How to Get the Most Out of Law School? Compete.

Alumni reflect on how mock trial prepared them for courtroom success
Anthony McDaniel, Jared Frick and Michaelle Tobin stand in a courtroom

For many students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, getting involved on campus helps to lay the groundwork for a successful career. For many alumni, getting involved in mock trial competitions during their time at UMKC has made for an especially easy transition from the classroom to the courtroom.

Anthony McDaniel (B.A. ’11, J.D. ’15) and Jared Frick (J.D. ’15) are two such alumni whose experience in mock trial prepared them for their practice today.  Both competed on UMKC’s National Trial Advocacy Team, or mock trial, as it’s commonly known.

The team is a part of the UMKC School of Law Trial Advocacy Program, which is consistently ranked among the nation’s best by U.S. News & World Report, this year ranking #31 – up 23 places from 2021.

The program is designed for students who want to be a trial attorney and want to learn how to effectively represent clients in a courtroom environment without the pressure of a verdict.

McDaniel, now an attorney at Guin Mundorf, LLC in Kansas City, said his time on the team taught him skills he will carry with him for the rest of his life, both in his career and everyday interactions.

“In trial team, they teach you how to think like a lawyer. Then they teach you how to use those skills and present like a lawyer,” McDaniel said. “What makes a good trial attorney is the ability to capture a lot of information and then break it down to present it to someone in a way that is relatable and to take it to the next level — make it persuasive. That’s exactly what mock trial teaches you.”

McDaniel first became involved in mock trial competitions during his undergraduate years. That experience helped spark his interest in applying to law school. He described his time in UMKC's undergraduate mock trial as preparation for law school competitions.

“In trial team, they teach you how to think like a lawyer." - Anthony McDaniel

“It teaches you how to talk like a lawyer and how to present like a lawyer, whereas in law school, you get down to the finer points about courtroom presentation and rules,” McDaniel said. “But I always just loved the idea of standing in front of people and trying to persuade them to see things my way.”

Much the same can be said about his former teammate and friend, Frick, who was recently appointed partner at Young, Kuhl & Frick, LLC in Lee's Summit.

“What drew me to (mock trial) was the theatrics of it all. I was a musical education major for my undergrad, so I was into musical theatre and marching band and enjoyed the entertainment factor of everything,” Frick said.

Frick competed in the Last Team Standing Competition, the initial exposure first-year law students get to a mock trial environment, and he knew it was something he was going to continue.

“It was really helpful because when you enter the unknown of having to talk to opposing counsel or a client or presenting evidence, it can be nerve-racking,” Frick said. “So, participating in mock trial took the mystery out of that and showed me that there really is no magic formula to it – it just takes practice.”

The two went on to compete in several competitions, including the National Trial Competition. The competition, established in 1975, is the oldest and most prestigious trial competition in
the country.

UMKC School of Law has attended the national tournament multiple times over the past ten years. The competition attracts more than 140 law schools and involves more than 1,000 law students each year. Students are judged on opening statements, direct examinations, cross examinations and closing arguments.

“You learn how to tell a story,” Frick said. “You learn how to craft a theme and theory in a case and how to hit that throughout your case. You learn how to control your witness and how to not ask questions you don’t know the answers to. You learn the appropriate impeachment techniques. That all translates into real life and real practice once you graduate.”

Their team was coached by Michaelle Tobin, clinical professor of law at UMKC. She has coached mock trial for the past ten years. Tobin said the competition looks like a “mini version of a real trial without the real-life pressure of client representation.”

Each team is given a case file to study and rehearse for six weeks. Tobin said teams practice and refine their arguments over that time, as well as scrimmage with one another. Competitions last about three hours from start to finish.

Tobin said the whole process is directly designed to prepare students for the professional world.

“Knowing how to analyze a case, knowing how to compose an opening and closing statement, how to do a direct and a cross – all of those are skills that you are going to directly use in ligation,” Tobin said. “We take it from opening to close, but what you learn about how to present yourself in the courtroom — how to ask questions, how to analyze a case — can effect everything that you do even if you never try a real case in front of a jury.”

Tobin said one of the most important lessons mock trial competitions teach students is the importance of listening.

“When you get into practice and you have real clients, if you don’t listen to them, you are never going to be a good attorney. Listening is an essential skill, even in mock trial, where you don’t have a client but you have a teammate, a witness and a judge,” Tobin said.

Frick said Tobin is the one who taught him that.

“She taught me how to be a more active listener and not just think about what I’m going to say next. You see that a lot in trials, and everyday life, where someone immediately responds when you make a statement. In the courtroom, if you are focusing on your next question, you are going to miss something,” he said.

"In the courtroom, if you are focusing on your next question, you are going to miss something.” - Jared Frick

For him, McDaniel said mock trial was all about understanding that being in the courtroom is more than just a show.

“A lot of people think it’s all about public speaking or presentation, but I think if you talk to most of us who participated in trial team, they will say that’s a peripheral skill. It’s more about the desire to help people and the ability to understand people,” McDaniel said.

In addition to listening, Frick said one of the most important things mock trial taught him that he frequently utilizes today is “rules of evidence and how to handle evidence.”

“Not only did I learn the full grasp and understanding of it, but it also helped me understand how to get things into evidence and how to make appropriate objections. I think a lot of young lawyers who are right out of school struggle with that, and I see it in the courtroom,” Frick said. “Because I had that experience in mock trial, right after graduation I felt really comfortable in the courtroom.”

McDaniel said his experience “unquestionably” made him into the trial attorney he is today.

“One of the things I love about being a lawyer is that we’re problem solvers before we’re anything else. Trial team really taught me, whether I’m putting together a grill at my house or I’m in a courtroom, it’s about taking a complex issue and breaking it down and building it back up. If you can understand the pieces, you can build anything.”

McDaniel said he uses that method of thinking – breaking down information and rebuilding it – in his time now as an undergraduate mock trial coach and adjunct trial advocacy professor. 

“I love being able to share the things I learned and pass that on. I have had so many students who come up to me and say, ‘I loved what we talked about because I used it an interview, and it helped me get a job recently.’ That’s the kind of thing I’ve had the opportunity to pass on, and it feels really great.

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