Law students put to trial

“Saturday the second floor hallway of West Hall was full of law students silently pacing, waiting for their names to be called. Reid 209, Casto 208, trial team veteran Stephanie Adams shouted, directing students into mock courtrooms so they could attempt to prove they were worthy of a spot on the University of Akron’s trial team.”

Saturday the second floor hallway of West Hall was full of law students silently pacing, waiting for their names to be called. Reid 209, Casto 208, trial team veteran Stephanie Adams shouted, directing students into mock courtrooms so they could attempt to prove they were worthy of a spot on the University of Akron’s trial team.

Over 70 law students tried out for a spot on UA’s most successful team – the mock trial advocacy team. Eager law students, second year and above, waited outside mock court rooms filled with former trial team members and professional trial lawyers for a chance to present an opening or closing argument. They were each hoping their argument would lead them to a spot on the team, which holds regional and national awards and boasts a 100 percent job placement rating.

Only 20 students made the cut for next years team.

In terms of what the judges are looking for, they look at the legal presentation and I think in the trial team it could be said that half of it is how well you can present, trial team veteran Mike Rickett said. Your ability to do public speaking and all the things that make for a good public speech for a trial attorney and then also the content including how you prepare. Whether it’s chronological, or whether or not you include the appropriate facts and whether or not you’re talking about the appropriate legal concepts.

Rickett and approximately 12 other judges gave students five minutes to give an opening or closing argument. One such person was second year student Dorian Baum.

I want to do trial, criminal defense work, Baum said. I get to taste the in-court atmosphere.

Baum said he was led to try out for the team with the hopes that the experience would give him an edge once he is in the work force. He hopes the experience gained through the team will allow him to feel more comfortable with real trials.

Prior to the tryouts, Baum said he utilized a former trial team member for help. He said they went back and forth presenting each other’s arguments, tweaking them each time as they went.

I thought he was a pretty good resource to use, Baum said.

Judges agreed with Baum and said he is not the only one to do such a thing.

You get some people who come and they have never spoken with anyone and that’s raw-raw talent, trial team veteran Matt Bruce said. Then you get some people who come in and they’ve spoken at least with some trial team members who can help them and at least get on that path. That also gives an insight into how coachable they are.

Baum said students who look to current and former trial team members for advice also give an insight to the judges on how they will respond to coaching.

If a trial team veteran can give them a little bit of advice over a couple weeks and they can improve or at least get on the right path, then in several months of coaching you can see that they are really going to respond well.

Current members of the trial team must also try out to earn their spot back. Beki Blackson, a second year evening student, was on the team this year and said the team was worth coming back to.

I loved it and it was the most rewarding experience ever, Blackson said.

Blackson was also part of the team that recently returned from the national championship in Florida.

I was only a witness, she said. It is real hours of courtroom experience. That experience is just incredible.

Baum recalled his tryout as a nerve-racking experience.

I’m sure the people who’ve done trial team are much more relaxed, Baum said. The jury does things to try and distract you. They’ll look off into space, they try to act like you’re capturing their attention. You just have to keep your focus.

I so very clearly wasn’t (focused), or at least I didn’t think I was, Baum said. I messed up names and whatever.

According to Rickett, who was one of the judges this year, it is not the goal of any judge to distract those trying out for the team.

I don’t think any individual (judges) tried to do anything intentionally, but we go through 60 presentations, Rickett said. Just like with in a real jury in a real case, people don’t always pay attention.

Rickett also said that regardless of whether judges in tryouts were paying attention, that a lack of attention is an everyday occurrence in the courtroom.

What the judges are doing, probably unintentionally, are some of the same pitfalls that young and experienced lawyers are going to deal with in a courtroom, Rickett said. I don’t think that’s an intentional strategy. There’s no game plan for one person to have a coughing fit, or another person to roll their eyes and laugh. It’s just a part of the process.

Luckily for certain students trying out, such as Baum, a second chance to present their argument is allotted.

I came back out and relaxed. The second time around I think I did a lot better and I think the jury was a lot less disruptive. I just went in there and tried to give it as well as I can, Baum said.

He described the room as static, with a few judges and a jury. Really I look at the judges in the beginning and that’s it, because after that I’m just talking with the jury and trying to convince them I deserve to be on trial team.

Some people might find it intimidating or foreboding, but I really didn’t find it that way, Baum said. As long as you know what you’re doing and you have enough confidence in yourself, it doesn’t matter where you say it. You should be able to say it just as well in front of a few people as you would in an empty hallway.

The ability to speak well in public is the quality Baum hopes will win him a spot on the team.

I’ve never had a problem with public speaking and it’s become just more pronounced the older I’ve gotten, which is for better of worse the way it is, Baum said. I think I have pretty good command. I just have a voice that carries and whether they want to or not, they’re going to have to hear me.

Baum also cited his upbringing and schooling as ways he has earned an edge to make the team.

I come from a semi-legal background. My father is a lawyer and I’ve been here for almost two full years, he said. If I’m not confident in what I’m doing at this point, then I don’t know if I should really be here.

Baum did not make Saturday’s cut for next years team.


” #1.1361073:4143240089.jpg:20080415_trial_jh.jpg:Law students and judges met in one of West Hall’s two mock courtrooms before trial team tryouts Saturday. :”