Bar News - February 23, 2007
Harvard Mock Trial Jurors
By: Richard Vassar
Editor’s Note: The author is an Amherst Middle School teacher and a longtime NHBA LRE Mock Trial Program participant. In November 2005 he helped conduct a Mock Trial workshop at the New Hampshire Council for the Social Studies Conference and for the 2005-06 Mock Trial season he took over the Souhegan High School team when their lawyer-coach had to drop out. Attorney Marilyn McNamara has since volunteered to be Souhegan’s coach.
In September 2006, Harvard University Law School Professor Charles Ogletree, Jr. and Jesse Climenko, a law professor from the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice, welcomed the Souhegan High School Mock Trial team to Boston where the students were invited to serve as “jurors” in mock trials being conducted as part of a trial advocacy class at the university.
The trials were held over two days at the John Adams Supreme Court and the Superior Court of Massachusetts. The “attorneys” and “witnesses” were all third-year law students. A different type of trial was held each day: one criminal and the other civil.
Each trial lasted four hours, and afterward the jury retired to the deliberation room to reach a verdict. This provided a terrific opportunity for the high school students to experience a different aspect of a trial. Many have had mock trial experience as lawyers and witnesses through the NH Bar Association Law-Related Education (LRE) Program’s Mock Trial competitions but they had not participated in the deliberation phase of a trial before. This was very enlightening for them. They learned that they had to come to a verdict based on the evidence presented in court and not on the way the attorneys conducted themselves in the courtroom. The students had to apply critical-thinking, logic, and common-sense skills to reach their verdicts.
The trials were just part of the experience; the professors asked the jury for feedback on how the verdicts were reached. However, the feedback was not limited to the jury deliberation. The Souhegan students were very forthcoming in their critique of the Harvard law students and how they conducted themselves during the trial. The law students said they found the comments on-point and helpful.
The high school students provided their observations and advice as the law school students listened with rapt attention. The Souhegan students gave their views on objections, the themes of the case, courtroom presentation, and more. Their input was very well received by the professors, who were impressed with the depth of the high school students’ knowledge and expertise. Both the law students and the high school students benefited from this experience.