An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Mary Anne Christy, Upper School history teacher

Above: Luke Rona ’00 coaches Freedom, Crime and Law students via Zoom for Moot Court.

I teach an elective class called “Freedom, Crime and Law” to seniors and a few juniors. After attending a week-long program at the Supreme Court last summer I was eager to improve the Moot Court that has been a part of my course since I first started teaching it five years ago. The basic premise is that you split the class into three groups – one group pretends to be justices of the Supreme Court, one represents the petitioners and one the respondents – to simulate a hearing before the Court on a real case that the Court has heard. The twist I learned last summer was how to incorporate real lawyer coaches into the process, one for each team. I reached out to Kelly Poort, assistant director of development, alumni relations, who gave me some names of Lakeside alums who might be willing to help.

Then the virus hit. In order to make it work online, I had to incorporate a little finesse – and a lot more lawyers. At first, I thought I would try to do the Moot Court just as I’d planned. But with a class of 18 students, having three teams of six students felt unwieldy in an online classroom. I had discovered in my online experience that it is difficult to get even groups of four to work together online, coordinating schedules and other class commitments. So, instead of doing one case with three teams, I decided to do three cases with smaller legal teams of three.

The final twist: after creating recorded opening statements as lawyers, all the students would switch from being lawyers on one case to being judges on another. (Translation: I needed seven coaches instead of three!) I reached out to our three alums and to one lawyer I’d met at the Supreme Court. Each of them suggested other lawyers – and one federal judge who happened to be married to one of our alums! And, voila! Each team had a coach and everyone would hear from our judge on how to ask good questions from the bench.

The virtual meetings with lawyer coaches (all at home, working remotely) were terrific. Each coach had a different take on how to structure arguments. Each had smart takes about presenting before a judge. Some had even presented before the Supreme Court. I felt like I’d won the lottery since I got to sit in on all seven! We held our first hearings on Monday. The students were amazing! Even though this process was much more complicated to plan and execute, the work the students produced was far superior to what I saw in the brick and mortar classroom last year. Wow! The transition to online learning for this project was a bit bumpy (not every internet connection was smooth, coordinating all those lawyers was time consuming) but the outcome was far superior to anything I’ve seen in a classroom-based moot court.

As some of us history nerds would say: Huzzah!

Teal Luthy Miller ’87 (top) and Gigi Ryan Gilman ’80 (bottom) coach Freedom, Crime and Law students and teacher Mary Anne Christy.