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Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin

Bar Foundation Kevin L. Butler Hands Raised When the 15-20 students arrive for the fi rst session of the Raising the Bar mock trial program, invariably one of the students quietly asks me, “are you a lawyer?” When I say yes, a look of surprise fi lls their face. For almost all the participants, this is their fi rst time meeting a lawyer and I look like them and act like their friends and family. Th ey begin to wonder, “could this be something I can achieve?” But after I pass out the complex mock trial problem (involving 6-8 witness statements and diffi cult legal and factual issues) and ask them, “how many of you might may want to be lawyer?” 1 maybe 2 hands are tentatively raised. Over the next 8 weeks something wonderful happens. During the next 3 weeks, the students brainstorm the case facts and apply critical-thinking techniques to the issues presented. As the thoughts and ideas developed by the students are discussed, they become excited about the case and the issues presented. I begin to hear, “there’s no way the defendant could have done this,” “that is a distraction, we need to focus on the evidence we can prove,” and “that witness is lying, I can’t wait to get at her.” Th e students begin to debate with me (usually successfully) the importance and relevance of certain information, the motivations of witnesses, and how they can prove their points. After 5 to 6 weeks, we begin practicing oral advocacy and the direct and cross examination of the trial witnesses. Glennon Th reatt, an amazing lawyer and teacher, and I play the witnesses and we have to buckle our seatbelts. Th e students’ enthusiasm is intoxicating, and Glennon and I take a beating on the witness stand. Once reserved students, they now zealously examine us. Th ey take pride in eff ectively impeaching our stories and attacking our credibility. Students huddle to come up with creative ways of asking questions and shout out their support and admiration for their friends when they catch Glennon or me in a misstatement or lie. After spending the last two weeks prepping for the mock trial, the students— dressed for court—enter the courtroom a circuit judge has generously made available. I see their sense of awe and admiration at the raised bench, the counsel tables, and the jury box. I can feel their nervous anticipation. However, when the gavel falls and trial begins, the students become focused. Th eir confi - dence in themselves and their preparation is refl ected in their amazing courtroom performance. Volunteer witnesses step down from the stand and take deep and audible sighs of relief. Volunteer jurors smile when a 12 year old student eff ectively uses a demonstrative exhibit. Th e following week we have a small celebration. We discuss the trial and how they felt. With pride, the students refl ect how much fun they had and how they felt like lawyers. At the end of the gathering I ask the same question I did the fi rst day of the program, “how many of you may want to be a lawyer?” Everyone enthusiastically raises their hand. Their confidence in themselves and their preparation is reflected in their amazing courtroom performance. 24 Birmingham Bar Association


Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin
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