As you may or may not know, Loyola Law School has a pro bono requirement. Before graduation, every student must complete at least 40 hours of uncompensated legal work. Many students choose to enroll in a clinic (and Loyola has some great ones) but I love kids so I knew I wanted to find a way to work with them.
Over the summer, I heard about a program called the Prime Time Trials and immediately signed up. The idea behind Team Prime Time is to create after-school programming for at-risk children from low-income areas of Los Angles. Additionally, the founder of Team Prime Time believes that when children are pushed, they will meet those expectations, but if expectations are lowered, they will sink to those expectations. The trial also serves as a way for kids to get acquainted with the law in a positive way, and to view a legal career as a real possibility for themselves.
For the first few weeks of the program, I worked with about 15 other LLS students to draft a problem for the mock trial. We ended up modifying an assignment we had for our 1L Legal Research and Writing class, which was a trade secrets issue. We incorporated some fun pop culture references to make it fun for the kids…and for us.
After we got the problem all ready to go, we split up into teams. I was the team captain for the team at Emerson Middle School and we prepared for about two months to face off in the final trial against Palms Middle School.
Team Emerson represented the Plaintiff, Gordy Gordito, a man who created a unique recipe for the perfect taco shell. The recipe consisted of a specific recipe of seasonings as well as an unusual method for cooking it. The defendant, Kenye East, stumbled upon Plaintiff’s secret taco recipe when he saw a piece of paper illuminated by a black light at one of his concert venues. He then took that recipe and made his own popular taco chain, Yeezy’s Tacos. Gordito brought suit against Yeezy’s Tacos alleging misappropriation of his trade secret (the taco recipe).I went to Emerson once a week with a few other LLS students and we presented a modified Trial Advocacy class for the sixth through eighth graders. We went over things like opening statements and closing arguments, direct vs. cross examinations, and even held a deposition! The group also met on Thursdays, when practicing attorneys would come to the schools and reinforce the lessons taught on Tuesdays.
About half way through the program, we started bringing in tacos for the kids (since our fact pattern was about tacos, it seemed thematically appropriate). And while sometimes the kids were unbearably squirrely, we were constantly impressed by how they were able to grasp some pretty difficult concepts. Trade secrets are pretty difficult for law students to grasp, let alone 6th graders.
As we got closer to the final trial, the kids rehearsed and we offered guidance and support.
|LLS student, Henry, explaining the nuances of an |
effective cross to one of our witnesses.
Finally, on Tuesday November 12, it was time for the final trial against Palms Middle School. Around 3:15 p.m., all of the students arrived. We went over some last minute questions and made sure everyone’s heads were in the game.
The trial itself was great. All of the kids really rose to the occasion and were incredibly articulate, and seemed to have a great time. We broke up the trial into different parts in order to maximize student involvement, and Judge Patricia L. Collins presided over the trial.
One of our students, Matthew, made a last minute addition to his cross examination of the opposing side’s star witness that left a chill in the air – he had nailed it. After an attorney for the opposing side tried to impeach one of our witnesses using the deposition transcript, Flower, the student responsible for our closing argument, effectively explained that the sound quality for the deposition was so poor, that perhaps it was actually the defense’s fault for mishearing our witness – and that they had mistakenly written “$15,000” for the alleged amount of damages as opposed to “$150,000.” A collective “oooooooh” was let out by the audience at that point, it was awesome.
After the trial concluded, Judge Collins took a brief recess. When she returned, she immediately began explaining how the Plaintiff has the burden of proof. We knew this wasn’t good for us. She went on to say that the facts were stacked against us and that she had to side with the other team – meaning our request for an injunction was denied. Our team was bummed, but they assured us that they had “already won.” (I’m not kidding, one of them actually said this to me as she sipped her Juicy Juice before the trial).
While I’m sure the kids had fun, learned a lot, and a positive experience with “the law,” I am also pretty sure that the law students got just as much out of the experience.