More than 150 students from four local junior high schools shed their bookbags and tennis shoes in favor of suits and ties last week during a series of mock trials at the Law School (HLS).
Participants came from the Agassiz, Peabody, and Longfellow Schools in Cambridge, and from the Malden Middle School in Malden. The mock trials, held in the Ames Courtroom, were the culmination of the schools Kids in the Court program, and focused on fictional plaintiffs who were disciplined for violating school rules. All of the students in the program were given a role in the trial, either as plaintiffs, witnesses, or attorneys. HLS students acted as jurors, and Law School professors served as judges.
As a prelude to the mock trial, teams of HLS students visited each of the schools during the past eight weeks, describing how laws are made, how government structures operate, how the legal system functions, and the role attorneys play in the process. The children learned about statutes, evidence, discovery, questioning witnesses, and preparing opening and closing statements.
“The kids were phenomenal,” according to Law School student Maria Sanders 01, a co-chair of Kids in the Court. “In the beginning, its challenging in the classroom to help them understand [what the program entails], but once they get an idea of being in a court, of being in front of a judge and jurors, they begin to take it very seriously, and they really get into it.
“Its also a unique program for the Law School students because its one of the few programs where youre in it for the fun of it, and no one has any legal crisis or tragic life story that youre involved with,” Sanders says. “Youre just there to teach the kids a little bit, but also to have a lot of fun with them, and give them a field trip experience that theyll hopefully remember for a while.”
Wearing their finest clothes and on their best behavior, the young would-be attorneys made quite an impression at the Ames Courtroom last week. “I felt like a mother watching my 15 kids,” HLS student Suzette Smikle 02 explains. “Every time each of them went up, I was sitting there hoping that they got it right, and it was just wonderful I was so proud of them. They did an amazing job.”