Monday, January 30, 2023

Lessons from coaching high school mock trial

When you try a case, there’s not much within your control. You can’t control the judge. You can’t control the jury. You can’t control your opposing counsel. Sometimes you can’t even control your own witnesses. But the one thing you can control is how well prepared you are, and you are so well prepared.

For the past four months I’ve been volunteering as one of the legal advisors for the Lake Ridge Academy Mock Trial team. That’s what I told my team the evening before their opening round of competition last Friday.

I wanted them to know how proud I was of them before they competed and learned whether they advanced to the next round — how hard they worked, how prepared they were, and how much they’ve grown since we started practicing in September. I wanted them to know that they could not control the outcome of the competition, just their preparation. They nailed their preparation.

Winning is great (and don’t get me wrong, I really wanted them to win and advance), but it’s also not our “why.” It’s the learning and growth that matters. That goal we more than accomplished.

As for winning, you’ll have to read on find out how my team fared.

Here's what I learned through the experience.

1.) Preparation matters, a lot. My team worked hard. Really hard. And it showed.

2.) Kids today are way smarter than we were at the same age. As a high school mock trialler, I was nowhere near as polished and professional as these kids are. Heck, there are a lot of practicing attorneys who aren’t as polished and professional as these kids are.

3.) The rules of evidence are really, really difficult. Relevance. Probative value versus prejudice. Expert opinions. Hearsay. Especially hearsay. We lawyers spend an entire semester of law school learning the ins and outs of these rules and a lifetime of litigation perfecting our use of them. These high school students are supposed to master them well enough to make and argue sound objections in a live trial setting. It’s impressive to watch these kids think on their feet.

4.) Trials take way too long. High School Mock Trial is strictly timed. The entire trial lasts about two hours. My longest jury trial lasted more than two weeks. Many take a lot longer. That’s way too long. There’s a happy medium between two hours and two weeks that permits you to call your witnesses, present your evidence, and make your case, all without boring the jury to death. Our trial presentations need to do a much better job syncing with today’s short attention spans.

5.) I want to coach again next year. It was such a rewarding experience and I can’t wait to do it again.

As for the results …

Both of our teams advanced to the next round. Moreover, out of the eight possible awards in the four trials in which we competed, we won seven (four “Best Lawyers” and three “Best Witnesses”). It was a very good day. I’m beaming like a proud parent. On to Regionals Feb. 17.
The 2023 Lake Ridge Academy Mock Trial Team