Justice, respect, professionalism, teamwork, and cooperation – these are the principles the Mitchell L. McLean Trial Competition, hosted by the IE chapter of the European Law Students’ Association (ELSA) aims to instill in its participants. Based on the US legal system, this mock trial is the first of its kind in Spain, where practical experiences for Law students had formerly mimicked appellate trials in moot court simulations. Oral instead of written, the competition ushers IE Law students through a jury trial at the district level, simulating the intense litigation battles often seen in popular legal dramas like the famous Netflix series Suits.
This year’s final round was held at Peréz-Llorca Madrid law office, overseen by a jury composed of some of its prestigious lawyers. The Dean of IE Law School, Soledad Atienza, and the President of ELSA Spain opened the floor by highlighting IE’s entrepreneurial spirit. Then, Dane Chilton, the President of ELSA IE and acting judge of the day, centered the gravity of the trial through the perspective of the competition’s namesake, whom he’d shadowed as a young boy. During that time, Chilton observed Judge McLean’s unwavering commitment to justice and respect for the rule of law. The lesson to “embrace law to affect change” reverberated through the conference room as it turned into the Senate, where the final two teams left in the competition would argue over the impeachment of the US president in United States of America v. Ben Crowder.
The defense and prosecution defined the opposing sides of the case in their opening statements: loyalty versus treachery and democracy versus the red hands of communism. Charged with espionage, high treason, and the abuse of presidential power, President Crowder’s fate depended on the interpretation of the events on the night of a charity gala he’d attended while acting as a rear admiral in the Navy. The prosecution claimed that he had exchanged classified documents with a Chinese agent that night regarding a secret maritime weapon that would have given the US an advantage over its enemies at sea. Composed of LLB/BIR students Maksim Kudinov, Alya Razk, Ianki Arca, and Matilde Romagnoli, the prosecution contended the president’s role in the information leak, while the defense – LLB/BBA students Luca Diaz Hilterscheid, Rania Sarahni, Tarvo Simons, Vansh Bijlani and Anna Gramann – countered that the wrongful impeachment trial would only fracture the country.
A quote shared by the defense in their closing statement summarized the sentiments of the night: “La verdad adelgaza, pero no quiebra” – the truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks. After a short simulation in which former participants roleplayed senators to question the two teams on the merits of the arguments and a cocktail celebrating their accomplishments, the jury shared their deliberations. The verdict – President Ben Crowder was found innocent of all charges. The defense had won the first annual mock trial.
However, getting to that point had not come easy for either group. As first-year students and first-time mock trial participants, they described the sleepless nights spent feverishly researching the proper way to draft indictments and motions to dismiss, scouring the internet for US case law, and scrutinizing Youtube videos on witness questioning and raising objections. The teams entered each round with a healthy balance of uncertainty and confidence, adapting their strategies as their arguments were struck down by the opposing team. Bijlani recounted, “When we saw the [witness] questions on paper we thought about how the trial would go. But when our teammates went up and actually asked the questions…when we saw it come to life, it was pretty awesome.” Yet, the finalists focused on teamwork and its resulting friendships when reminiscing on the experience. Hilterscheid expressed the sentiments of both teams: “Coming together to work on this one goal and sticking through it is really something that all of us took away from this experience.”
Winning was never the predominant goal, though. Rather, when the teams registered for the competition, their objectives were to apply theory to practice, develop their professional skills, and get a glimpse at their futures. The mock trial helped them achieve these aims by enabling them to delve deeper into the legal practice. Ultimately, the teams expressed that the competition reminded them of the passion for justice that had pushed them to apply to law school.
Students can expect to be welcomed back to campus next year with another mock trial focusing on class action suits. It promises to be a more immersive experience by providing additional pre-trial coaching sessions with legal professionals. Furthermore, the first edition of the ELSA IE Law Review will be published in the fall. The journal will analyze recent legal developments in various jurisdictions and will allow students to further immerse themselves in the legal world. To its members, the organization will offer exclusive talks, study trips, and other networking events. Membership applications for the ELSA IE chapter are now open until May 15th, 2023. Anyone from the law school is encouraged to apply and ELSA IE looks forward to welcoming more mock trial participants next year to embrace the ideals Judge McLean strived towards.