law talk tuesday: middle school mock trial

19 Nov

Loyola Law School has a pro bono requirement.  Before graduation, every student must complete at least 40 hours of uncompensated legal work. Many students choose to enroll in a clinic (and Loyola has some great ones) but I love kids so I knew I wanted to find a way to work with them.

Over the summer, I heard about a program called the Prime Time Trials and immediately signed up.  The idea behind Team Prime Time is to create after-school programming for at-risk children from low-income areas of L.A.  Additionally, the founder of Team Prime Time believes that when children are pushed, they will meet those expectations, but if expectations are lowered, they will sink to those expectations.  The trial also serves as a way for kids to get acquainted with the law in a positive way, and to view a legal career as a real possibility for themselves.

For the first few weeks of the program, I worked with about 15 other LLS students to draft a problem for the mock trial.  We ended up modifying an assignment we had for our 1L Legal Research and Writing class, which was a trade secrets issue.  We incorporated some fun pop culture references to make it fun for the kids . . . and for us.

After we got the problem all ready to go, we split up into teams. I was the team captain for the team at Emerson Middle School and we prepared for about two months to face off in the final trial against Palms Middle School.                 IMG_4994

Team Emerson represented the Plaintiff, Gordy Gordito, a man who created a unique recipe for the perfect taco shell.  The recipe consisted of a specific recipe of seasonings as well as an unusual method for cooking it. The defendant, Kenye East, (see what we did there?) stumbled upon Plaintiff’s secret taco recipe when he saw a piece of paper illuminated by a black light at one of his concert venues.  He then took that recipe and made his own popular taco chain, Yeezy’s Tacos.  Gordito brought suit against Yeezy’s Tacos alleging misappropriation of his trade secret (the taco recipe).

I went to Emerson once a week with a few other LLS students and we presented a modified Trial Advocacy class for the sixth through eighth graders.  We went over things like opening statements and closing arguments, direct vs. cross examinations, and even held a deposition!  The group also met on Thursdays, when practicing attorneys would come to the schools and reinforce the lessons taught on Tuesdays.

a lesson in an effective cross.

a lesson in an effective cross.

Alex and Flower take a break on their opening and closing to eat some tacos.

Alex and Flower take a break on their opening and closing to eat some tacos.

(I like to call these photos the “Still using my old iPhone 4” collection).

About half way through the program, we started bringing in tacos for the kids (since our fact pattern was about tacos, it seemed thematically appropriate).

And while sometimes the kids were unbearably squirrely, we were constantly impressed by how they were able to grasp some pretty difficult concepts. Trade secrets are pretty difficult for law students to grasp, let alone 6th graders.

Flower rocking her closing in one of the final practices.

Flower rocking her closing in one of the final practices.

Finally, on Tuesday November 12, it was time for the final trial against Palms Middle School.  Around 3:15, all of the students arrived.  We went over some last minute questions and made sure everyone’s heads were in the game.

with snacks, of course.

with snacks, of course.

Team Emerson, about to head into court.

Team Emerson, about to head into court.

 The trial itself was great.  All of the kids really rose to the occasion and were incredibly articulate, and seemed to have a great time.

Opening and Closing attorneys.

Opening and Closing attorneys.

our key witnesses as well as the attorneys who conducted the direct examinations get ready for trial.

our key witnesses as well as the attorneys who conducted the direct examinations get ready for trial.

We broke up the trial into different parts in order to maximize student involvement, and Judge Patricia L. Collins presided over the trial.

Dylan conducting the direct of our witness, Mr. Jay Hova, before the Hon. Patricia Collins.

Dylan conducting the direct of our witness, Mr. Jay Hova, before the Hon. Patricia Collins.

One of our students, Matthew, made a last minute addition to his cross examination of the opposing side’s star witness that left a chill in the air – he had nailed it.

Also, after an attorney for the opposing side tried to impeach one of our witnesses using the deposition transcript, Flower, the student responsible for our closing argument, effectively explained that the sound quality for the deposition was so poor, that perhaps it was actually the defense’s fault for mishearing our witness – and that they had mistakenly written “$15,000” for the alleged amount of damages as opposed to “$150,000.”  A collective “oooooooh” was let out by the audience at that point, it was awesome.

Flower's closing.

Flower’s closing.

After the trial concluded, Judge Collins took a brief recess.  When she returned, she immediately began explaining how the Plaintiff has the burden of proof.  We knew this wasn’t good for us.  She went on to say that the facts were stacked against us and that she had to side with the other team – meaning our request for an injunction was denied.

Our team was bummed, but they assured us that they had “already won.” (I’m not kidding, one of them actually said this to me as she sipped her Juicy Juice before the trial).

While I’m sure the kids had fun, learned a lot, and a positive experience with “the law,” I am also pretty sure that the law students got just as much out of the experience.

Law people — favorite pro bono assignment/activity?

Non-crazy non-law peeps: Do you work with kids? What do you do?

7 Responses to “law talk tuesday: middle school mock trial”

  1. Kaley November 20, 2013 at 9:58 am #

    What great pro bono work! I’m sure the kids will remember it for a long time!

    • gillian November 20, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

      Thanks, Kaley! It was a lot of fun and memorable for me too!

  2. Susan November 20, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    Loved this story, Gillian. I lived directly across the street from Emerson for many years in my 20s/early 30s and James and I played basketball often at the courts there. Ansel and patrick were born at our house there. Used to let kids hang in our driveway waiting to be picked up when I was out with my babies. Who are now large men. Sigh.

    • gillian November 20, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

      Aww, thanks Susie! That’s a cool story, too! I love that part of Century City, it’s so cute!

  3. Christine McCarthy (@OatmealBowl) November 22, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    Okay, way cool! Middle schoolers no less. My daughter just did a debate for history and loved it. said she was good at it (arguing). 😉 I really wish they would do more of this in school. Thank you for sharing. And giving back – great way to rack up your pro bono requirements in this win-win situation.

    • gillian November 22, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

      Thanks Christine! It was a great experience — middle schoolers are fun because they’re still young enough to be adorable, but old enough to really grasp some tricky concepts. Win-win for sure!


  1. law talk tuesday: semester wind-down. | That's G - December 17, 2013

    […] than class, I also fulfilled my pro bono requirement with the Team Prime Time Mock Trial. This was a ton of fun and the kids always made me laugh, smile, or remind me that my mascara was […]

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