had a lot of exposure to certain ways of thinking, Paz and his fellow club leaders actively reached out to younger lawyers and female experts for the recent invitational that they hosted for other colleges at Yale. He said that what resulted was a “big difference” in the overall experience in the Mock Trial environment.

Historically, mock trial participants have been accustomed to being scored by two white males in the courtroom, said Paz. He emphasized that diversity in race and gender can bring new perspectives to the table, and looks forward to incorporating these changes in coming projects.

At the end of competitions, contestants receive an individual score and a team ranking. Knowing how to both fly solo and with the pack can be simultaneously the most challenging but rewarding aspects of the extracurricular, Paz added.

“Now, when we get someone who wins an individual award at a tournament, everyone is screaming,” said McKenna Picton ’24, who currently serves as president of internal affairs of the club. “But when we win a team award, everyone is screaming, crying [and] just going hysterical in the audience. We love to support each other as a team. That’s what we come to do.”

A student does not come to Mock Trial to make themselves solely a better law school applicant or public speaker, Picton said — one comes to be a “part of a community.” As internal president, she has put an accepting culture at the forefront of her priorities, working with captains and members to build team relationships.

There are nights when everyone is grinding at Bass Library until it closes, Paz said, but other nights, there will be events where absolutely “no Mock Trial” is involved, Picton added.

“While I don’t necessarily plan on going into the legal profession, I’m drawn to Mock Trial because it … challenges me to think through interesting legal puzzles, not to mention that the team is an incredible group of individuals,” Aikens wrote in a statement to the News. “Everyone takes something unique away from [a] case, which is the beauty of having such diverse perspectives, [even if] it can take some time to distill those ideas into a coherent theory.”

The University team was founded in 1994, and information about upcoming tournaments can be found on their website.

Brian Zhang is Arts editor of the Yale Daily News and the third-year class president at Yale. Previously, he covered student life for the University desk. His writing can also be found in Insider Magazine, The Sacramento Bee, BrainPOP, New York Family and uInterview. Follow @briansnotebook on Instagram for more!