The New Jersey State Bar Foundation’s annual mock trial competitions are a shining example of how legal and education communities come together to provide interactive learning experiences for high school students outside of the classroom.

Using an original case the NJSBF’s Mock Trial Committee prepares, student teams take on the roles of attorneys, witness and jurors and present the case in county courtrooms for the first round of competitions. Regional competitions heat up this winter and the finals are held at the New Jersey Law Center. The winning team represents the state at the National Mock Trial Championship held each spring. The program helps students develop skills in public speaking, critical thinking, and teamwork.

Launched in 1982, the number of teams participating in the Vincent J. Apruzzese High School Mock Trial Competition has grown from 70 to over 200, with more than 3,000 students participating each year. Hundreds of members of the legal community volunteer to coordinate, coach and judge teams across New Jersey.

From Mock Trial Witness to Judge to Coach

Walter Luers, a partner at Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann and Knopf in Saddle Brook, had the role of witness on the 1991 Bergen Catholic High School mock trial team, the year it won not only the New Jersey state competition but the national championship. For over 10 years he has volunteered as a competition judge and is now coach for his daughter’s mock trial team. “Coaching a team or judging a competition can help reinvigorate an attorney’s love and faith in the practice of law. I keep coming back to volunteering for the mock trial program because I think it is important that lawyers show students that a legal career is built not just on hard work and perseverance, but also on teamwork, cooperation, and public service.”

Student Interaction at its Best

Julie Nugent, an associate at Fox Rothschild in Atlantic City, has been a mock trial volunteer for nearly a decade. She has judged high school competitions, elementary students in the Foundation’s the Law Fair Competition and is now the Atlantic County coordinator for local high school competitions.  “Watching students compete is a fun and fulfilling experience. Their enthusiasm reminds me of how great it is to be part of the legal profession. There are not a lot of opportunities for students of any age to engage directly with members of the local bar, judiciary, and other members of the legal profession. This program provides a way for attorneys and judges to provide insight into the legal profession while giving back to the community in a way that can help shape a young mind.”

Volunteering has its Rewards

For seven years, Travis Nunziato, an associate attorney at Laddey, Clark & Ryan in Sparta, has volunteered as a judge for Sussex and Morris County competitions and coached high school teams. He also serves as the Sussex County coordinator and a judge for Law Fair. “I volunteer with the mock trial program to give back to the very program that opened my eyes to the legal profession while I was in high school. My high school experience led me to pursue a career in law and fueled my passion for trial work. As long as the mock trial program is around, I will be volunteering in some capacity. Nothing compares to hearing about a student you previously coached moving onto to law school.”

To volunteer to be a mock trial coach or judge, click here.

Contact Sheila Boro, Director of Mock Trial Programs at [email protected] with questions about Mock Trial Competitions.

Originally published January 2, 2023
Bar Report of the New Jersey State Bar Association
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