Learning by Doing: Mock Trial and Client Counseling at St. John’s

Experiential learning can take place in many settings: a classroom, a clinic, an externship, a summer internship. Student competitions also provide an important opportunity for learning by doing.  Although the exercise may not be “real,” the pressure of competition adds a real-world element that can be difficult to replicate in the classroom.  At St. John’s, our mock trial, moot court, and dispute resolution teams have become increasingly active and increasingly successful.

This past weekend saw more success, as one of our mock trial teams from the Polestino Trial Advocacy Institute won the regional competition that qualifies them for the National Trial Competition, which will be held in Texas in March.  Jointly sponsored by the Texas Young Lawyers Association and the American College of Trial Lawyers, the National Trial Competition is one of the premier trial competitions in the country.  Congratulations to competitors Anthony Scotti, Kaitlin McTague and Lena Paxos and coaches  Brian Hughes and Kirk Sendlein.  (As I noted last month, one of our Black Law Students Association mock trial team has advanced to the National BLSA Thurgood Marshall Mock Trial Competition.)

Also this past weekend, the Hugh L. Carey Center for Dispute Resolution hosted the regional ABA Law Student Division Client Counseling Competition at St. John’s.  Twelve teams from eight area law schools participated, with Albany Law School taking first place, and teams from Brooklyn Law School and St. John’s taking second and third respectively.  Congratulations to the St. John’s students (Julia Kudlacz and Jillian de Chavez) and their coach (Adjunct Professor Dianne Woodburn).

Client counseling competitions provide students with an important opportunity to practice vital skills — interviewing and counseling.  In the ABA Client Counseling Competition, student competitors are given a one-line description of a client matter to research before the competition (this year’s topic was “Kindergarten through 12th Grade Education/School Law”). Then, on the day of the competition, the students interview a person playing the role of the client, soliciting the full range of facts from the client during an interview before a panel of three judges.  After the client leaves the room, the competitors discuss how they would proceed further in the hypothetical situation and make tentative plans in a post-interview session. Special thanks to Professor Janice Villiers, who played the lead role in organizing the competition, as well as Professors Paul Kirgis and Elayne Greenberg from the Carey Center and the students from the Dispute Resolution Society. Thanks, too, to the more than fifty individuals who served as judges and clients.

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