The teams suited up to scrimmage in preparation for a big regional competition – but no helmets were required here. Sweat? Maybe just a little.

The Siena College Mock Trial Team held two practice runs on January 23 with their University at Albany counterparts to prepare for next month’s regionals hosted by the American Mock Trial Association. Siena won both scrimmages, held in the Girvin & Ferlazzo Moot Courtroom in Siena Hall.

Each team took turns representing the prosecution and defense in a fictional case involving a bar owner charged with arson in the destruction of his establishment. 

Co-captain Carly Fanning ’23 said their team gets a new case each year from the AMTA to research and try. The students prepare opening and closing statements, as well cross examinations, developing their knowledge of legal practices and procedures along the way.

“It gives us great critical thinking and public speaking experience and is really helpful for those of us who want to go on to study law,” said Fanning, who plans to make law her career. 

Fanning explained that team members have to prepare both sides of the case. At the regionals, competitors will be given a mere 15 minutes notice as to whether they will represent the prosecution or defense. 

Rather than rendering a verdict of guilty or not guilty, the scrimmage judges – all Siena alumni working in the legal field – use a point system to evaluate the students on their individual performances. The team with the higher number of points “wins” their case. 

Anthony Bjelke ’16, a litigation associate at Whiteman Osterman & Hanna LLP in Albany, co-captained Siena’s mock trial team his junior and senior years. He came back to campus to serve as a judge during the scrimmages.

“As the team prepares for competition, one of the best ways to hone arguments and test out strategies is to do so before people who haven't had prior experience with the case,” Bjelke explained. “Those fresh perspectives provide really useful feedback. I always really appreciated the attorneys and judges who would come help out when I was on the team. Now that I'm a practicing attorney myself, I’m happy to come back to help.”

The 10 students who will compete in the mock trial regionals Feb. 5-6 were originally scheduled to travel to Boston College for the event; it will now be held on Zoom because of COVID.  

“Mock trial has strengthened my public speaking skills, ability to think critically, and confidence in learning and expressing new information. The coaches of our team have been instrumental in not only providing feedback on our performance but also helping to give us a comprehensive legal introduction to subject matter that will help me in my future law school endeavors. I highly recommended joining the mock trial team for any student who wishes to pursue a future career in the law.”

Nicholas Discala ’22, president of the Pre-Law Society

“Mock trial is such a beneficial experience for any student who may have an interest in law because you get to gain experience and learn about the fine details that go into a trial. The more experience you gain through mock trial, the better prepared people with an interest in law can be for their future.”

Sarah Falgiatano ’25

“The experiential learning opportunity of preparing for our annual AMTA case is most beneficial for our students because it helps them hone their effective critical thinking, reasoning, and legal communication skills. Thanks to the mentoring preparation provided by our alumni coaches, all of whom are trial attorneys, we are always ready to effectively meet the very heady competition that we face annually. Our student representatives – freshmen to seniors, representing all of our schools of our College – continually make us proud to be Siena Saints.”

Len Cutler, Ph.D., professor of political science and pre-law director