When teaching pretrial or trial advocacy, it is important to get the law students out of the classroom to experience the real life of a trial lawyer. For my Comprehensive Pretrial Advocacy course, the students have a minimum of three experiences outside the classroom. First, we go to the scene – the Garage tavern (the class picture taken during the recent visit) where the shooting took place, which led to both criminal murder charges and the complaint for wrongful death. We use the cases in the Pretrial Advocacy book throughout the course.
The go-to-the-scene outing focuses on two teaching points: go to the scene because it gives the trial lawyer a firmer understanding of events that gave rise to the law suit, and go to the scene as soon as possible because the scene may be altered over time.
The other two experiences get them out of the classroom and into a courtroom. The second occurs when they appear before a Superior Court Judge to argue a motion (pictured below). This experience of appearing before a real Judge has a profound impact on the students. The motion argument constitutes a good share of their grade and is the equivalent of a final examination. The effect on them is apparent in the way they carefully prepare and effectively deliver their arguments. Not only does this opportunity often result in students expressing a desire to make a career of trial work but also gives them judicial feedback on how to improve.
Third, the students are required to go to court, observe a motion or motions calendar and write a report about their experiences. The students invariably praise this courthouse visit. For instance, this semester’s reports contained these comments, among many others:
· “All in all a valuable learning experience.”
· “I was able to leave the courtroom that afternoon with three very important takeaways.”
· “It was comforting to see what we will be doing in the future and know that we will be able to do it well with hard work and dedication.”
As a pretrial and trial advocacy instructor, it is gratifying to read the students’ reports of their observations and to learn how being out of the classroom and in the courtroom can be such a worthwhile learning experience for them. This semester a theme ran through several of their papers relating to preparation for arguing a motion. In near future, I’ll share those students’ observations here.