Veteran's Day weekend, Buffalo will host law students from 32 schools across the country as part of the ninth annual Buffalo Niagara Mock Trial Competition.
Participants will come from Louisiana, California, Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as University at Buffalo Law School. The event is Nov. 9-12 at Buffalo City Court, 50 Delaware Ave.
This year's fictional case was written by Buffalo Judge Timothy Franczyk and centers on the death of a chef who became a nationally known food critic and host of a popular show on the Cuisine Network. The tale involves conspiracies, animal beheadings and a pretty strong defense, making it an interesting case to present and one in which either side has an opportunity to sway the jury and win their arguments, according to Franczyk.
"That's always a challenge when you are writing one of these," he said. "You want to make it challenging and engaging, but you don't want a case where it is going to get old as the teams present it over four days. You want both sides to feel like they have a fighting chance of winning."
This is the sixth time he has written a case for the mock trial tournament. He said another key is striking a balance between being interesting enough to engage students and inserting enough legally challenging facts into the case to test participants.
"I wanted this case to really delve into people's personalities and their motivations," Franczyk said, "to really get into why people do what they do."
Jennifer Runfola is his confidential law clerk and a former participant in the Mock Trial program at SUNY Buffalo Law School. She has been involved in the local competition since its inception and said it has brought thousands of students and faculty to Western New York over the years.
"We have gotten such positive feedback from our visitors," she said. "They love coming to this region, and it's nice that we can see that boost to the local economy from hosting the event, as well."
This year, she said, the program received queries from 59 schools interested in participating, though for logistical reasons the competition is limited to 32 teams.
"We have seen our waiting list, if you will, get bigger and bigger each year," Runfola said.
The competition has become "one of, if not the biggest competitions of its kind in the country," she said. She credits that to dedicated volunteers from both the law school and the region's legal community, who come together to organize the event. Among the volunteers are legal professionals who serve as judges and evaluators for the four days of competition. Runfola said she is still seeking volunteers for this year's Mock Trial.
"Our volunteers really are what make this work," she said. "And if people are willing to volunteer, they don't have to serve for the entire tournament. They can choose whatever rounds fit their schedule."
Franczyk agreed that volunteers are crucial to the success. Their support serves as a valuable, hands-on tool that can help the next generation of attorneys.
"This is the best possible training that a student who wants to be a trial lawyer can get," he said. "You can read about it; you can watch others do it. But there is nothing better than getting in there and arguing a case in a courtroom."
To volunteer as a judge or evaluator for the 2012 Mock Trial Tournament, contact Jennifer Runfolo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Non-transitional CLE credit will be given to participating lawyers.