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Upper School Mock Trial Team Clinches Third in the State

Upper School Mock Trial Team Clinches Third in the State

Every Saturday morning for the last five months, a devoted group of 30 students has made their way back to campus for trial. 

Mock trial, that is. 

Gathering weekly in The Great Room for three grueling but, as they would all attest, fun hours of work together was Kent Place’s Mock Trial Team. Assigned as either witnesses, defense attorneys, or prosecuting attorneys, they rehearsed their case — which, this year, involved a college admission scandal — from every conceivable angle.

Their hard work paid off in their most successful season ever, culminating in a third-place state finish. 

A quick recap: At the County Championships on February 20, the team defeated friendly rival Oratory Prep, whom they faced no less than 13 times before in the same event (they prevailed only one other time, in 2019). They went on to upset reigning State Champions Princeton Day School in the regional semifinals at the end of February. Then, in the regional finals, they took gold, advancing to the state semifinals, where they finished third. At the finals on March 28, they were recognized with a plaque for their achievement. 

To a great extent, the team’s triumphant run can be attributed to its enthusiastic leadership, including captains Gabrielle Liberman ’24 and Kai Markley ’24, as well as Director of Outreach Colette Gentille ’25 and Social Media Manager Megan Llewellyn-Jones '25. 

“Kai and I have been working really hard to revolutionize how we think and go about Mock Trials,” explains Gabrielle, a four-year member of the team.

Case in point: While she and Kai held auditions in early fall, they were committed to finding a role for everyone. Which is why, not only do they have a robust roster of more than 30 students — one of if not the largest team among the more than 200 schools who compete state-wide — their depth is enviable. Competitions require 10 team members (three witnesses and two attorneys for each side), but Kent Place has plenty of reinforcements. 

“Thanks to our recruiting efforts, we have grown from eight students my sophomore year to 30 just two years later — enough for a starter team, an alternate team on standby, and an auxiliary team of legal aids,” Gabrielle adds.

Another hallmark of the team: assiduous collaboration. While members of the prosecution and defense each have their own set of case materials, both sides work together closely, rehearsing and providing feedback. Colette calls it a “teamwork-centric” approach. “It is common for us to fully immerse ourselves in the other side's materials and oscillate between groups to be able to give advice and help our teammates out,” she says. “It helps us prepare for competition by allowing us to see the same issue from multiple perspectives.”

At the regional finals over spring break, several team members were away, prompting the legal aids into starting roles. No problem. They had rehearsed. They knew their lines. “It was a real testament to how included everyone on the team feels,” says their faculty advisor, Upper School history teacher Trish Carleton. “And it demonstrates how well they all knew the case.”

Knowing your lines — yet being able to adapt to whatever the opposing team throws out, like objections or a tough cross examination — is important. After all, Mock Trials are part legal prowess, part theater.

Gabrielle explains the endeavor this way: “Mock trial is a serious activity. You need to use problem solving, logic, and argumentation. But you're given a pretty challenging case and you have to tell a good story.” A field trip to Princeton University in December to watch and workshop with their Mock Trial Team was illuminating on this point. 

Kai, also in their fourth year with the team, is an equally devoted contributor to Kent Place’s drama program. They juggled rehearsals for the spring play in tandem with Mock Trial practices and competitions. During trials, they drew heavily on their acting skills. “Direct examination is very scripted but in cross examination, you have no idea what questions are going to be asked by the opposing team. Plus, every school has a slightly different interpretation of the case. So, there is a lot of improv.”

As the team’s legal advisor, attorney John Garde P ’19, reminds them, it’s all about the show you put on as a team. “You can formulate a brilliant argument but if the audience doesn’t hear it or sympathize with you or if you're not personable, it doesn’t matter,” says Gabrielle. Because the case remains the same throughout the course of the season, the team spends a great deal of time analyzing and reanalyzing their characters, what worked in trial and what didn’t. And when members of the alternate team are called upon, it’s helpful to see how they approach their characters differently. They learn from one another.

An emphasis on learning is perhaps one of the most noteworthy features of Kai and Gabrielle’s two-year tenure as captains. It may also help to explain why they have been able to welcome — and retain — so many fellow team members. “We’ve really tried to encourage an atmosphere of making mistakes and taking risks,” says Gabrielle, who cites public speaking, quick thinking, and poise among the skills she has sharpened during her years with the team. “We don’t want anyone to feel nervous that they don’t have enough experience. Because of that, new team members have really given it their all and improved so much.”

A leader in the Middle School’s Mock Trial Club when it first launched in 2018, Kai says they have grown not only in confidence, but in their ability to roll with the punches. They recall a moment earlier in the season when Gabrielle, a lead attorney, was out sick and Kai, a witness, had to step in and learn Gabrielle’s role within hours. “It was terrifying but exhilarating,” they remember. “I was so proud of myself afterwards.” 

Ms. Carleton points out that these “soft skills” — flexibility, working collaboratively, learning how to give feedback to one another constructively — complement the technical skills required in a courtroom, like memorizing affidavits, understanding the rules of evidence, developing lines of reason in direct questioning and cross examinations, and listening deeply to an opponent’s arguments to ensure effective rebuttals. All in all, it’s an impressive undertaking. Consider that it is entirely student-driven, and it’s even more inspiring. 

“What stands out to me is the absolute dedication these students have,” Ms. Carleton observes. “The team was 30 strong for almost six months! Every member felt that no matter how small their role was, they were integral to the team’s success. That’s great leadership.”

Effective leadership aside, perhaps the greatest unifying force on the team is genuine friendship. All four leaders cite the strong bonds they have formed, often with students in other grades and outside typical friend groups, not to mention from competing teams, as their favorite part of being on the team. Megan recalls that she considered giving up Mock Trial last year because of the significant time commitment. It didn’t take long for her to change her mind. “As the season progressed, I became such good friends with everyone and enjoyed myself so much I couldn’t fathom not continuing. I was so inspired by the people and the community.” 

Gabrielle agrees. For her and her teammates, Mock Trial is just plain fun. Picking up expertise in public speaking, trial law, argumentation, and much, much more, feels like icing on the cake. “As a captain, that’s the most satisfying part, watching the team members gain confidence and skills they didn’t think they could acquire, skills that can be applied to any area of life,” she says. “That’s very rewarding.”


Mock Trial Team Members
Gabrielle Liberman ’24, Kai Markley ’24, Colette Gentile ’25, Megan Llewellyn-Jones ’25, Jacquelyn Reig ’26, Mia Ramos ’26, Allison Ameo ’26, Annalisa Abbate ’24, Lorelei Gustafson-Johnson ’26, Nia Gitau ’25, Emily Foerster ’27, Tara Nirula ’27, Julia Carey ’25, Riya Malpani ’27, Ceci Hirawat ’26, Claire Collins ’24, Annabelle Lesnik ’27, Supriya Kamilla ’26, Mira Klein-Maggio ’26, Priyana Manglani ’27, Mariana Pirez Ramirez ’26, Hannah Kelley ’26, Maya Yie ’24, Chelsea Cui ’25, Amirah Ali ’27, Amelia Ing ’27, Katie Tan ’24, Juliette Maria ’26, Anabella Mendieta-Frost ’26, and Tessa Vuchic ’26

Faculty Advisor: Trish Carleton
Attorney Coach: John Garde P ’19

For a peek at how Mock Trials are run, visit the website of the New Jersey Bar Association, which sponsors the state-wide competitions.