|Comments from the Chair|
The other courtrooms of the federal courthouse had long since been cleared late on a mid-November afternoon. In Courtroom 21, the hum of the overhead fluorescent lights was the only sound the exhausted advocates could hear--other than the pounding in their chests--as the judge reviewed the papers completed by the jurors before she delivered the judgment. The litigators for both parties had never tried a case in federal court before, but they had invested countless hours with their clients and witnesses to prepare the case. Defendant's counsel was satisfied that the themes she had introduced in her opening had engaged the jurors. Plaintiff's lawyers were relieved that their witnesses had survived a grueling cross examination. The judge had admitted most of the evidence plaintiff needed to prevail, but defendant's counsel were confident that their objections to improper questions and demonstrative exhibits had revealed defects in that evidence, even if it had ultimately been admitted. The defense counsel was sure his summation had provided the jurors a convincing analysis of the evidence to support a verdict of no liability, while plaintiff's advocate believed her impassioned closing argument had captured the hearts of the jurors who listened intently to her argument.
The members of the blue ribbon jury were almost as anxious as the litigators for the judge to unveil the outcome. When the trial began, the jury's expectations were not very high due to the obvious youth of the advocates. From the first moments of the trial, however, the jurors realized that the advocates were well-prepared for the day with persuasive arguments, clever presentations, and incisive cross examinations. Likewise, the judge had not anticipated that such novices would be so determined to test each other's testimony and exhibits under the rules of evidence. The intriguing questions raised by the advocates' objections had tested the judge's own understanding of the rules, though her prompt and confident rulings did nothing to reveal her doubts. Her heart was pounding too as she began to announce the judgment the jurors had reached.
Where can members of the Section of Labor and Employment Law watch such courtroom drama unfold? You could try the Section's Student Trial Advocacy Competition. This fall, 392 law students from 98 teams presented trials in court houses in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Washington. Approximately 500 Section members, including federal and state court judges, served as judges and jurors to evaluate the presentations of the student advocates.
The depiction of the proceedings presented above is more factual than fictional. The effort that goes into every three hour mock trial--from the weeks of preparation by the students and their coaches, to the constructive comments and conscientious evaluations of the judges and jurors--makes the Trial Advocacy Program a tremendous learning experience for students and a rewarding mentoring opportunity for Section members. (Truth be told, Section members also learn plenty from the students' trial techniques under the tutelage of their trial advocacy professors.)
The Section's Student Trial Advocacy Competition Committee consists of Section members from every constituency in every region. This hard working group works with the facts and materials from a real case to create depositions and exhibits, and write pleadings and instructions that provide the law that governs the case the students litigate. With able support from every member of the Section staff, the Committee has established relationships with judges and court clerks in every region to arrange for the use of courtrooms, as well as courthouse cafeterias, space for receptions, and other facilities and services. Perhaps most importantly, the Committee recruits Section members to spend one weekend morning or afternoon participating in the program as judges and evaluators. The contributions of Section members as judges and evaluators are the real lynchpins that make the program possible.
We have completed this year's regional competitions, our ninth annual competition. The regional winners were:
- Boston: University of Akron
- Chicago: Northwestern University
- Dallas: South Texas College of Law
- Los Angeles: Pepperdine University
- Miami: St. Thomas University
- New York: Quinnipiac University
- San Francisco: Golden Gate University
- Washington: University of Pennsylvania
The winners of the eight regions will come together in Dallas on January 26-27, 2013, to compete for the title of 2012 National Champion.
Our Trial Advocacy Competition Committee consists of Co-chairs Kathy Dickson, Jason Marsili and Deb Millenson; Vice Chairs Maureen Binetti, Jim Casey and Susan Eisenberg; and Regional Co-chairs Ed Berbarie, Michael Doheny, Elizabeth Ebanks, Lori Ecker, Michael Green, Marc Greenbaum, Jonathan Keselenko, Robyn Klinger, Jolynne Miller, Natalie Norfus, Yona Rozen, Michael Royal, Grace Speights, Nancy Walker and Jennifer Williams. Once again, Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck provided great assistance and support to the program, especially the New York Region, and Joe Tilson played a key role as Section Council Liaison, especially in Chicago.
The Committee soon will begin preparations for the tenth annual competition in the fall of 2013. The program always needs judges and evaluators, and it is a terrifically rewarding experience. If you would like to participate as a judge, evaluator, or otherwise, please contact Christopher Meacham, Assistant Section Director.
Stewart S. Manela
Chair, ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law
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