Last week we published the first part of our interview with long-time Asheboro High School Attorney Advisor Steve Schmidly. This week we share the remainder of that delightful conversation.
To advise a team for so long, you must have felt the investment was worthwhile for you, too. Why should attorneys serve as team advisors?
For many reasons; attorneys gain at least as much from the experience as the students. For one thing, helping the team made me a better trial lawyer. I had to understand the Rules of Evidence thoroughly myself in order to teach them to the students. And it’s much harder now for young attorneys to gain trial experience, so coaching a mock trial team helps to sharpen their own trial skills. I used to encourage young attorneys in Asheboro to help with the team for that reason.
Do attorney advisors benefit in additional ways?
Definitely. Advising a team helps you to meet people in the community‚ not just the students, but also their parents, other family members, and friends who come to watch the competitions. Some of my best friends now are parents of kids who were on the mock trial teams. And all of these connections and positive interactions can help you to build your practice; when people need an attorney, they think of you. It’s important in starting out as an attorney to network with people in the community, not just with legal professionals. By helping with a local team, you build a loyal following of people who know and respect you as they see you investing so much time in their children. It even helps improve the overall community’s impression of the legal profession.
I’d certainly agree; when I coached a team, seeing the legal professionals who gave so much time to the program made a huge impact on our parents’ perceptions of attorneys.
Exactly. We’ve seen parents of team members who had been big advocates of tort reform. After getting to know attorneys because of mock trial, their attitudes changed, and we could even count on them to make calls to the legislature in support of trial attorneys. Our local bar association is very involved in supporting the mock trial program, because they recognize that mock trial has such a positive impact on how attorneys are perceived in our local community. Our local judges even recognize that helping with scrimmages or at regional competitions benefits them.
That’s interesting; how does judging mock trial rounds prove helpful to local judges?
In mock trial the students are encouraged to argue the basis for their objections or the reasons why objections should be overruled. Listening to the students’ reasoning helps refresh the judge’s understanding of the rules of evidence. A number of our local judges have commented on how judging mock trial rounds has made them better judges, which benefits all of us.
Any final thoughts or stories you want to share?
Yes. All trial attorneys should get involved with the mock trial program because it gives you enormous self-satisfaction to see what the kids can do. It is transformational for so many students. I remember one girl who was so nervous before her opening statement that she was throwing up before the round. But it went really well, and afterward she told me that her opening was “brilliant.” Another student was incredibly shy and timid as a freshman. She went on to become an outstanding mock trial lawyer on our team. In fact, after her closing statement on the defense in a mock trial case involving alleged spousal abuse, attorney Wade Smith (who judged the round) liked her defense theme so much that he talked with her afterward. He was defending someone in a spousal abuse case, and he wanted to use her theme in his trial. His client was found not guilty! The student went on to law school and now tries cases all the time in western N.C. Mock trial participation gave her confidence and made her a completely different person. I encourage every trial attorney to get involved; you’ll be glad you did!
The CCCE wishes to extend our deepest gratitude and appreciation to Steve Schmidly for his years of dedication to his students and to the NCAJ Mock Trial Program. By his selfless service, Steve has impacted many lives across North Carolina and beyond, truly helping to “create tomorrow’s leaders.” To learn how you can get involved, contact me at SueHeathJohnson@gmail.com