Discover Law Mock Trial Workshop aims to diversify profession

SLU Law students Rachel Berland and Margo Steinlage instruct Kennedie Brown-Thomas, Mia Smith, Erica Payne and Johnae McClenton of Northwest Academy of Law on opening statement protocol during the Discover Law Mock Trial Workshop held recently at Saint Louis University.

The Law School Admission Council has one mission: Increase the number of minority high school and undergrad students entering the legal profession.

The council sponsors DiscoverLaw.org Months, a yearlong diversity initiative that awards grants to law schools to develop pipeline programs. Each year Saint Louis University’s School of Law applies for the grant. Last year, SLU focused its outreach efforts toward undergrad students. This year, SLU opted for a different approach by partnering with the Missouri YMCA Youth in Government program, a student-driven simulation of state government with over 800 youth participants.

“We want to give these students a real look of what goes into government in a snapshot,” said Jessica Pursell, Youth in Government program director at the YMCA of Greater St. Louis.

The Youth in Government program has four components: judicial, executive, legislative and media. The judicial students compete in the Youth in Government State Convention Mock Trial competition in Jefferson City.

SLU Law students from the school’s Trial and Advocacy program designed the Discover Law Mock Trial Workshop to give the students a winning edge. SLU Law students worked under the direction of Thomas L. Stewart, assistant clinical professor of law and director of the Trial Advocacy program, and 21st Judicial Circuit Judge Barbara W. Wallace.

Thirty high school students from Northwest Academy of Law High School and Carnahan High School of the Future were invited to attend the workshop. Melvin Ellis, 18, a senior at Carnahan, was one of those students. He plans to study political economics at Georgetown University with an eye on Harvard Law School. His love of law developed when he began participating in the Youth in Government’s judicial program..

During the Mock Trial workshop at SLU, the students were divided into small groups that rotated between classrooms where they learned the basic elements of a trial: opening statements, direct and cross examinations, closing arguments and objections. The classes were taught by SLU law students.

“Sometimes it’s just important to have them thinking about their future goals so that they’ll know what to work towards,” said Lisa Taylor, program director of Multicultural Affairs and Outreach at SLU School of Law. “It’s not necessarily about promoting, ‘You need to be a criminal attorney,’ but just setting them gently on that path.’”

Students interested in pursuing a legal career, visit discoverlaw.org

Follow this reporter on Twitter @BridjesONeil.

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