On Friday, January 18, 2019, more than 3,000 high school students entered courtrooms in 26 counties across Ohio, to take part in the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education’s (OCLRE) 36th Annual Ohio Mock Trial Competition. Their journey continued Friday, February 15, 2019, as the teams competed in the Regional Competition. Regional winners will be participating in the State Competition on March 7-9th in Columbus. The 2019 state champion team will go on to represent Ohio at the National High School Mock Trial Championship in Athens, Georgia, on May 16-18th.
Personally, I never participated in Mock Trial as a high school student. Instead, I chose totally different extra-curricular activities. I also never participated in Mock Trial as an attorney volunteer. I have friends who have. One friend from law school has tried to recruit me to participate every year with her. For the past 20 years or so, I have declined. My excuse used to be that since I spent all day in Court, I just-couldn’t.
Until this year. It must have been the 2nd or 3rd request from the CBA for attorneys to serve as volunteer judges that finally got my attention. They needed people to judge the district competition from 4:30-6:30, in the Courthouse. My workday at the Law Library ends between 4 and 4:30, and I am already in the Courthouse. After all this time, I found I had run out of reasons not to participate.
And, I am so very glad that I did.
I only served as a judge for one of the two rounds in the District Competition, which meant, I only saw 2 of the many teams, but, they were impressive. Since I was not sure what to expect with this experience, I had tried to read as much of the 150-some page case file that made up the project as possible. The case focused on Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures as it applies to technology. The teams were arguing a motion to suppress evidence against a defendant obtained by a drone. There was a Prosecuting Team and a Defense Team. Each team had 2 “trial attorneys” who presented opening and closing arguments on their side’s position along with direct and cross examinations of 2 witnesses per side. I was one of 3 judges, as the trials are conducted in front of 2 “scoring judges” and 1 presiding judge. The other scoring judge was new to judging Mock Trial, too, so, it worked well that our presiding judge had experience with Mock Trial as a coach. After both of the presentations, the judicial panel convened to compare our scores and calculate which team had the higher score, and would move on to the next round. We also awarded best lawyer and best witness certificates for the students we thought earned it. What was most evident was that the students in our group had clearly worked hard to be prepared to present their best that day.
And, as I said to the students at the conclusion of their trial, they were all so very impressive. They really were. Because, at the end of the day, they are high school students, stepping out of their comfort zone to stand in front of strangers and make their “case.” Public speaking is quite possibly the greatest fear most people have, and while the students made some mistakes, I kept their youth and enthusiasm in mind when scoring their performances. While they do have a lot of growing to do, presumably, the students who participate in Mock Trial are interested in at least exploring a legal career, and if this is their start, they are off to a great future. Based on what I saw in the District Round of Mock Trial, I am impressed with the students, the coaches, and the process.
I look forward to participating in my next Mock Trial and strongly encourage you to consider participating if you can. Catching a glimpse of the future of the Bar is exhilarating and well-worth the invested time.