MT. VERNON – Mt. Vernon Township High School officials are seeking help from the local law community to develop a new competitive mock trial program at the school.
MVTHS had a similar program in the past, but it has not been active for at least seven years.
But now educators want to revive the program to give those students interested in a law career the chance to put their skills to the test.
“You need those students that are critical thinkers, that are good public speakers, that can think through logically a case,” said Julie Hayes, MVTHS business instructor and mock trial sponsor. “If that’s the field you want to go into, you know fairly early that that’s what you want to do. And this is going to solidify that decision.”
The new proposed mock trial program is now being developed by Hayes and Robert Knutson, director of the MVTHS Career Technical Education Department. They hope to launch the effort in the next few weeks.
But before they do, they would like help from local lawyers, judges, paralegals, and clerks to advise them on how best to structure the program. The local law community may also be able to provide monetary assistance, Hayes said.
“I’m sure there are a lot of attorneys here in town that probably did this type of thing in college and law school,” Hayes said. “We want as much local support as possible.”
The mock trial team will be available this year as an extra-curricular program at MVTHS.
Many of the participants will likely come from Hayes’ Business Law class, but the voluntary program will be open to other students as well. Business Law is a Career Technical Education class in the MVTHS Business Department. It currently has about 90 students.
Hayes said juniors or seniors with strong public speaking skills will be ideal for the new team, but sophomores may be able to compete as well.
“In this situation, it just has to be somebody that’s well-spoken, that can keep their thoughts in order logically,” Hayes said.
Those selected for the MVTHS mock trial team will compete against students from other schools at the state level.
Each team will be given a case to enact and will then be judged on how well they do so. Students on the team portray each of the trial participants, including the attorneys, defendant, victim, witnesses, jurors, and others.
“It provides the conduit or the opportunity for somebody who has that skill or that interest to demonstrate it,” Knutson said.
Bringing back the mock trial program was inspired by a conversation Knutson had recently with local attorney Mark Hassakis.
Knutson mentioned the high school’s Business Law class, and Hassakis said it would be great to resurrect the MVTHS mock trial program, which had been quite successful in the 1990s. Knutson then broached the subject with Hayes and the project grew from there.
“We are looking at putting together programs that are going to provide for economic demands that we have in the community,” Knutson said. “And a community is only as strong as the young people that are coming up and through it. … We need judges, we need law enforcement officials, we need good attorneys.”
Hassakis, principal at Hassakis & Hassakis, P.C. in Mt. Vernon, has been very active with the Illinois State Bar Association, a strong proponent of mock trials as an educational tool.
He said programs like that are “very worthwhile.” Having students play the different trial participants makes them better appreciate their legal rights, Hassakis said.
“We take for granted all the time all the rights and privileges we have,” Hassakis said. “It helps people learn more about the legal process.”
The program also builds communication skills for students and helps them qualify for scholarships and jobs, Hayes said.
“You’ve got to have something that makes your application rise to the top,” Hayes said. “And this just gives them one more opportunity to have a place to succeed.”
If you are a legal professional interested in helping MVTHS with this program, email Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.