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Area High Schools take part in a mock-trial competition. Burnett & Williams attorney, Seth R. Lindberg, serves as ‘judge’.
by Seth R. Lindberg, attorney Burnett & Williams P.C. Loudoun, fairfax, and Northern Virginia communities
On February 2, 2019, I had the pleasure of serving as a mock trial judge at Loudoun Valley High School, where several area high schools, both public and private, had trial teams in the competition. Each team was comprised of six students–three student lawyers, and three student witnesses–and their adult coaches.
Seasoned trial lawyers often struggle with topics such as witness preparation, direct examination, cross-examination, and the rules of evidence, but these impressive student lawyers adeptly managed the nuanced protocol, and showed a wonderful passion for the law.
For the competition, the students were assigned to a prosecution team and a defense team. The student prosecutors were tasked with convicting a student defendant, with the charge of driving while intoxicated and causing a death–in Virginia criminal law parlance this is called a DUI-D. The student defense team defended the student defendant, and each side presented a case replete with fact-witnesses and expert-witnesses. Eliciting testimony from a fact-witness involves a different type of questioning than does eliciting testimony from an expert-witness, and the students had to show their ability to do both. During the trial, each witness was subjected to both direct-examination and cross-examination. After the evidence was submitted, the student attorneys presented closing arguments, just as would happen in a real court of law.
To make the experience as educational as possible for the students, the mock trial was conducted in a similar fashion to a real trial in a Virginia Circuit Court, minus the bailiffs, jurors, or court reporters. I was impressed that the students were able to present a complex fact pattern using both fact-witnesses and expert-witnesses. The students properly qualified the expert witnesses, made appropriate trial objections, and distilled a relatively complex set of facts into an easily digestible narrative. Their effective cross-examination punched holes in every witness’ testimony.
For this exercise, each mock courtroom was comprised of three judges: one presiding judge who ruled on the objections, while the other judges observed the student conduct. In my courtroom, the students were lucky to have a real Virginia substitute judge act as their presiding judge, and his presence gave the mock courtroom the feel of a real Virginia trial court.
After closing arguments, all of the judges offered scores and critiques of the students, and while no verdict was rendered, the students gained trial experience that replicated the experience of being in a real Virginia courtroom. Seasoned trial lawyers often struggle with topics such as witness preparation, direct examination, cross-examination, and the rules of evidence, but these impressive student lawyers adeptly managed the nuanced protocol, and showed a wonderful passion for the law. I am pleased that I was able to be a part of this great exercise, and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to spend a day interacting with some future lawyers and judges.
Gain more experience this summer at Law Camp
Area High School seniors who wish to pursue a career in law, are encouraged to apply for Law Camp, an award-winning summer program in Middleburg, Virginia. Law Camp is organized by the Thomas D. Horne Leadership in the Law Program, and runs from June 16 – 21, 2019. The program is sponsored by the Fauquier county Bar Association and the Loudoun County Bar Association, and private donations, so it’s free to attend. Enrollment is selective and applications must be postmarked no later than April 5, 2019. Learn more at lawcamp.org.