BGSU Magazine Winter 2012

Mock Trial

The verdict is in. While members of Bowling Green State University’s Mock Trial team may not wear $2,000 suits like some of their top competitors or benefit from a $1 million endowment, that hasn’t stopped them from developing a national reputation.

“We have to work harder. We have to be smarter,” explained coach Dr. Neil Browne, senior scholar and Distinguished Teaching Professor of economics. “We have to have a lot more intensive training to even have any business in the courtroom with these people.” 

The strategy has worked. There were more than 600 Mock Trial teams last year, and BGSU finished 11th in the country at the national tournament, tying with Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. Four years ago, BGSU placed seventh, and it has never fallen out of the top 35 in the intervening years, said Browne, who has led Mock Trial since 2003.

The team, which includes students who act as attorneys and witnesses, works for months to prepare. Not only must participants learn the rules of evidence, but they need to use them effectively and persuasively.

“Overwhelmingly this training is about the development of listening and reasoning skills,” Browne said. “We also have to be very sensitive about whether we articulate effectively.”

That’s the part that attracted Chelsea Brown, a senior majoring in social work who was afraid of public speaking. She appreciated the direct guidance she received from Browne.

“He works really hard to give us strong feedback,” she said. “You learn to be confident and have a loud voice. You learn the importance of having eye contact. And I’ve learned different things to do with my hands.”

That transformation and the success Browne’s graduates have in their careers, as well as in the professional and graduate schools that many team members later attend, validate all the volunteer hours he puts into Mock Trial.

“Giving is the most exciting thing in life that I’ve found,” said Browne, who has a doctorate in economics and a law degree, and has written books and professional articles about critical thinking. He also heads BGSU’s Honors Scholars program. “My books don’t feel as good to me as helping people grow and become more effective in their studies and future jobs.”

Dr. Stuart Keeley, a professor emeritus of psychology who has worked with Browne on articles and books, said he’s not surprised by his colleague’s results. 

“What Neil is extremely good at is pushing people beyond where they would normally go because he has strong expectations and he pushes their comfort level, and at the same time he’s very supportive,” he said.

Kevin Minnick ’05 said the skills he learned in Mock Trial — where he finished among the top 20 attorneys nationally during his senior year — helped fast-track his legal career in Los Angeles after attending UCLA’s law school.

“In my practice now,” he said, “the ability to communicate effectively and be a good public speaker are every bit as important as some of the legal doctrines that I spent three years learning at UCLA.”

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