Mock trial teams learn 'it's not like TV'

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By Jo Mathis

Legal News

Ypsilanti High School senior Lucy Smith isn't sure she's the type to become an attorney.

''I'm not someone who likes to argue,'' said Smith, the daughter and granddaughter of attorneys. ''I'd rather compromise. Getting up there and saying, `I'm right and you're wrong...'' that 's something I have a hard time doing.''

But whatever career path she takes at the University of Michigan next fall, Smith said she will always cherish her experience.

Smith was one of the Ypsilanti High School students who met weekly with volunteers from the University of Michigan Law School to learn what goes on in the courtroom.

The YHS Mock Trial Teams recently held a scrimmage in the Michigan Law School's historic Moot Court Room. Two teams from Ypsilanti High competed against each other in preparation for the Regional Mock Trial competition on March 10.

In another room, a third team of YHS students competed against a team of law student volunteers.

U-M Law student Jeff Bradford is the executive chair of Future Advocates in Training (FAIT), a student volunteer organization based out of the University of Michigan Law School. FAIT partners with YHS to sponsor and coach the mock trial team.

''I started volunteering to coach Mock Trial as a 1L student last year,'' said Bradford. ''At first it was just about finding an escape from the law library. Even though 1L year found me swimming in case law and statutes, I quickly became hooked. Our team is amazing. I am consistently impressed with the way that our team members juggle sports, dance, clubs, homework, and still manage to perform brilliantly at practice and competition. Their energy and dedication keep me coming back each week.''

Emeka Okafor, 16, of Ypsilanti Township, attends the Early College Alliance at Eastern Michigan University, and also enjoys his experience with Mock Trial.

''I like the interaction,'' he said. ''We're all just like one big family, and the fact that we get to learn a lot about law and all the rules about it and actually get to perform in a mock trial is really entertaining. Being able to act out the things you see in Law & Order and all those shows is really fun.''

But it's not the same as TV, he's learned.

''I've seen people on TV who stand up and say,`Objection!' without clarifying it,'' said Okafor, who wants to attend Cambridge, Oxford, or Harvard, and possibly become a patent attorney one day. ''It seems like most of the criminals on TV are being badgered, and they can do what they want. We have to abide by personal space issues with them and can't just totally crush them on the stands.''

From her spot in the jury box where she critiqued the high school students' performance at the bench, Katherine Meister noted how hard the younger students work.

''It's good to see the kids are super motivated,'' said Meister, who is in her first year at Michigan Law.

First year Michigan Law student Kelly O'Donnell is also among the coaching staff of Michigan Law students who mentor the younger students.

O'Donnell hasn't had a class yet in rules of evidence, which is considered to be among the toughest classes.

''So (the high school kids) teach me as much as I teach them,'' she said.

Published: Mon, Feb 20, 2012

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