For the past few years, I coached an undergraduate mock trial team. While I stepped down from my role this past September, I am still reaping the benefits of the (unpaid) position. How can coaching mock trial help a newer litigator out?
Rules of Evidence
Sure I took evidence in law school, but I immediately forgot 99% of the rules the moment after I took the exam. Like civil procedure, the rules of evidence make the most sense in context. When you coach undergraduate mock trial, you’re responsible for teaching the rules to non-lawyer undergraduates. I found myself watching Irving Younger in my spare time so that I could copy his moves for my students. I am sure that if/when some of my students attend law school and if/when they watch an Irving Younger video, they will realize that my entire shtick consisted of me channeling Irving Younger. That said, when I teach something, I internalize it (and learn it) more thoroughly. My desire to explain the intricacies of hearsay to my non-lawyer charges drove me to master the rule (probably for the first time).
My newfound mastery of evidentiary procedure had some fun effects. Early in my tenure at my firm, a senior partner mused aloud about an evidentiary question, and I was able to jump in and (citing the rule!) offer an answer. I felt pretty cool. I thanked the mock trial students at our next practice.
Practice Makes Perfect
When you coach mock trial, you spend several weekends judging mock trial. Weekend judging means that you’re not only teaching your students the rules of evidence, you’re presiding as a judge making evidentiary rulings each weekend. You watch students (coached by local attorneys and judges) enter evidence, present opening and closing arguments, object, and impeach witnesses. Now, I’m not saying this is the same thing as watching Edward Bennett Williams conduct a trial each weekend, but you are watching well-trained students go through moves so many times that they become second nature.
I am always jealous when I hear more seasoned attorneys speak of the days when they had a trial every week. Science writer Malcolm Gladwell posits that it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to master a skill. In today’s litigation landscape (unless, of course, you are a public defender or a prosecutor or the like) it could take eons to reach that milestone. Finding ways to access 10,000, hours of practice are few and far between, but I think that coaching mock trial allowed me to add some hours to the clock.
Undergraduates are Awesome
Coaching undergrads will take you back to another time in your life. For me, hanging out with undergraduates forced me to recall a time when I had hours of free time. Last year, one of the mock trial teams created elaborate Facebook profiles for each of the characters in the year’s case (a dramatic affair involving a drunk driving accident). They were hysterical. My own team crafted elaborate demonstratives involving magnets shaped like cups of beer. Each of these seemingly insignificant instances reminded me that free time spurs creativity. A nice reminder in a profession that sometimes can encourage folks to do rather than think.
At the end of the day, the time commitment (two nights a week and weekends) became too much. I am grateful, however, to have invested two years of my life into the endeavor. I know that I learned a lot, and I think the students did as well.
(image: People in a Courtroom from Shutterstock)