June 27, 2016

ABA ROLI Organizes Third Annual National Mock Trial Competition in Mexico

Last month, ABA ROLI organized the Third Annual National Mock Trial Competition in Mexico City with our local partner, Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Penales (the National Institute of Criminal Sciences (INACIPE)). This is the second National Mock Trial Competition that ABA ROLI organized in Mexico with funding from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (the first was organized under a USAID-funded program).


The regional qualifying rounds included 384 participants from the 64 teams. The top four teams from each regional round were invited to compete at the national level.

As Mexico gets closer to fully transitioning from a written inquisitorial system to an accusatorial public trial system, these mock trials serve as an integral part of strengthening institutions that provide legal education and legal professional regulation. ABA ROLI works jointly with INACIPE to enhance the oral litigation skills of law students and professors so they are prepared to confidently practice under the new judicial reforms. By participating in mock trials, law students are able to demonstrate and encourage best practices of criminal trial advocacy within the framework of the new system among their peers and colleagues throughout the nation.

The Third Edition of the National Mock Trial Competition consisted of two initial eliminatory rounds before the national final. The first was the selection phase which took place from August to November 2015. 316 student teams (comprised of 1,264 students and 316 academic advisors), sent in video applications to participate in the competition. Videos were reviewed by a panel of experts and 64 finalist teams were selected to participate in regional rounds in Monterrey, Guadalajara, Queretaro and Cancun.

Leading up to the regional competitions, ABA ROLI provided three five-day oral litigation trainings in Colima, Oaxaca and Cancun, which were attended by more than 400 students and teachers from 65 law schools planning to participate in the competition. A two day training for law professors was also held to help build their skills as oral litigation trainers. In late January, ABA ROLI hosted a “friendly” mock trial in Mexico City for participants to build advanced trial advocacy techniques. These friendly mock trials provided participants the opportunity to experiment with new techniques in an environment free of formalities, strict rules and competitiveness that exists during the regional rounds. It was also an opportunity for teams to get to know who they would be facing in the regionals at the end of the month.

In January and February ABA ROLI held the four regional qualifying rounds in Monterrey, Guadalajara, Queretaro and Cancun, welcoming a total of 380 participants from the 64 qualifying teams. The top four teams from each regional round were then invited to compete at the national level in Mexico City.

The national competition took place from April 6-9, 2016, whereby teams, using a human trafficking case, had to play the roles of prosecutors and defense. The final trial was scored by five experts in oral litigation techniques, including highly-trained and experienced trial advocacy professors and criminal justice sector operators. The winners of the national mock trial competition were Colegio Jurista of Morelos (first place), the Regional University of Northern Chihuahua (second place) and the Autonomous University of Chihuahua (third place). The first place team won a week-long study tour to Washington, D.C., and a month-long internship with INACIPE in Mexico City through which they will participate in academic and training activities on the criminal justice system, and lead a workshop on oral litigation techniques for other law students.

Professor Javier Carrasco, academic advisor for the first place winning team from Colegio Jurista of Morelos said, “Promoting trial advocacy skills for law students contributes to changing the legal culture [in Mexico]…A mock trial competition is the perfect place for competitors to use techniques and creative strategies that, in practice, operators do not dare stage [in the real world]. Oral litigation skills are like an Olympic sport: exercises to impose new techniques and standards and be part of the continuous improvement of the profession. The knowledge acquired by each student and advisor in the preparation and development of professional skills are tools for life. Competing against other teams gives students the opportunity to see other good practices, and identify bad practices. The only way to consolidate criminal justice reform in Mexico is by forming a new generation of professionals that can overcome the former, outdated, litigation techniques.”

Marcela López, co-captain of the first-place winning team, said that through her experience participating as an advisor for this competition, “I learned to identify the stages of the adversarial system, to develop a theory of the case, and to select information that supports the theory, as well as presenting the theory in court and listen carefully to the opposing counsel to counter their arguments. The added value for any law student is essentially to learn to be stronger than your fears. Overcoming nerves in a trial is one of the major battles; you learn to know the different styles and possible arguments that the students may face, and how to answer them so that judges note that it is not an exercise of memorization, but rather the approach of the legal assumptions underlying the arguments.”

The Colegio Jurista of Morelos has much to celebrate; however, their competition is not quite over yet. As fate would have it, the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs funded another national mock trial program in Mexico through the California Western School of Law in San Diego, California. This summer, during their study tour to D.C., the winning team of ABA ROLI’s Third Annual National Mock Trial Competition will face off against the Mexican law students who won the Cal Western competition. This “Champion of Champions” showdown event will be held at American University in Washington, D.C. on July 12, 2016.

To learn more about our work in Mexico, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.