In October 2008, Maureen Grattan, whom I barely knew, invited me to coffee.  She had been helping to coach Dos Pueblos High School’s Mock Trial team for a year and wondered, now that one of my sons had made the team, whether I might be interested in lending a hand.  I patiently explained that I was really much too busy (read “important”) for high school mock trial (read “kids pretending to be lawyers”).  Not wanting to be too harsh, I agreed to attend the next night’s practice.  Maury smiled; she knew the hook had been sunk.

By the end of the first practice, I was addicted to mock. I am now in my sixth year of coaching. My mock trial son has long since graduated from Dos Pueblos, and now competes for Duke on its mock trial team. Maury is still coaching too. Her daughter, Corinne, was a senior at DP when I started. She’s now graduated from college and is spending her free time helping to coach DP while she prepares for grad school.

My addiction to mock comes from the foreseeable adrenaline-fueled competitions against rival schools, in our case DP versus San Marcos, and from sources I never would have imagined.

The first in the unanticipated rewards category comes from how much I’ve learned about the art of trial advocacy. High School Mock Trial amplifies the importance of performance. Mock Trial cases are equally balanced factually, thus strategy and polished performances always make the critical difference. By coaching witnesses and attorneys in Mock Trial these past years and watching hundreds of scrimmages, I have learned much about how to present a case to a jury, how to present a case or motion to a court, and how to prepare witnesses for trial or videotaped depositions.

The second reward became manifest at the end of my first season of coaching, and has repeated itself each year since. We start each season with 20 to 30 ordinary high school students. Most look and speak like young adolescents – less than premium eye contact, lots of “I’m all like . . .” and few ready to converse comfortably with adults. By the end of the season these same kids are poised and articulate, and comfortable speaking to adults. This has been a consistent and particularly great reward to coaching.

The third reward has been watching the kids and their parents come to a new and more profound understanding of the judicial system. Few people outside the court system appreciate how difficult it is to decide what the “truth” is when faced with differing testimony by equally sincere witnesses. Few appreciate how difficult it can be to apply constitutional principles to day-to-day law enforcement situations. Mock Trial cases demonstrate very realistically how difficult it is to ascertain the “truth” and to decide a case. Each Mock Trial case presents a nuanced constitutional issue as well. It has been enormously gratifying to see the students and their parents come to understand what really happens in court.

I truly hope some of you will be inspired to give time to High School Mock Trial as attorney coaches and scorers. I am sure all the local high schools would welcome whatever help you can offer. One word of caution: Mock is addictive. 

First published in February 2014 edition of Santa Barbara Lawyer Magazine

 - Scott B. Campbell
   Rogers Sheffield & Campbell, LLP
   2014 SBCBA President 

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