Mock-Trial Competitions Enhance a Mexican Student’s Skills, Boost His Confidence

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December 2013

Manuel Roberto Abrego Popoca, a 22-year-old Mexican law student who grew up in the small town of Zacatepec in the State of Morelos, began his legal studies with dreams of fighting injustice. Now in his final year at the Colegio Jurista, Roberto is preparing himself to do just that. He says that the prevalence of human rights violations and the fact that “the most affected people are the most vulnerable” increase his interest in truly applying human rights within Mexico’s rapidly modernizing legal system.

Manuel Roberto Abrego Popoca (right),  who plans to pursue a career as a criminal defense lawyer, says he is encouraged by Mexico’s transition from an inquisitorial to an accusatorial criminal law system, as well as by newly available opportunities to hone the skills of lawyers.

Manuel Roberto Abrego Popoca (right), who plans to pursue a career as a criminal defense lawyer, says he is encouraged by Mexico’s transition from an inquisitorial to an accusatorial criminal law system, as well as by newly available opportunities to hone the skills of lawyers.

Driven by his fascination with the intersection between criminal law and human rights, Roberto plans to pursue a career as a criminal defense lawyer. He says, “It is professional practice where you can really contribute to the protection of human rights [as] established [by] the constitution of Mexico and [through] international treaties.”

Roberto is encouraged by Mexico’s transition from an inquisitorial to an accusatorial criminal law system, as well as by newly available opportunities to hone the skills of lawyers. He says, “The new rules make the trial shorter, provide the accused an opportunity to be heard, and evidence can be challenged in trial.” In February 2013, Roberto decided to sign up for a national mock trial competition that the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and the Center for the Development of Oral Advocacy Litigation co-hosted. Ten law-school teams from the states of Veracruz, San Luis Potosi, Nuevo Leon, Nayarit, Morelos and the Federal District took part in the competition, which was held at the Monterrey Institute of Technology.

Roberto says that preparing for the competition was both challenging and rewarding. It taught participants important skills, including techniques for cross-examining witnesses and for introducing and challenging evidence. “It was our first competition and we did not learn these abilities [as part of] our regular law school courses,” he says. “Another big challenge was to know, in detail, the facts of the case while also controlling our stress and nerves.”

Roberto’s team of four rose to the occasion and, following intensive training and hard work, won the championship by edging out the opposing team in a very tight final round. Roberto says that the win was as gratifying as it was a confidence boost. “[The whole] experience was truly enriching on a personal and professional level. I became a better lawyer, matured as a person and gained more self-confidence,” he says. “With this training I improved my body language, developed litigation techniques and strengthened my mental agility. In general terms, I gained new knowledge that will help me throughout my professional career.”

Roberto says that ABA ROLI’s support of Mexico’s legal education inspires the country’s young lawyers and law students alike. “These types of activities motivate young people to support the transformation of the criminal justice system in Mexico and improve the legal profession.” He adds that the competition affords them rare professional development opportunities by allowing “students to familiarize themselves with the new adversarial justice system and to acquire knowledge and skills that otherwise would be impossible to [obtain].”

Continuing its efforts, ABA ROLI coordinated with the Colegio Jurista to organize another mock trial competition in September 2013. This time, Roberto opted to give back by assisting with the administration of the competition—an experience that enabled him to understand the competition from a different perspective. He says, “I was able to learn about common mistakes participants make when they are litigating that you don’t see when you are competing, especially since I was able to be present when the judges gave feedback to the team.”

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