Being a Mock Trial Courtroom Artist

Reo Lee

The Mock Trial team placed third at the 42nd Annual Texas High School Mock Trial Virtual State Competition. Not only did the club place at state as a group, senior Chelsea Li, also placed first in state as the courtroom artist. She will be advancing to Nationals this coming month representing the whole team.

“One of the main reasons I loved Plano West mock trial is how much confidence we have in each other,” Li said. “Our school is home to many talented people and mock trials really helped me to meet them. They are all so dedicated to their role and really supportive of one another.”

For those that are not familiar with the team or mock trial in general, Li gives a brief explanation on what exactly the club practices and does during meetings and at competitions.

“The way I like to see mock trial is like a mix of theatre and debate,” Li said. “There is a court case given to every participating team, and each role from the defendant to the lawyers are written in full detail in order for each student to play the roles themselves in court.”

Since every student receives a different role to play in court, the atmosphere created by improvisation and different interpretations of personalities makes the court scene a believable reenactment.

“My role is the courtroom artist, an observer of the trial. I sketch out the court and the members as if I am telling the story but in a single shot frame,” Li said. “I usually sit in a corner of the room but because this year it is virtual, I had to imagine the trial in the courtroom and get more creative with how I wanted to portray them.”

Mock trial competitions were held virtually over Zoom due to safety regulations amidst the current pandemic, which had its upsides.

“One good thing about being virtual is that I am significantly less nervous since I am in the comfort of my own home,” Li said. “I had the chance to practice drawing my teammates during our practice rounds and I feel like that gave me a bit more confidence in my abilities.”

Li shares that the biggest issue with being a courtroom artist is having enough time to draw everything since the given time is around one hour and 30 minutes to finish a drawing with color, something she struggled within the previous year.

“I think for the most part I was surprised to learn that I placed first, since last year when I competed, I did not place at all,” Li said. “I felt happy that day since the team also made it to the semi-finals, it was like we came through despite these new conditions that we had to work through.”

Mock trials have helped Li learn new things, especially artistically. She learned how to draw better and faster under immense amounts of pressure, and make tough split-second decisions.

“If you mess up, you have either two options: start over entirely and risk wasting time or just work around your mistake and cover it,” Li said. “There are so many things to keep in mind while drawing: composition of a piece, courtroom accuracy, facial expressions, body anatomy.”

The experience overall has been a learning one for Li, but she shares that she is proud of herself and her growth from previous years.

“In my completion piece from last year versus this year, you can see an improvement especially in composition,” Li said. “During this trial, I was exposed to so many talented speakers and artists during this competition.”