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High schoolers in Summer Law & Trial Institute see effort pay off in mock trial

Published: September 13, 2022 Author: Staff reports

For eight days they researched the case and practiced, sometimes staying up till the early hours of the morning “Teams-ing” with each other as they prepared to be witnesses, prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Day nine was totally worth it, according to the high school students in the 2022 Summer Law and Trial Institute (SLTI). Their work culminated with an in-person mock trial on Ohio University’s  Athens campus, where students presented their cases in front of Athens County Juvenile and Probate Court Judge Zachary Saunders.

“The best part of the institute was the capstone mock trial,” said Reya Singh, a senior at Marysville High School and prosecuting attorney in the summer program.  “I was able to work alongside some of the most intelligent people I have ever met. My team and I would stay up until 2-3 a.m. the week of the mock trial and prepare together. To see it all pay off was the best feeling in the world. We formed such amazing friendships and have talked every day since the program ended. I am just so grateful for such a supportive community where I was able to grow my skills and further my interest in law.”

Chris Archer speaks for the defense at the mock trial. | Photo by Ben Siegel
Oscar Uhalde speaks for the defense at the mock trial. | Photo by Larry Hayman

The Summer Law & Trial Institute was run under a hybrid model this year, in which students had the opportunity to learn virtually from current pre-law students and alumni, practicing attorneys, and even Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor. This year’s case, "New Columbia v. Chris Archer," involved the defendant being accused of first-degree murder for shoving a fellow fraternity member off a clock tower resulting in his death.

Brady Bond, a senior at Federal Hocking High School, said getting ready for the mock trial “pushed me out of my comfort zone,” especially memorizing his opening statement and preparing to cross examine witnesses.

“When I first started creating my questions, I had trouble finding direction in what I wanted and what story I wanted to portray. But after working on it more, it all started to come together, especially my cross examinations,” Bond said. “It’s so worth it. It’s such a unique experience, and you get to meet so many amazing, helpful people that teach you so many different things. It definitely sets you up for success in the future.”

The mock trial “gave everyone a chance to apply what they had learned all week, to gain confidence in a courtroom setting, and to finally meet everyone they had been in class with all week,” added Phinnigan Spindler, a junior from Fort Frye High School who played a witness. “I would tell other high school students it’s a very challenging and consuming week, but the experience and knowledge is well worth it.”

High School students participate in a mock trial in Walter Hall on Ohio University’s Athens Campus.
High school students participate in a mock trial in Walter Hall on Ohio University’s Athens Campus.

OHIO Mock Trial students help out

Getting students ready for the institute’s culminating experience was a group endeavor.

In the days leading up to their arrival in Athens, the students participated in multiple interactive experiences covering a variety of topics in the American legal system. They attended virtual learning sessions on different career paths and experiences in the legal field with law students and attorneys alike.

Under the direction of OHIO alumnus Larry Hayman Esq., the high school students gained experience and advice from current and former members of the Ohio University Mock Trial Team in preparation for their trial. Hayman is pre-law advisor and assistant director of the Center for Law, Justice and Culture in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Students after their trial with Athens County Juvenile and Probate Court Judge Zachary Saunders
Students after their trial with Athens County Juvenile and Probate Court Judge Zachary Saunders

Two members of OHIO’s Mock Trial Team, sophomores Taylor Schneider and Riley Sargent, not only shared their expertise with the high school students but also were able to gain leadership experience as program assistants, aiding students in case construction and courtroom maneuvers.

“The most surprising aspect of the program was watching how quickly the students caught on to new material. Mock trial is incredibly hard to catch on to. There are constantly new loopholes to find and more arguments to make, and every student surprised me with the case they presented at the end of the week,” said Schneider, an Honors Tutorial College sophomore majoring in communication studies, with a minor in political science. She’s also pursuing a Certificate in Law, Justice & Culture and is treasurer of the Mock Trial Team and secretary of the ACLU of Ohio University.

