Ikenberry: Q&A Northwestern’s mock trial superstar

Kathryn Ikenberry

Freshman Biren Bhansali could already be considered a student leader just from his involvement with his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, his work with Sargent Residence Hall government and his participation with the Indian School of Business.

But one look at his mock trial resume makes it seem that this Economics and Political Science double major will soon be taking courtrooms by storm. Bhansali tried out for his school’s mock trial team in his freshman year of high school and immediately found a niche. After winning the esteemed All-American Attorney Award in April with Northwestern’s Mock Trial Team, Bhansali agreed to sit down with The Edge to talk public speaking, five-hour practices and the thrill of a closing argument.

Edge: What made you get involved in mock trial?

BB: I see a lot of values now, but when I tried out back then it was mainly for the speaking style of it because it has a lot to do with public speaking. Now, both the speaking and law aspects are fascinating.

Edge: What is your role on the team? What sort of duties do you hold in this position?

BB: So we have four different teams. For fall quarter they are unstacked teams so it’s not like we put the best talent together. The next two quarters we have stacked teams. We have an A, B, C and D team. I was on an unstacked team fall quarter and then I got picked for the A team winter quarter. On that team I did a direct examination, a cross examination and then a closing argument.

The most interesting one is closing – that’s the most memorable part of the trial. Directing is basic evidence stuff. You’re trying to get your side of the case out, your elements of the case, your witnesses. We would call different witnesses played by different Northwestern students. I would just ask them questions trying to build up our case.

Cross examination is definitely more fun. It’s cutting down everything the other side said. It’s very accusatory, reading questions, rapid fire and pretty animated. Closing argument is at the end of the trial, summing up the evidence, and it’s just a nine minute summary read to the jury. It’s my favorite part of mock trial.

Edge: How often does the Northwestern team compete?

BB: We did two tournaments fall quarter, three tournaments winter quarter and then two spring quarter. We did Regionals in the winter, and Opening Nationals and Nationals in the spring. Last year, Northwestern unfortunately didn’t send any teams to opening nationals because we didn’t make it past Regionals.

But it’s very competitive. I think 650 teams start out, 128 make it to Opening Nationals and then 48 make it to Nationals. The first two qualifiers are pretty grueling, but we made it to Nationals this year and we ended up getting 16th. It was a little bit of a disappointment because we had a great shot at 10th but we were definitely happy with the finish. It was supposed to be a rebuilding year so we accomplished that.

Edge: How do you prepare for your competitions? Do you have certain practice techniques?

BB: During the fall quarter we always at practice on Wednesdays and Sundays. We practiced for 6-11p.m. on Wednesdays because we go to the law school downtown where different attorney coaches that work in Chicago will help us out there. Sundays we are usually in Kresge or Annenberg from 3-6 p.m. After being put on the A team, there is definitely a very different experience. There are a lot more practices, and closer to competitions we practice close to every night.

Edge: What has been your proudest moment on the team?

BB: Getting awards in high school was cool and I won about three or four attorney awards this season, but winning the All-American Attorney Award was definitely the best part of my mock trial career so far.

The way it works is at each competition there are two judges in each round so out of the attorneys that are there, they are ranked by the judges. If you get ranked the best attorney in that round you get five ranks, if you get second it’s four ranks and so on. The cut-off for the attorney award at nationals is getting 15 ranks. Each award is called the All-American Attorney Award and maybe 15 or 20 out of a thousand or so will be All-American Attorneys. What I won was a 19th rank All-American.

Edge: How does it feel to be a freshman and be so accomplished thus far?

BB: It’s definitely cool, Northwestern mock trial has been awesome so far. I love my team. I love my teammates. It has been a great bonding experience so far and I’ve made some of my closest friends in mock trial. It definitely feels great to be doing so well as a freshman, but there is so much more we can do.

In mock trial, there is no such thing as perfection. But my dream would be to win a national championship with Northwestern. We did well this year, but we can do so much better. It was such a heart-breaker in high school when we didn’t win the national championship and came in second, so winning a national championship is definitely something I would like to do before college ends.

Edge: What have been some of the most significant challenges you have had to overcome?

BB: Competition wise, there are so many different, grueling rounds. Earlier this year we faced the team that won the National Championship. It’s hard to face teams that are consistently really good. Also, even outside the court room, the way mock trial is designed is very prone to argument and it’s definitely a challenge working together as a team. Once you do work together though, the team does better and it’s a real bonding experience.

Edge: What do you hope to do in the future? Do you see mock trial being conducive to your future plans?

BB: Definitely for the next three years I’m going to be a member on the team. Beyond that, it depends whether I go into finance or go to law school. Even if I’m not in law, I can see myself coaching a high school or college mock trial team when I’m older. It will definitely still be a huge part of my college experience.

Kathryn Ikenberry is a Medill freshman and DAILY blogger. She can be reached at [email protected]