One of the most amazing experiences I had during my time at the Law School was my participation in the Mental Health Project, just one of the many Clinical Programs offered to our students. As you saw in a recent post about the Civil Rights & Police Accountability Project our students are making real world contributions to the legal community every day. As a 3L participating in any of the clinics students have the opportunity to obtain a student license that allows them to practice in Illinois courts under the supervision of their clinical professor. Our 3L students frequently participate in litigation, doing everything from depositions to motion practice to first-chairing hearings and trials.
In order to receive their student licenses 3L students participate in the Intensive Trial Practice Workshop which occurs immediately before the beginning of the Fall Quarter. For two weeks the students spend 6 hours a day learning trial preparation, trial advocacy, and trial strategy through simulation exercises, lectures and demonstrations by clinic faculty and practicing lawyers and judges. The course culminates in a simulated jury trial with a sitting state or federal court judge presiding over the proceedings.
As a clinic alum who took the course I can attest to the "intensive" part of the course's title, however contrary to what may be the popular connotation of that word, my experience in the workshop was "intensively" edifying, exhilarating and just plain fun! Not only did I have the opportunity to learn from the practicing attorneys' (many of whom were alums!) smooth demonstrations at the end of a day of attempting to hone my skills to resemble that expertise, but I also learned so much from my peers. Much like the 1L year where everything is new and sometimes a little intimidating we bonded over the shared experience of being, well, a little clueless. Amazingly by the time the actual trial everything (for the most part!) came together and suddenly I was on my feet with 12 sets of eyes watching my every move from the jury box just 8 feet away, doing my best to passionately and articulately tell my clients' story and convince those 12 high school students to find for my clients. The thrill of hearing the foreperson read the verdict finding in our favor was phenomenal! The entire rest of the day I was abuzz with excitement.
More importantly than the thrill of victory, however, was the fact that I was then able to immediately apply those skills to use in my work in the Mental Health Project. We represented an individual who had been civilly committment for many years and who was now seeking release from the state psychiatric hospital. After many postponements the release hearing finally happened in March of my 3L (conveniently coinciding with Winter Quarter exams!) and once again I was on my feet, except that this time a real person's life would be profoundly affected by my work. As first chair I was the one who repeated all the steps of the mock trial except that this time my task was to convince the judge alone, which I found to be a much tougher task. Although we ultimately did not prevail, the skills I developed during both the workshop and the hearing put me leaps and bounds ahead of my peers when I began practice and helped me seek out and receive the opportunities to do substantive work early in my career.
The Trial Advisor Perspective
As an admitted litigation "junkie" and an enthusiastic clinic alum you can only imagine how excited I was when the Faculty Director of Clinic Programs, Professor Randy Schmidt, stopped me in the hall to ask me if I would like to serve as a trial advisor for this year's mock trials, held this past Saturday at the Circuit Court of Cook County. Working with my advisees in the week leading up to the trial and watching their and their opposing counsel's very impressive work this past Saturday reminded me once again how fantastic my clinic experience was. I could endlessly elaborate on all the great things about the Workshop and the Clinic overall, but I thought I would share some of this year's participants reflections on their experience.
The Student Perspective
Maria Phillis, a student in the Mental Health Project had this to say:
"The trial was the best part of the workshop. It was an incredible rush to get up in front of a jury and present a case. The feedback that the jury gave was extremely useful. It made me think about how the presentational techniques we learned affected the way the jury saw the facts and the ultimate outcome of the case. It will definitely have a positive impact on the way I prepare for my December jury trial for the Mental Health Project."
Adrienne Schwisow, another clinic student commented, "I really had a lot of fun, and learned so much, both from [the mock trial] and from the whole class. In fact, I would even venture to say that I am inspired!"
As you can tell the Clinical Programs at the Law School are an excellent way for our students to supplement the critical, analytical thinking and writing skills honed from classes and learn to apply those skills to the real world early in their legal careers, to benefit those who would otherwise go without representation.