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November 06, 2020 Feature

Retired. Now What? Give Your Time, Talent, and Treasure to Your Community

By Emily Chafa

Judge Mock Trial Tournaments

First, a confession. I love mock trials. I love judging middle school mock trial tournaments. I love judging high school mock trial tournaments. I love judging the national college mock trial tournaments. I’ve judged various levels of mock trial tournaments every year for almost 30 years. Lawyers, judges, retired lawyers, and retired judges are all capable mock trial judges. But retired judges are perfectly equipped to volunteer and serve in this role. We know how to run a pretrial conference, handle objections, diplomatically guide litigants through a trial process with varying rules and procedures—and keep a straight face through it all. Plus, as an added benefit, retired judges can serve in this role without the distraction of and worry about a stack of orders and decisions to write, emails to respond to, and other duties as assigned, back at the court chambers or office that no longer exists. I can now volunteer to judge mock trials for a full day or a full tournament instead of one round here and there when I could fit it into my docket or work schedule. The mock trial participants love to see a real judge (a retired judge is still a real judge in their eyes) presiding over their round. They appreciate our insights and advice following each round. The students, along with their parents, teachers, and coaches, learn that judges can be genuinely nice people. They may see women judges and judges of color for the first time and realize that a judge can look like them. I typically encourage the talented students to consider a legal career. I tell them how they can become judges someday.


We are giving our time and talent to these students when we judge mock trial tournaments. But we receive so much more than we give. These talented students inspire us. We see the future of society, and, perhaps, the future of the legal profession, when we watch 6th–12th graders competently handle exhibits and unexpected cross-examination questions. We see teamwork in action. We watch individual students develop their skills through middle school tournaments and high school tournaments. We may see the same students in college mock trial tournaments.

How can you volunteer to judge middle school and high school mock trial tournaments in your geographic area? Visit to find the list of all state mock trial coordinators and state mock trial websites. Contact your state mock trial coordinator to sign up to judge a few rounds. My state mock trial director informed me that all are welcome to judge the 2020 Iowa middle school tournament, remotely, for a taste of the entertaining and inspiring process. At least 12 states have middle school programs. At least 45 states have high school programs. The college mock trial program was established in 1985 by Richard Calkins, then dean of Drake University Law School in Des Moines, Iowa. Regional tournaments and the national tournament are scheduled in various areas of the country each year. Visit to find the tournaments in your geographic area.

ABA Law Day Programs

Law Day is an annual celebration on May 1 celebrating the importance of the rule of law. It was established in 1959. The American Bar Association (ABA) selects a Law Day theme each year and prepares resources for state and local bar associations (and other groups of lawyers and judges) to use for their own Law Day competitions and celebrations. Retired judges are well suited to spend time and energy on these public education programs. Visit for details on the 2021 Law Day theme. The ABA Law Day website typically includes teaching resources for presentations to a wide variety of grade levels, K–12, and ideas for presentations to community groups.

Another confession. I love the Law Day student competition my local bar association sponsors each year. I’ve been a member of this Law Day Committee for 25+ years as the competition categories and age groups expanded to include more students. Our Law Day program currently includes competitions for K–12th grade students. The students can choose to create visual art, music, poetry, essays, and/or a technological depiction of the current year’s Law Day theme. We volunteer to speak to the students in their classrooms on the Law Day topic and answer their questions. I also provide basic information on the legal system and the role of judges as part of my presentations. This year, because I’m a retired administrative law judge, I volunteered to visit as many classes as possible. I spoke in nine classrooms in February and early March before schools closed due to the pandemic. The surprising responses and thoughtful questions the fourth and fifth graders asked about the 2020 ABA Law Day theme, Your Vote, Your Voice, Our Democracy, give me hope for the future. I hope they shared the information they learned about the slow evolution of U.S. voting rights and continuing obstacles to voting with their parents. I hope they shared the information they heard about our justice system and the role of judges with their parents. For the past few years, our awards ceremony was held at the Iowa Supreme Court building, where we introduce the students, parents, and teachers to the role the appellate courts play in the justice system and show them the rooms where it happens.

Participate in the ABA Judicial Division’s National Judicial Outreach Week (NJOW)

Last, but certainly not least, I encourage all retired judges (and judges who haven’t retired yet) to organize, plan, and present the NJOW PowerPoint and other materials to high school students, faith-based groups, community groups, and anyone else who may benefit from learning the importance of the rule of law in our society and the real role of judges in our justice system. For the past few years, the ABA Judicial Division has encouraged judges to give these presentations during the limited dates of March 1–10 each year. We still encourage presentations during this March time period, of course. But, as these changing pandemic times teach us, we encourage retired judges (and nonretired judges) to present this information whenever and however possible to reach students in their online classes, civic groups in their virtual meetings, etc. Or you can weave the basic NJOW information into a Law Day presentation or a mock trial introduction, as I’ve done several times. Visit to find the PowerPoint presentations, speaker notes, and other helpful materials. These materials can easily be used and adapted to speak to 6th–12th grade students, to college students, and to a variety of adult groups. The presentation can easily be adapted to fit the time allowed, including time to provide the presenting judge’s background and experience. Retired judges can probably speak more freely than judges who are still on a bench or in an administrative tribunal. Retired judges can probably provide comprehensive answers to questions an audience may pose without fear of reprisal. In other words, retired judges are uniquely well suited to give their time and talent by presenting the ABA Judicial Outreach program materials in our communities.

I hope I’ve planted a seed or two to inspire many of you to give some of your time and talent in your communities by participating in one or more of these programs.

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By Emily Chafa

Emily Chafa served as an administrative law judge for the State of Iowa for several years. She is an active member of several local, state, and national bar associations. She serves on the Executive Committee of the National Conference of Administrative Law Judiciary.