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It’s a basic byproduct of modern law practice economics: Most newly minted lawyers don’t get enough trial experience. David Saiki, a relatively green lawyer himself, decided to address the problem last year by starting a mock trial club. The idea was to give young lawyers a place “to practice trial skills in a no-risk setting,” Saiki says. On May 17, the club had its first “court date” in the Mock Trial Room at George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Va. Large law firms often have their own mock trial rooms and programs for associates to work on their court skills. Lawyers on their own or in small firms don’t have that luxury. That’s where the mock trial club comes in. Saiki, an associate in the Law Offices of William Feldman in Bethesda, Md., recruited most of the participants through the young lawyers section of the local bar associations. He started the club because he was “looking for a place to practice and it just didn’t exist,” he says. “My interest in this, basically, is that I hope to get some practice also,” adds Saiki, who graduated from the College of William and Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law in 2002. All together, eight lawyers from Maryland and Virginia participated in the May 17 event. They had morning and afternoon sessions, complete with volunteers playing the roles of judge, bailiff, witness, and juror. The trial was of the fictitious case March v. Brown Jug Tavern:The plaintiff claims the tavern is liable for a pedestrian’s death, because it served beer to a visibly intoxicated man who hit the pedestrian while driving home from the tavern. Prior to the “trial,” those who would argue the case communicated mostly by e-mail and phone. They shared research and built up an outline of the case. But the “big purpose is to get up there and develop reflexes and speed,” Saiki says. The fictional cases “are wonderful material for trial practice,” says mock trial club participant Eugene Policastri of Rockville, Md.’s Stein Sperling Bennett De Jong Driscoll & Greenfeig. “Everything is rigged so that there’s a possible objection hidden in every detail. It’s almost better than using a real case.” In the morning, Joanne Wang, a Georgetown University Law Center graduate currently clerking for Judge Kathleen MacKay of the Fairfax County Circuit Court squared off against Ann Tantodonato, also a recent Georgetown graduate. Policastri represented the plaintiff in the afternoon session against Saiki. Timothy Hughes, who runs his own firm in Falls Church, Va., played the role of the judge. “I think there’s a great void in opportunities for young lawyers to get trial experience,” he says. “Then 10 years out, you’ve got a bunch of lawyers who haven’t tried cases.” Hughes has an associate who works with him at his firm and he notes that as a manager, “I have to make a conscious effort to bring in smaller cases that my younger associate can do.” The problem with such cases, he adds, is that they’re not very profitable. Hughes’ paralegal, Rashied McCreary, came along to play the bailiff. McCreary, who has a graduate degree in international policy, is considering law school and wanted to see a trial in action. The mock trials went much as a real trial does, with all its attendant time and witness pressures. Indeed, the younger attorneys seemed truly nervous at times, and the judge had to ask one to stand up while examining a witness. But that is the real point of the mock trial club: It’s just practice. Because while lawyers use the word practicewhen they describe their jobs, the last thing their clients want is for the lawyers to practice on their cases. It’s much better to have a sympathetic practitioner critique your trial technique than a real judge in a real case. Marsha Sutherland, currently an editor at LexisNexis with a desire to become a public defender, played the role of a witness. At the next mock trial session, she’s hoping to get one of the lawyer slots. “I want to try cases, and this is a good way to get some practice,” she says. Saiki plans to hold the mock trials once a month. The next two are scheduled for June 28 and Aug. 23. Both will be held at George Mason. The D.C. and Virginia bar associations have expressed interest in finding experienced attorneys to play the role of judges if participants commit to doing a certain amount of pro bono work. The mock trial club charges no fees except to cover the cost of materials, the space, and other expenses. Saiki says fees for future trials will run each participant who argues a case about $120. Attorneys interested in more information about the club can send queries to [email protected].

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