Students in State Mock Trial Will See a Different Profession

The Tennessee High School Mock Trial competition is the premier public service project of the TBA Young Lawyers Division (YLD), which it has sponsored since 1981. This year’s championship will be March 15-16 at the Metro Courthouse in Nashville, where Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William C. Koch will preside over the championship round.  

For many participating students, it is their introduction to the world of law as a possible career choice, but it has other benefits as well. According to this year’s chair, Troy Weston, “Ultimately, the mock trial program helps students develop their oral advocacy skills, project organization skills, interpersonal skills, tolerance of long-wait skills, and countless other aspects of their own self-development.” The competition also attracts students who are talented thespians to play the roles of witnesses. The Academy Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon is perhaps the best-known Tennessee mock trial alumna. She participated as part of the Harpeth Hall School’s team in the early 1990s, although her online biography does not mention this important milestone!

The annual state competition is an intense, two-day event in which each team participates in a minimum of four trial rounds. “It takes a village, and that village’s paraprofessional staff,” Weston says, to produce the competition. He lauded the support of the state’s judiciary, which gives their time and provides court rooms, for both the local and state competitions. His conservative estimate of volunteers needed for the state competition alone is 72 attorney volunteers (scorers), 24 nonattorney volunteers (bailiffs), and 24 judge volunteers.   

Those of you who have volunteered at the competition have seen young people who will be worthy adversaries someday as many of those students hope to attend law school. I also have friends whose children are considering law school. When they ask me for advice, I always tell them how wonderful our profession is, and I cannot help but mention how much it has changed in the past 25 years. I also remind them that many new graduates are unable to find traditional law firm jobs and that student loan debt can be astronomical and oppressive.

The Transformation of the Legal World

Since former TBA President Paul Campbell III called my attention to the writings of Professor Thomas D. Morgan of George Washington University Law School, I have given prospective law students Morgan’s thought-provoking essay, “The Last Days of the American Lawyer,” and recommended his book, The Vanishing American Lawyer. In both, Morgan describes how the legal profession is changing and advises lawyers to prepare for a legal profession drastically different from what it was at the beginning of a transformation that began in the 1970s. He refers to the earlier era as “the golden age.” 

Morgan identifies eight important trends over the past 40 years that have transformed the legal world: 1) the change in regulation of the legal profession, including more advertising; 2) the growth in the number of lawyers; 3) the impact of globalization; 4) the revolution in computer storage and communications technology; 5) the growth in the size of organizations in which lawyers practice; 6) the transformation of what scholars call the “hemispheres” of the bar [for example, in 1960, business lawyers made up 45 percent of the bar and “people” (personal injury, criminal, divorce, will and real estate) lawyers made up 55percent, and now less than one-third of legal talent works to meet the needs of individual clients]; 7) the rising power of in-house counsel; and, 8) the declining significance of having an American law license before providing traditional legal services. Morgan summarizes by saying that the traditional vision of the American lawyer is largely vanishing. He implores lawyers to “understand themselves in terms of the world in which they work and whose changing dynamics they cannot ignore.”

Morgan predicts that the skills required to represent a client effectively will be so multi-dimensional that few lawyers will stray far from the work they know how to perform well. He suggests that in the future, traditional legal services to individuals will be delivered as “commodities” or “standardized products sold primarily on the basis of price,” with the internet playing an even bigger role.

On a more encouraging note, he believes that those who suffer personal injuries, are charged with crimes, or have immigration or tax issues will continue to use “legally trained providers,” and that trial lawyers will continue to find their services in demand. He predicts that the trend toward lawyers disproportionately serving organizational clients is likely to continue, but those lawyers will be competing for business against foreign lawyers and non- lawyer consultants. The involvement of nonlawyer consultants will come about because fewer issues will be seen as distinctively “legal” in character. Thus, a lawyer’s value to a client will be two-dimensional: what the lawyer knows about a particular area of the law as well as what the lawyer knows about the client’s particular industry or substantive issues. He predicts that “lawyers who prosper will be those who can make themselves the best available go-to person in a combined law-and-substantive field and who market themselves accordingly.”

I recently heard someone speak about the four-buckets of law practice rule developed by Jeffrey Carr, general counsel of FMC Technologies. The rule is that legal work fits into one of four buckets: process, content, advocacy and counseling. Carr says that general counsel are willing to pay for advocacy and counseling but believe process and content should either be free or not cost much. I would suggest that is true for many clients and fits in neatly with Morgan’s theory about a lawyer’s two-dimensional value to a client as shown by the lawyer’s knowledge in a particular area of the law and in the client’s particular issues and/or business. The combination of knowledge and skill that gives the two-dimensional value referred to by Morgan is likely the same combination necessary to be able to advocate and counsel, the two “buckets” of law practice for which sophisticated clients are willing to pay, according to Carr.

In reality, that aspect of lawyering may not have changed much from the era in which the fictional Atticus Finch practiced because what clients value, need and are willing to pay for is what lawyers are uniquely trained to do: counsel, advise and advocate. 

There is no doubt that the legal world in which some of today’s mock trial “lawyers” will end up actually practicing law will be drastically different from what we know today. You will have an opportunity to hear Professor Morgan elaborate on his theories about the future of the legal profession when he speaks at the TBA annual meeting in Nashville on June 13. If you want to see some of those who will be practicing law in that future, volunteer to help at the state mock trial championship by contacting Mock Trial Chair Troy Weston at tweston@eblaw.us or YLD Director Stacey Shrader Joslin at sshrader@tnbar.org. Learn more at www.tba.org/info/tennessee-high-school-mock-trial-0

In addition to the state high school mock trial championship, March also brings St. Patrick’s Day, This recipe is a twist on the traditional.

Glazed Corned Beef with Sauteed Cabbage

Image ©iStockphoto

3 to 4 lb. corned beef brisket
½ cup orange marmalade, peach jam or other light-colored preserve
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 small head cabbage, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place corned beef in large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2½ to 3 hours or until very tender. Preheat oven to 350º F. Mix next three ingredients together. Remove the meat from the pot, drain, trim off some of the excess fat, and place the meat in a greased baking dish only slightly larger than the meat. Brush the meat throughly with a little more than half of the glaze. While it is baking, brush it with additional glaze. Bake the corned beef until crispy and brown, about 30 minutes.

While the meat is baking, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage, salt and pepper, and saute for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is tender. Serves 6.

Jackie Dixon TBA President JACKIE DIXON is a partner with Weatherly McNally & Dixon PLC in Nashville.