Everything you’ve learned is on trial

I’ve written here about negotiationclient counseling, and moot court before, in a competition context. In addition, as part of many BU Law classes, students have to participate in simulated trials or pretrial processes. Negotiation and client counseling are offered as classes, for example. This semester, I’m enrolled in mediation and trial advocacy, practical courses with a significant participation requirement.

Trial advocacy (and the fall component, pretrial advocacy) is required for participation in my clinical program. Recently, I had my final mock trial, the culmination of the course and 50 percent of our grade. We had a previous trial worth 25 percent and a series of writing trial document and trial-related preparation assignments totaling 25 percent.

The trial is a stressful exercise, but it’s meant to be. It starts with reading a detailed fact pattern and exhibit packet, learning who your partner is, and who your opponents are. Teams are expected to coordinate exhibits and stipulations with each other. We have to recruit “jurors” and a “witness,” and meet in a pretrial conference to go over which exhibits the sides agree to admit or exclude, and which ones we plan to contest. We are also assigned to a judge (in our case, a practicing trial attorney volunteering his day for us), with whom we must file pretrial motions on a tight deadline.

My terrific husband agreed to serve as my side’s witness, and I spent days preparing him for his role as the defendant in a vehicular accident negligence case. Fortunately, he’s a good sport, so I could drill him on facts about his character like, “What’s your doctor’s name? How many beers did you have before getting in the car? What is the speed limit in Kenmore Square?” while he did the dishes! By the day of the trial, he had his role down cold, and he acted very much like a real witness would in a trial.

The BU Law Redstone Building Moot Courtroom (note all the amazing technology — lots of room for showing off electronic exhibits)

My partner and I divided up tasks like motion writing, exhibit preparation, direct and cross examination, and the opening and closing statements. We practiced in front of each other and with anyone else who would listen. We felt very ready heading into the school courtroom, suited up and with an armload of binders.

Still, this wasn’t this judge’s first rodeo. He was very good at calling us out on rookie mistakes like sitting on the wrong side, justifying an objection after it’s been overruled, or failing to submit our stipulations into evidence. And just to be sure we didn’t get too cocky, he threw in a couple of curveballs, like granting the plaintiff summary judgment on our counterclaim and forcing me to rewrite the closing argument on the fly. It was realistic, exciting, and highly educational.

Fortunately for us (though, I assume, irrelevant to our grade), the jury saw things our way and ruled in our client’s favor. Frankly, it felt really good, even if it was just dumb luck based on a simulated fact pattern.

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