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Community Service Spotlight: Mock Trial Team Co-Coaches Trista Beise and Alex Barnett

The Community Service Spotlight is an opportunity for us to shine light on our attorneys who volunteer in the community. This week, we talked with Lane & Waterman attorneys Trista Beise and Alex Barnett, co-coaches of this year’s Our Lady of Lourdes Junior High Mock Trial Team. 

What made you decide to coach mock trial?

We were presented with the opportunity to coach mock trial and both thought it would be a great opportunity to not only get out in the community and give back, but to inspire these students who, at such a young age, have already shown an interest in the law.

Did you participate in mock trial when you were younger?

No.  So this experience is completely new to us and we are learning right along with the students.  While we did not participate in mock trial prior to law school, we’re able to draw on our mock trial and moot court classes in law school and our live court room experiences to provide meaningful feedback to the students on effective strategies for presenting their case in chief.  Coaching this group has emphasized to us what a valuable experience mock trial is for young individuals curious about the Court system and/or interested in pursuing the legal profession.  If mock trial was an extracurricular in our junior high schools it is very likely we both would have participated.

How many students are on the team?

13 students from 6th – 8th grade, including fellow Lane & Waterman attorney Diane Puthoff‘s son Nick.

For those of us who’ve never experienced it, how does a mock trial competition work?

The team is assigned a case, either civil or criminal.  This year, the case is a criminal case.  The team is provided with witness testimony and exhibits.  The team does not know prior to competition whether it will be the State or the Defense.  Therefore the team has to prepare for both theories of the case.  The students are assigned roles in the trial: attorneys who give the opening and closing statements, attorneys who conduct direct and cross examination of witnesses, testifying witnesses, and time keepers.  All are important positions in the competition.  The students review the case including the facts and exhibits and then come up with theories of their case.  This theory then is the basis for the opening and closing arguments and questions they draft for both direct and cross examination.  Again, they prepare theories for both sides of the case.  Then, after much practice, the students present their case at the competition.  The competition is held at a local courthouse in a courtroom where cases are presented on a daily basis.  The competition is like a real trial.  There is a presiding judge.  The case is presented in the same fashion as local attorneys present their cases – opening statements, direct and cross examination, entering exhibits, and closing arguments.  Rather than having a jury decide, the teams are judged by the presiding judge and given a score based on a number of different factors including their overall presentation of the case.

What is the hardest part about coaching junior high students?

We have noticed students at this age are busy, very busy.  They are involved in so many extracurricular activities and have competing obligations.  Mock trial is a lot of work and takes a lot of time.  So we would say finding the time both in our schedules and the students to adequately prepare for the competition is tough.  Yet the students have done a great job these last two months in taking all of this information in and preparing to give a great performance at competition.

What do you enjoy about coaching?

These students are so enthusiastic, it makes coaching worth every second.  The progress these students have made in a few short weeks is outstanding.  We are amazed when these middle school students make statements only a lawyer would make!  In addition, it is very rewarding to know we are teaching these students skills that are transferable in any occupation in life – they are learning to effectively present persuasive arguments and effectively communicate.  Lastly, knowing we could potentially inspire or encourage even one of these students follow their dreams, even if it is not in the law, makes it all worth it.

Mock trial is a huge commitment.  These students spent countless hours preparing for competition.  Yet, none of this would be possible without the volunteer coaches, judges, and those behind the scenes organizing the competition.  We would encourage anyone interested to get out and get involved!