A Birmingham School of Law mock trial team advanced to the semifinals for the first time in the 2019 competition in early March. A mock trial provides students the experiences of an actual trial procedure.
Students learn the essential points of a trial, how to review depositions, and the proper way to handle witnesses, says Daniel Fortune, one of the coaches for this year’s event. “I believe a mock trial is the best way to prepare law students for real-life competition against other parties,” he says. “Students who do mock trials can have a huge competitive edge.”
This year’s competition, sponsored by the American Association for Justice, was hosted by Alexander Shunnarah Personal Injury Attorneys, P.C. Eleven schools competed and fielded 20 teams. At the end of the preliminary rounds, only four teams advanced to the semi-finals – Cumberland Law School, University of Alabama School of Law, Emory University School of Law, and Birmingham School of Law. “It is extremely difficult to advance in this competition, because all of the schools bring their best advocates who, without exception, are well-coached,” says Dave Simpson, a coach for the BSL team. “These students take on the extra work to prepare for a competition because of their passion and desire to do trial work. Our students literally are going up against the best of the best.”
As a law student in 1996, Simpson was a trial team member for Cumberland Law School, and he is honored to be a coach for the BSL team. “My coaching philosophy is that everybody has his or her own distinct voice and want to help develop it. I want them to feel comfortable as an advocate, not just a person who is performing and reading off of a script,” Simpson says. “It is more important for me to help create a good lawyer than a great actor. Fortunately, I believe that we help create some great lawyers.”
BSL students Ray Foushee and Travis McCormick were part of the student team at this year’s mock trial. This year was McCormick’s second time to participate in a mock trial for BSL. He says the mock trials are a great preparation for a law career. “It helps you prepare for your career but probably not in the way you would think,” he says. “The advocacy element is obvious, but the critical thinking skills you learn throughout the process are priceless. Even it you aren’t interested in being a trial attorney, mock trial teaches you how to methodically process and analyze substantial amounts of information in order to meet the needs of your client.”
Foushee agrees. “The mock trial competition teaches you how to think on your feet and to think like a lawyer. You get to build a case from the ground up,” he says. “Our coaches, Fortune and Simpson, did not spoon feed our group any information, and we were not scripted. We developed a theory and strategy on our own, and the coaches just pushed us in the right direction when we needed it.”
Both McCormick and Foushee believe that the relationships formed during a mock trial are the greatest benefit of the competition. “During these competitions, we spend a lot of time together. We definitely form a bond,” McCormick says. “I still talk to former teammates who have graduated. It’s a huge boost knowing that you have smart and reliable people who can help you when you need it.”
Foushee adds, “It is the relationships you build and the benefit of building a case from the ground up together. We have great coaches, and we also build relationships with students at other schools. These relationships last a lifetime.”