Courtside Seats for the Final Four

Last April, I had courtside seats for the Final Four. And when I say courtside seats, I mean courtside seats.

I was not in Indianapolis for the NCAA Men's College Basketball Final Four. I wasn't in San Antonio for the NCAA Women's Final Four. (If the Lady Vols aren't in it, I don't even watch the Final Four on TV.)

No, the Final Four I attended was in my hometown of Memphis, and my courtside seats were literally courtside seats because they were in a courtroom.

The 2010 National College Mock Trial Championships were held in Memphis last spring, hosted by Rhodes College and the University of Memphis Law School. The opening rounds, the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8 were held at the Shelby County Courthouse, and then the Final Four and the National Championship match were held at FedEx Forum.

Well, okay, I made that last part up. They weren't held at FedEx Forum. They were held in the historic courtroom at the University of Memphis Law School, which is located in the old U.S. Customs House on Front Street in downtown Memphis.

I attended the NCAA Mock Trial Final Four for two reasons. First, I wanted to watch my young friend Reedy Swanson (son of past Tennessee Bar Association Presidents Charles Swanson and Pam Reeves). Reedy is one of the stars of the University of Virginia Fighting Cavaliers Mock Trial Team. (Official team cheer: "Yahoo! Let's sue!")

And second, I wanted to scout future draft choices for my law firm.

I was not disappointed. In fact, I was absolutely blown away by the future lawyers of America I saw performing at the National College Mock Trial Championships.

I watched New York University defeat the University of Virginia in a hard-fought semifinal round. And then NYU beat Harvard for the National Championship. Despite their loss in the championship round, the Harvard Crimson Trial Lawyers did a fine job. I understand that Harvard is an accredited law school in Massachusetts.

The Final Four featured several mock trial All-Americans. So help me, I am not making this up. They really do have a mock trial All-American team. Insofar as I know, they do not have a mock trial Heisman Trophy winner. That's fine with me, inasmuch as I've paid no attention to the Heisman Trophy award presentation ever since Charles Woodson was selected over Peyton Manning in 1997. (That decision by the New York Downtown Athletic Club ranks alongside the first O.J. verdict as one of the great injustices in American history.)

The young future lawyers I saw perform at the mock trial Final Four were worthy of the title "All-Americans." And if they are representative of the next generation of American lawyers, the future of our profession looks very, very good.

What warmed this old Tennessee trial lawyer's heart is that the kids I saw competing in the National Mock Trial Championships were definitely trial lawyers. They weren't litigators. (Thank God, to my knowledge, there is no National College Litigators' championship.) They weren't Bates-stamping mock documents or filing sissy motions for sanctions. They weren't begging for a continuance of the championship round so that they could resolve the dispute through mediation or binding arbitration. No-siree-Darrow! These kids were trying a lawsuit. True, it was a mock lawsuit, but it had all the thrill of victory and agony of defeat of a real lawsuit.

The final round was judged by a panel including Justice Janice Holder of the Tennessee Supreme Court and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton. I did not envy them. They had a very tough decision to make. The championship battle between NYU and Harvard could definitely have gone into overtime. The lawyers showed incredible poise, hitting the legal equivalent of three-point shots from opening statement to witness examination to closing argument. And they weren't reading from a script. They had to wing it just like we real trial lawyers do in real trials. They didn't just wing it. They soared for slam dunks.

I frankly think that the students I saw competing in the Mock Trial Final Four should never go to law school. It would be an incredible waste of their time. They are already ready to be lawyers, and they should go directly into law practice right now.

We let All-American college basketball players go directly to the NBA without graduating. Why shouldn't we let Mock Trial All-Americans go directly to the TBA? These are lottery-pick lawyers, baby!

In fact, there was one freshman on the NYU team who I think should go into law practice this year. She could be one of those one-and-done mock trial stars, like the superstars John Calipari recruits for the University of Kentucky basketball team.

There is of course one big difference. The freshman from NYU took her own SAT.

I am hoping the 2010 NCAA Mock Trial Final Four will not be the last Final Four I attend. I am planning on being with the Lady Vols in Indianapolis next April.

But there is an even bigger Final Four I hope to see some day. My 14-year-old daughter, her Royal Highness, the Princess, is trying out for the White Station High School Spartans mock trial team (defending state champions!). Since her mom is a really good lawyer, I think the Princess has great potential in mock trial. I am dreaming I will see her compete in the NCAA Mock Trial Final Four in 2018.  


Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a partner with the Memphis firm of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell. He is past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association.