One of my goals when I started law school was to participate in my school’s very prestigious mock trial program. It just seemed like the path to success. The day I tried I out, I had no experience doing mock trial; I had no attorney mentor or upperclassman to provide insight; and I didn’t dress the part. Surprise, surprise–I did not make it.
I was disappointed because I knew that participation in this program would be so beneficial. In fact, participating in any law school trial advocacy or moot court is a great way to increase your skill set, and it also builds connection between you, alumni, and other members of your legal community. Through this experience, you can build a strong network that will help guide you into your first years as an attorney. Even for the most introverted, you should really consider trying out, if only for the experience of trying something that scares you.
When I failed to make the team, I took it in stride (I don’t think I shed too many tears), but I was still very disappointed. At the time, I really had my heart set on being a trial lawyer. I realized that by not making the team, I would instead have to take advantage of other more available networking opportunities, and double-down on trial advocacy courses.
But I wasn’t satisfied with only taking classes. The fact of the matter was that I was always really disappointed with the demographic makeup of the trial and moot court teams. While I do not believe that there was a conscious effort to keep the amount of students of color off the teams (I don’t believe that at all); the reality was that very few students of color made it to those teams.
In fact, many of us questioned the the lack of students of color on these teams, and it pushed us to attempt to create more opportunities for all students. So even if you don’t make it–you can still gain the skills you need to be a great litigator; either through the courses offered or by pushing for change and creating opportunities for yourself and others.
But let’s start with the easy way first, which is how to try-out for trial teams effectively. Like usual, it all comes down to preparation:
One. Reach out. If you’ve been participating in a school-sponsored mentoring program, or have some other form of frequent interaction with attorneys–reach out to them and ask if they’d be able to give you some tips and guidance on making it on a team. Maybe your mentor is a transactional attorney, but likely they’ll be able to still give you tips. Or even better, they may be peers with other attorneys that can give you some guidance. If you don’t have access to that, then reach out to upperclassmen that are on the teams. Ask to meet with them for pointers and advice. Hopefully, some of the organizations you’re a part of are also offering try-out tips–this is something many minority student groups offer because it is very likely that in most schools the percentage of minority students on teams is very low.
Two. Learn on your own. When I was starting school, I had no idea of the resources available to help me practice. It wasn’t until a year later that I overheard a classmate (who had made the team) mention that prior to her try-out she had read Mauet. Mauet is the trial lawyer’s bible and it’s not something I even heard of until I was a 2L taking my first trial advocacy class. This classmate obviously had other attorneys guiding her (good for her!). I only wish I had known about this book because it would have helped immensely during the try-outs. If you’re more interested in moot court, then start listening to appellate arguments online. Obviously, not every attorney will be amazing, but it will give you an idea of how to respond to judge interruptions; how to start your arguments; and how to handle rebuttals.
Three. Push back. Whether you make it or not (and I hope you do make it!), if you realize that, for some reason, the representation of students of color is low; find out why and find out what can be done to increase it. As I mentioned, when I was in school, we started our own trial team and pushed for the school to also participate in the National Latino Law Student Association’s moot court competition so as to increase the options Latino students had.
Finally, it’s easy to feel disenchanted when you realize that not a lot of students of color make the teams. It’s easy to believe that we’re not good enough–and the status quo does a good job of perpetuating this belief. But this isn’t an intelligence/skills issue (as in, students of color don’t have the skills). Rather, it’s a lack of access to opportunity issue. At my school, for many years (and all three when I was a student) the competitors of the trial team consisted of White men and women, with a rare minority thrown into the mix. Then the beloved director retired, and a woman of color took over. Under her leadership, the amount of minority students participating in this prestigious team has grown exponentially. Further proof that when we’re given a chance to lead–we really make a difference.