Mock Trial Tournament can be 'life-changing' opportunity

By Linda Laderman
Legal News
The final rounds of the Michigan High School Mock Trial Tournament are March 19 in Lansing, but preparations for the statewide event began months ago.
“We started to recruit volunteers and get the schools involved in December,” said Renee Tegel, attorney and volunteer mock trial coordinator for Macomb County.  “It’s a lot of work, but it’s the best thing I do every year.”

Tegel, who is a member of the Macomb County Bar Association and its Foundation, said the tournament offers its young participants the opportunity to learn how to think on their feet, a skill that will help them in any profession they choose.

“The skills they learn from mock trial are ones they can use in all aspects of any career,” Tegel said. “Mock trial teaches them how to dance around it when someone throws them a curveball question.”

The tournament, sponsored by the Michigan Center for Civic Education (MCCE), gets staffing support from a cadre of volunteers like Tegel and financial backing from organizations like the Oakland County Bar Foundation (OCBF.)

Recently, OCBF presented a $5,000 check to the MCCE to support the 2015-16 Michigan High School Mock Trial Tournament. 

Kaveh Kashef, Foundation vice president, said that OCBF is pleased to continue the support of this important program for the 13th consecutive year.  

“We acknowledge the great opportunity this program presents to the high school students.  The Foundation receives great feedback from the program and many of our attorneys who take part in it feel it is an invaluable experience.”

For the past three years, under the auspices of the MCCE, the Macomb County Bar Foundation also has supported a mock trial tournament that runs concurrently with the Oakland County endeavor. The finals for all of the participating teams are held in Lansing.

“The Michigan High School Tournament could not exist without the support and involvement of lawyers. Lawyers tell us that they get more than a return on their investment of time,” said Linda Start, executive director of MCCE. 

Besides the volunteer support from the legal community, the goodwill among the judges and the students is outstanding, said Tegel. 

“What is amazing to me is the camaraderie throughout the tournament day. Our judges take it very seriously. They show up prepared and ready to go because they want to do right by the kids. I appreciate them all so much.”

Mock trial tournaments are as competitive as any sporting event, Tegel said. 

“These students are just as enthusiastic about competing in mock trial, as athletic students are competing in sports.  The mock trial students have been preparing their case for three months, and Saturday morning they enter the court building with determination and high hopes.”

“During the day, as the trials progress, the students experience difficulties and victories.  At the end of the day, when I enter the jury room to announce the winners, the room is electric with excitement and anticipation.  And the students cheer when the winners are announced.  Experiencing the students’ enthusiasm is exhilarating for me.”

Nearly 600 high school students from across Michigan have participated in the tournament this year, according to MCCE mock trial coordinator, James Liggins.

Liggins, a mock trial alum, cites himself as an example of how mock trial participation can positively affect a high school student’s life.  

But for the serendipitous involvement of a high school teacher, Liggins might not be where he is today. 

“I came from a lower economic demographic. My parents barely finished high school and I had never been exposed to any professional communities,” Liggins said. 

“During my sophomore year in high school my teacher pulled me aside and said ‘you need to do this.’  She became a serious influence in my life who opened me up to a profession I wouldn’t have otherwise had a chance to see,” Liggins said. 

Now, as an associate at Miller Canfield, a husband and a father of three young children, Liggins said the lessons he learned and the friendships he made while he was a mock trial member have never left him. 

“The skillsets I developed and the relationships established have followed me throughout my entire academic and professional career,” Liggins said.

“One of the attorney coaches of my high school mock trial team sponsored my admission to the Michigan bar. I work for one of the same firms of the same attorney coaches that taught, mentored and guided me in high school over 20 years ago.  It has been life changing for me.”

MCCEE is a non-partisan 501(c)3 corporation, established in 1982 as Michigan’s premier organization solely dedicated to preparing an active and informed citizenry through law-related and civic education.  MCCE offers programs for teachers, students and members of the community that reflect best practices in civic and law-related education and provide experiences that are relevant, rigorous, and connected to real life.