Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

July, 2004

Mock Trial Program Offers Teens
First-Hand Look at Legal System

By Tom Breihan

“What really impresses is how good and poised the kids are,” says Jean Laws, one of the attorney coaches for the Mock Trial team at James M. Bennett High School in Wicomico County, Maryland. “When I think of myself at that age – I’m a lawyer and I do trial work, but there’s no way I could have gotten up in front of a real judge and argued a case when I was in high school.”

The Mock Trial program, which is overseen by the Citizenship Law-Related Education Program and sponsored by the Maryland State Bar Association and the Maryland State Department of Education, has just finished its twenty-first successful year. In the program, teams from high schools across the state play opposite sides in civil and criminal cases. The teams’ performances are scored and judged by attorneys and judges, and the state finals are held in the Maryland Court of Appeals in Annapolis.

“My son was a member of the mock trial team at his high school,” says Laws. “My husband and I went to see a couple of the competitions, and it was really impressive.” The year after their son graduated, Laws and her husband Victor, also an attorney, took over as coaches at Bennett High School. The couple’s daughter Jessie was a member of this year’s team, which finished in the program’s final four.

“The kids get really into it, and they have fun,” says Laws. “We always say above all to have fun with what happens … But the competition makes them do their best, and the harder the competition, the better the teams do. And we’ve had some really tough competitions in our circuit, which was made us develop into a really good team.”

“The kids focus on the competitive aspect more than the judges would probably like them to,” laughs Bradley Reed, the attorney coach for the team at Bishop Walsh High School in Allegany County, whose team also made the final four.

But the program offers more than friendly competition. Students who participate are offered a first-hand look at the legal system, and many of those who participate go on to seek careers in law. Reed even reports that his newest legal clerk is a former student from the first of the eight teams that he coached.

“Not all of these kids are going to go on to become lawyers, but it shows everyone what a real trial is like and what happens when people have different ideas and perspectives on issues,” says Laws. “They have to do an opening statement and a closing argument, which are incredible skills because they require incorporating a lot of what’s been going on during the trial and coming up with strategy, quick thinking, handling the questions from the judge.”

“For me, these are great skills, no matter what you go on to do in life,” she continues. “If you can analyze and understand both sides of an issue, that’s probably the most important skill that they’re going to learn, and also how to present your case and advocate effectively for your position.”

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: July, 2004

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