Iowa Law alum Tim Semelroth (97JD) has always had a passion for mock trial. In 1985, he made his competition debut as a middle school student and continued to participate during high school and in college at Drake University, where his team won the National Collegiate Mock Trial Tournament in 1993.
Tim graduated from Drake in 1994 and started law school at Iowa that fall. During law school, Tim was actively involved in the Trial Advocacy, where he and his fellow students learned to prepare and argue interrelated questions of law and fact in an adversarial setting.
It was Tim’s experiences growing up combined with his time in the Trial Advocacy program that really inspired his interest in becoming a trial attorney.
“I had never met a lawyer until I participated in mock trial when I was in junior high. My dad worked in a factory and my mom was a home economics teacher. I thought I was signing up for an activity that would give me a day off school, I had no idea it would end up giving me a career,” says Tim. “Many of the best things that have happened in my professional life trace back to mock trial. I got my judicial clerkship from the judge who coached one of my trial advocacy teams at Iowa Law, I met one of my future law partners on another Iowa trial ad team, and I have hired several of my former mock trial students as lawyers at my firm.”
After graduating from Iowa Law in 1997 with High Distinction, Tim worked as a judicial law clerk and later as a civil trial lawyer before returning to the University of Iowa as an adjunct trial advocacy professor in 2005. Today, Tim is a partner at RSH Legal in Cedar Rapids where he specializes in plaintiff personal injury cases.
Tim’s passion for mock trial never slowed down. In fact, even before graduating from law school, he started coaching in the Iowa Mock Trial Program, where his teams have won 18 Iowa middle school state championships and 9 Iowa high school state championships.
“I started coaching high school mock trial during my 3L year at Iowa Law. I thought it would be fun to go back and help with my old junior high and high school teams. I was right, it was fun. In fact, coaching mock trial has been so much fun that, 27 years later, I am still coaching both teams and I have no plans to stop,” says Tim.
The Iowa Mock Trial Program, which is sponsored by the Iowa State Bar Association, serves as a hands-on learning experience for middle and high school students to get a close-up look at the judicial process. Since its founding in 1983, the Iowa Mock Trial Program remains among the largest in the nation, and one of very few to offer the mock trial experience to middle school students. Nearly 3,500 students in grades 6-12 participate in Iowa mock trial competitions each year.
“I tell people that coaching mock trial gives me the chance to regularly work with smart, dedicated people who are committed to excellence … they just happen to be teenagers. Coaching mock trial has made me a better trial lawyer. You never know the rules of evidence better than when you can explain the character evidence rule to a 7th grader,” says Tim.
As a coach, Tim has helped students examine legal processes and current legal issues as well as develop important critical-thinking, fundamental research, preparation, and presentation skills. He often recruits other lawyers, judges, and other legal professionals to work with his students on the various aspects of preparing a case and conducting a trial.
“There is no greater thrill as a mock trial coach than watching one of your students stand up, look a judge square in the eye and make a case with logic, passion, and confidence. That is when you know that mock trial has given them something that will serve them well for the rest of their lives,” says Tim.
When it comes to Tim’s passion for mock trial, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. All three of his children have participated in mock trial and his son, Joe Semelroth, is currently involved in high school mock trial.
“It has been a real privilege to coach each of my kids’ mock trial teams,” says Tim. “I really treasure each mock trial season with one of my kids because it gives me this special window of time when they are actually interested in my job and ask me questions about my work.”
Tim has been able to introduce Joe to some of the most experienced and successful coaches in Iowa mock trial history. Joe’s interest has continued to grow throughout the years, and he has recently created a free mock trial online course of his own.
The course, MockTrial101.com, uses video lessons from real attorneys to help students master the basics of mock trial. Joe’s goal for the course is to help students that may not have access to the same level of coaching learn what they need to know about successfully competing in mock trial competitions.
On December 14, 2022, Joe reported on his course to the Iowa State Bar Association's Board of Governors. Since its launch in August 2022, the course has enrolled 269 students from 39 different schools across the state. Joe has also started talking to other out-of-state lawyers who want to sponsor MockTrial101.com courses for their states. Joe says, as long as those lawyers are willing to give free course access to students and teachers, he is available for hire.
“I’m very proud of Joe’s work creating MockTrial101.com,” says Tim. “I owe so much to the lawyers who coached me in mock trial, and it is exciting to think of the impact Joe’s course could have on the next generation of Iowa lawyers.”