The Kentucky team, represented by Montgomery County High School, won the high school’s recent national mock trial competition, but Kalamazoo also emerged victorious in a different way.
For the first time in the competition’s history, Kalamazoo hosted the national high school event, thanks to sponsorship from Warner Norcross + Judd.
The law firm hosted more than 800 high school students from 44 states and one country both virtually and in person in early May in Kalamazoo to participate in the mock trial competition. The event included four preliminary rounds, two educational sessions, a championship round and an awards gala.
The students qualified for the national competition after winning their respective regional and national competitions.
Students from Kalamazoo Central High School and Huron High School in Ann Arbor participated in the national competition. Huron won the Michigan Mock Trial State Competition and Kalamazoo Central placed second, also qualifying for the national competition.
Warner’s lead attorney James Liggins Jr., event chairman, former high school mock trial contestant and Kalamazoo Central alumnus, worked in partnership with his company and the Michigan Center for Civic Education for bringing the contest to Kalamazoo and making the contest unique to Michigan by including local legal topic and fact patterns.
The four-day competition focused on responsibility in the death of a Michigan pedestrian killed by an autonomous driverless vehicle.
“We wanted something that honored the state of Michigan, that really demonstrates or at least highlights things that Michigan is unique and particularly known for,” Ligins said. “WWe thought the automotive industry was a really good case to focus on given Michigan’s history of being one of the leaders in the automotive world for years and we thought: “Alright, well, let’s come up with something unique as far as an automobile is concerned. What we realized while researching a factual model is that Michigan is one of the most advanced states in regulation of autonomous vehicles.
After winning their various regional and state mock trial competitions focused on various topics, Liggins said students had four weeks to prepare for the national championship, which included learning Michigan laws and reviewing patterns of facts. , witness statements and exhibits.
The competition included teams of students who prepared opening statements, conducted direct examinations and cross-examinations of witnesses, argued objections, filed exhibits and delivered closing arguments.
During the competition, each team, plaintiff and defendant, had three witnesses and three attorneys from each side and they conducted the trial before judges, which included presiding judges and current attorneys.
The judges scored the teams based on their understanding of case law and trial procedures, their ability to plead effectively and move the case forward, timeliness of objections and courtroom demeanor. The judges chose the teams that qualified for the next round of the competition.
Liggins said the mock trial competition is not intended to “create young lawyers”, but rather to give students “the set of tools that will follow them throughout their lives and help them succeed. in the career field they choose”. He did, however, acknowledge that it was his participation in his high school’s mock trial that inspired him to become a lawyer rather than a doctor, which he originally wanted to be.
“The really wonderful thing about this program is that it really provides an entry point for students who may not traditionally have had access to the profession like me, where I have never had any type of member of the family who was a legal professional,” he said.
“When I was in high school, I had a teacher notice me and ask me if I would be interested in trying out for this team. I asked him all the questions about it and I tried and I was accepted into the team and then this whole new world of possibilities opened up to me.
His team was coached and sponsored by Miller Canfield, another Michigan-based law firm that allowed his high school team to practice in his building.
“I was just this wide-eyed young kid from a low-income family and I was introduced to this big, huge, bright building with all these professionals on the go and, ‘Wow! This is something I can do,” he said. “Quite honestly, I’ve developed a really good relationship with some of these attorney coaches. These relationships have followed me throughout my life and continue to follow me until today. I was really mentored by some of these lawyers all through high school and then through college at the University of Michigan. And when I decided to go to law school, I was then mentored by some of these same judges and lawyers all over town.
After graduating from law school, Liggins was able to return to Miller Canfield and work as a lawyer. He eventually became a firm partner before joining Warner Norcross + Judd, where he currently focuses his practice on construction litigation, real estate litigation and real estate litigation, as well as commercial contract litigation, criminal defense and emergency management.