Americans are very good at volunteering to help others. There is no shortage of this virtue among lawyers and legal professionals, as seen in legal aid societies and pro bono programs.
I began coaching a high school mock trial team in Santa Clara County as part of the statewide competition last year. This involved teaching how to develop a case theme, cross-examination a witness and make a closing argument. It also involved teaching a few life skills, like how to polish shoes and tie a tie. Yes, my team wore matching bow ties for the young men and scarves for the young women (Thank you Beau Ties Ltd of Vermont).
The Constitutional Rights Foundation organizes the program where high school students compete in a fictional criminal trial based on relevant legal issues to youth. Local counties organize and host competitions for their high school districts that determine who advance to the next round of competition. The students learn the basics of how a trial works, rules of evidence, witness examination, opening statements and closing arguments.
The 2011 case focused on First Amendment issues over an anti-cyber-bullying law and assault. The fact pattern included computer forensics issues of computer log-ins and tracking IP addresses to prove the cyber-bullying.
The members of the Santa Clara County Bar Association turn out in force to support the actual “mock trials,” which are held on each Tuesday and Thursday in February. One the first night of competition, over 150 attorneys volunteered to score the competing teams. Moreover, 25 judges volunteered over 3.5 hours of their time after a full day of hearing cases to preside over a fictional case with high school students.
2011 saw e-Discovery service providers sponsor the event for the first time in Santa Clara County. I contacted friends at Lexis Nexis, Access Data and kCura Corporation who all did not blink at the idea of donating to help cover the competition costs. The “can do” attitude of everyone at these companies to support positive opportunities for youth is extremely admirable.
Lexis was gracious enough to help my team with several downloads of CaseMap for the students to outline their cases and arguments. They were also kind enough to send all the students “Evolution” t-shirts from Legal Tech.
kCura Corporation was one of the top three sponsors of the competition. kCura was honored for their support with one of the semi-final courtrooms named in their honor. Their generosity was a wonderful example supporting youth programs.
The support of Access Data, Lexis Nexis and kCura allowed the Santa Clara County mock trial tournament to meet all of its operational costs, a fact not lost on local attorneys.
Across California, high students are preparing for the 2012 mock trial case being released on Thursday, September 15. Once again, students will work extremely hard to learn the elements of a trial. As always, attorneys will be there to help.
Volunteering is not easy, given monthly billable hour requirements, the demands of the practice of law and simply trying to live a balanced life. However, many of these competing high school seniors will one day be young attorneys within a decade. Finding time to score one night of competition in your county, help a friend teach students how to make objections or even coach a team, is a long term investment in the practice of law.
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg from 2013 to 2016 and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.