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As a lawyer who never set foot in a courtroom until he was in law school, Michael Vanderhorst was impressed with the experience high school students were getting Friday in Toledo Municipal Court.
Participants in the Toledo Bar Association’s annual Mock Trial Competition stood before a three-judge panel and argued the merits of a restraining order sought by a fictional high school group modeled after the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“If you have a hankering for the law profession, it’s a great way to see if it’s something you might like,” Mr. Vanderhorst said.
Fifteen-year-old Danielle Lozano, a freshman at Toledo Early College High School, was excited to do just that. She admitted feeling awfully nervous just before taking her seat as a plaintiff’s attorney in the second round of the competition.
“I watch shows on TV, and ever since I was little I’ve thought, ‘I want to be a lawyer,’ ” she said.
Kirsten Clark, 17, conceded she was not interested in a career in law even after picking up an “outstanding witness” award in her team’s first round against St. Francis de Sales High School.
“I’m more interested in science fields,” Kirsten, a senior at Sylvania Southview High School, said. “But this is just a great experience. It teaches you communication and leadership skills.”
By the afternoon’s end, three teams had succeeded in winning both of their rounds and therefore advanced to the regional mock trial competition Feb. 21: two teams from Sylvania Southview and one team from Wauseon High School.
Both Kirsten and Danielle were members of a team sponsored by the Law and Leadership Institute at the University of Toledo, which made its first entry in the district mock trial competition Friday.
The institute takes rising ninth graders from underserved communities and, over their four years of high school, helps steer them into college and ultimately law school, said Rachel Wilson, program director. She said participants from Toledo have participated in similar mock trial competitions with other LLI teams from Akron, Dayton, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati in past years, but this was the first time they faced off with teams from area schools.
“We recruit students at the end of eighth grade, and it’s just a wonderful opportunity to develop skills,” said Marilyn Preston, a UT law professor and Toledo site administrator for LLI. “We’d like it if they eventually came to law school, but the skills carry over to any field.”
The mock trial competition, she added, “helps them develop a sense of confidence and self-esteem. From Day One to today is amazing. If they do pursue law school, they will be so far ahead.”
Zac Laumer, a UT law student who volunteers with LLI, was equally impressed.
“I think these kids can all go to law school now,” he said.
Applications for the Law and Leadership Institute are available at lawandleadership.org.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.