Starting the first week of classes this fall, students on Buffalo State’s Mock Trial Team began poring over a 130-page case to prepare for the annual regional competition to be held in February on campus, as well as other competitions this year.
The students convened twice during the week and on weekends to take on the roles of plaintiff and defense attorneys and witnesses, learning how to argue both sides.
Their hard has work paid off. In two November invitational tournaments—the “Friar Faceoff” at St. Bonaventure University and the “Yellow Jacket Invitational” at the University of Rochester—the students did exceptionally well. They finished fourth out of 16 and fifth out of 22 respectively.
Additionally, senior Laurin Ellis won a top witness award and Marco Santiago, also a senior, received a top attorney award at the St. Bonaventure competition and two honorable mentions for top attorney at the University at Rochester. In each of the two-day tournaments, the team faced students from schools in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida.
"There was tough competition at both tournaments. It was a great experience to show all the schools in the region that Buffalo State is a force to be reckoned with," said Henry Zomerfeld, '11 (pictured far left), who serves as a team coach with Jessica Noto (pictured second from right). They are both 2014 law school graduates and are awaiting admission to the New York State bar having passed the July 2014 bar exam.
Noto attributes the team’s success this year to having two strong captains, Santiago and senior Safia Hosein.
"They helped to motivate other students. Interestingly, many of our team members are brand-new," she said. "They have developed a good chemistry, and they are just very good at debating the issues."
This year, the students had to debate a fictional civil case brought by the parents of a child who was shot and killed, possibly accidentally, by a neighbor’s child.
"The attorneys have to know rules of evidence, which are similar to federal rules of evidence," Noto said. "We make sure they really understand those rules. They also must give opening and closing statements like at a real trial. It's great practice in oral presentation, as much as it is in law."
Zomerfeld noted that the mock trial team isn’t designed just for future attorneys.
"While we pitch it to students considering law school, we also pitch the team to students in other disciplines where they want to build their oral communication skills," he said. "It also teaches them analytical thinking, which is helpful for a variety of careers."
A 2011 graduate of Buffalo State, where he majored in political science, Zomerfeld is an associate with Wolfgang & Weinmann, a property tax litigation firm he clerked with during law school. Noto is a field attorney for the National Labor Relations Board in Buffalo. Both have coached the Buffalo State team since their first year of law school.
"Because Jessica and I do trial work, coaching the Buffalo State team keeps us sharp, plus it's exciting to see students interested and willing to commit to this," Zomerfeld said. "They do not receive any class credit and it’s pretty time-consuming."