“The best part of this week for me was watching the students grow. They are all so bright, and I had the opportunity to hear their curiosity, answer hard questions, and ultimately watch them take on the trial with poise and understanding. This program is an amazing opportunity for high school students, and I hope it continues for years to come,” Schneider said.

Sargent shared that the high school students came to the program with some clear ideas about pursuing careers in law.

“The most surprising thing I learned from working alongside the students was how driven they all were! I know when I was in high school I had no idea what I wanted to pursue, but they all know their plan and the steps it will take them to get there,” said Sargent, who is majoring in political science and pursuing a Certificate in Law, Justice and Culture in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Sargent noted that the high school students weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the institute to add to their networking and career planning.

“The ability to speak with practicing attorneys definitely furthered my interest in law. The program made me even more excited for my future in the field and to see where my career takes me. SLTI improved my self-confidence in law as well because I was in an environment with people who were not afraid to ask questions, and I think one of the best ways to learn is to help teach,” she said.

Students meet with Ohio Supreme Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.
Students meet with Ohio Supreme Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.

OHIO alumni share their time with high schoolers

Each year, a team of alumni and legal experts contribute their experiences and expertise to high school students in the institute.

“Every year that I can participate in SLTI is a good year,” said alumnus Pierce Reed (’86 Psychology), director of policy and engagement for the Ohio Innocence Project. “Having the good luck and good fortune to go to OHIO changed my life in ways that I could have never imagined. When I was at OU, I received not only an excellent education but the guidance and mentorship of many incredible professors and staff members, all of whom invested in me as a person as well as me as a student. To be able to offer something back to the university as it helps other students is a gift to me.”

“I hesitate to attribute too much value to anything I told the students,” said a humble Reed, “but I think for many of them there is some surprise that there are many paths to college and law school and to meaningful careers after law school. For some students, the more traditional and established path of moving directly to college after high school graduation and then to law school immediately after college is not viable. I think some of them appreciate that there are other routes that they can take and end up in the same place. One of the many things that SLTI does so well is expose students to a world of options in legal education and professions, and one that recognizes the realities of students who tend to get overlooked or minimized.”

What Can I Do With a Law Degree Panel featured guest speakers including Olayemi Olurin, Pierce Reed, Brian Kelso, and Barbara Nalazek.
The "What Can I Do With a Law Degree" panel featured guest speakers including Olayemi Olurin, Pierce Reed, Brian Kelso, and Barbara Nalazek.

Labor and employment attorney and OHIO alumna Amy Flowers (’05, ’08 MPA) noted, “I too used to be young (still am), impressionable, and seeking role models. It will always come our time to give back, and the opportunity to speak to the amazing students at SLTI is an opportunity I never pass up.”

Her advice to the high school students: “Your reputation and credibility are your strongest weapons as an attorney; as a professional. Your ability to treat people with respect no matter the person and no matter the scenario will grow your professional career leaps and bounds.”

The institute participants also were able to chat with two current law school students.

First-year law student Virginia Bethune (Ohio State Law) and second-year law student Karen Gilmore (Ohio State Law) talked about on the role of being an extern at the Supreme Court and the life of a law student.

Students also attended a variety of presentations from different leaders at the local and state level including Ben Guess, executive director of the ACLU of Ohio, Managing Attorney Lucy Schwallie Esq. from Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, and Chief Justice O’Connor.

As is the case with years past, several friends and alumni of the University joined to work with students. Athens Chief City Prosecutor Tracy Meek Esq. (’03), and Criminal Defense Attorney Peggy Replogle, Esq (’93) educated students on their roles in the criminal justice system. Students also attended a panel discussion with attorneys Olayemi Olurin (’15), Brian Kelso, Barb Nalazek, and Pierce Reed on the different opportunities that come from a law degree.

The Summer Law and Trial Institute was free for all students and made possible by the generous donations from OHIO alumni.