When searching for an opportunity to volunteer within the local community, many look forward to working with younger age groups to educate and excite them about the legal process and trial procedure. One of these opportunities for civic engagement is getting involved with the Middle School Mock Trial Program. Various mock trial competitions are held each year and there is always a need for volunteers to take part in these local or regional events. This provides legal professionals with a perfect opportunity to play an active role in introducing middle school students to our legal system and seeing firsthand the importance of creating civic engagement experiences for these students. One volunteer, Kathleen Putiri, said of her experience, “It was fun helping the students work on their trial advocacy skills, and it was certainly a different way to give back to the community when most of my previous volunteering came in the form of pro bono activities.”
There are many ways in which you can become involved with the North Carolina Bar Foundation’s Middle School Mock Trial Program, including day-of event opportunities such as serving as a juror or presiding judge; or becoming a team coach is a worthwhile experience if you are looking for something longer-term. Attorney Trent Grissom, an active volunteer with the MSMT Program, first become involved with this program when appointed to the North Carolina Bar Foundation’s Community Engagement and Civic Education Committee. As part of the program’s planning process, he discovered that a school in Charlotte needed a volunteer to help coach a team. Ironically, the school in need was his daughter’s school and he immediately knew how he could both, help the school, and learn the ins and outs of the mock trial process at the same time.
Beyond educating middle school students about the legal process, the Middle School Mock Trial program gives participants the ability to build self-confidence and enhance public speaking skills. Stephanie Rivera, Immediate Past Chair of the NCBA’s Paralegal Division first became involved with the mock trial program as part of her leadership role. She found the opportunity to support the local community and students after the Pro Bono Committee suggested she volunteer with NCBF. After becoming active in her participation as a mock trial volunteer, she discovered that “volunteering helps our kids feel good about themselves. It improves their current well-being and creates a beneficial cycle of feeling confident, doing good, and feeling good.”
It can be a rewarding experience to watch a student’s growth in their knowledge of the legal system and their application of the legal rules and procedures within a mock courtroom session. Attorney Phillip Hedrick, Jr., an associate attorney at Hutchens Law Firm, first got involved because he really enjoyed seeing younger people so passionate about public speaking and the law.
There are still areas statewide that do not have access to Middle School Mock Trial competitions at all. While many of these programs are concentrated in urban areas, there is always a need to continue our efforts of educating underrepresented communities about mock trials. Attorney Grissom has “seen firsthand how much the competitive aspect of mock trial motivates the students to learn and master the case.”