What inspired you to become an attorney?
For me, one inspiration was my participation in the Genesee County Explorers Law Club in high school, which allowed me to compete in a mock trial competition. I remember memorizing my witness statement, getting dressed up in a suit and too-high heels and entering a courthouse and courtroom for the first time in my life. The whole experience drew me in, from the stark formality of the bench with the American flag behind it to the complicated mandate to be creative and persuasive within a strict set of evidentiary rules. I was mesmerized as students older than me made objections and a real judge ruled on them. I knew this was where I wanted to spend the rest of my life: in a courtroom.
“It’s been said that not all mock trial students become lawyers, but they all become leaders,” Linda Start, director of the Michigan Center of Civic Education, said. Linda has been working enthusiastically since 1984 to grow MCCE’s mock trial program, now led by Kalamazoo attorney James Liggins, of Miller Canfield. Michigan Center for Civic Education has many excellent programs well suited for local bar community law-related education efforts. The State Bar of Michigan is a proud partner of MCCE.
I had the honor of judging the final round of the Michigan High School Mock Trial Tournament on March 19, 2016, along with the Hon. Carl J. Marlinga of the Macomb County probate court, and attorney M. J. Stephen Fox, of Fox & Associates, in Grand Rapids.
The state final competition took place at the Veteran’s Memorial Courthouse in Lansing, just around the corner from the State Bar of Michigan's home, the Michael Franck Building. This year’s case involved a bullied student accused of planting a homemade bomb in a high school garbage can. The two final teams, Kalamazoo Central High School and Ann Arbor Community High School, had tried the case previously at the regional competition level. On the day of the final round, they also endured grueling eliminating trials, and in the end, Kalamazoo Central High School unseated the reigning champions, Ann Arbor Community High School, to proceed to the national competition.
The Michigan Center for Civic Education has conducted the Michigan High School Mock Trial Tournament since 1983. Throughout the program’s history, the MCCE has made changes to respond to the needs of participants, and available funding and staffing. Here is a brief history:
- From 1983-1988, the MHSMTT was a one-day event held at the Coleman Young Municipal Center in downtown Detroit. In the first five years, the tournament grew from 10 schools from the metro Detroit area to 40 schools from across Michigan.
- In 1989, at the request of participating teachers, MCCE offered schools the opportunity to compete in a West Michigan Regional Tournament in Grand Rapids. MHSMTT became two regional tournaments and a State Final Tournament in Lansing.
- In 2003, the Eastern Michigan Regional Tournament was moved from Detroit to Pontiac.
- In 2013, a third regional tournament was added in Ann Arbor to accommodate the growth in the number of teams.
- In 2014, though a partnership with the Macomb County Bar Foundation, an additional regional tournament was added in Mt. Clemens.
"I always leave the state finals feeling energized, and impressed by the students," said Linda, who has attended over 60 tournaments. "I have seen first-hand what this program can do for all students, from all academic backgrounds. Although the assumption is often that students participate because they want to pursue a career in law (many do), others know that this rigorous academic competition can help them in any field they pursue. I believe in this program because civic learning should take place in authentic locations like courthouses, and students need to interact with lawyers, judges and other professionals to understand and appreciate their role. Students gain an understanding of the importance of the rule of law and the role of lawyers. They graduate from high school more confident, ready to problem solve in real-world situations, and more prepared to engage in society as active citizens. And, mock trial gives students the opportunity to be a part of a team even if they do not participate in sports."
Linda finds the lawyer volunteers are happy to "give back" and encourage students to consider law as a profession.
When I was sworn in as the president of the State Bar of Michigan, I told members I have three expectations of our attorneys: (1) Take care of yourselves; (2) Treat others as they would like to be treated, even if they do not reciprocate; and (3) continue volunteering in the profession, through pro bono work, law related education and bar association participation.
If you do not do so already, consider volunteering for a mock trial team in your community, or starting a team if you do not already have one. The most successful mock trial teams are led by a dedicated teacher assisted by lawyer volunteers who serve as attorney coaches.
To begin setting up a team in your community where one does not exist, contact a social studies teacher in your local school, as well as your local bar association, the Michigan Center for Civic Education or the State Bar of Michigan Law Related Education Committee, co-chaired this year by attorneys Allan Motzny, of Troy, and Monica Nuckolls, of Auburn Hills.