As litigators, when we make our first appearance in the sheriff court, we’ve had at least five years’ intensive legal training to prepare us for the experience. But even that doesn’t stop the sweaty palms and dry mouth!
Imagine then being around 10 years old and appearing in court, albeit a mock one, before a real judge or trained lawyer and having to confidently argue a case against stiff competition.
It sounds terrifying, doesn’t it?
But doing just that — taking part in the School Mock Court Project — has had a profoundly positive impact on pupils from across Edinburgh, the Lothians, the west of Scotland, Tayside and Fife: giving them a really helpful introduction to the legal system.
Ledingham Chalmers is a proud sponsor of the initiative, set up a number of years ago.
The project itself actually goes beyond the law: fundamentally it’s about helping pupils extrapolate facts from fiction and tell a story without distraction or waffle.
The youngsters are given individual roles such as lawyers, witnesses, journalists, gown makers, researchers and artists and need to work together with their classmates to build and present their case.
Within a fictional legal scenario, the children must be articulate and concise and use all available resources to convince the sheriff that their client, whether pursuer or defender, is right and that judgement should be granted in their favour.
Specifically, they have to come up with their own arguments; anticipate their opponent’s arguments; draft their pleadings; and examine and cross-examine witnesses before making their closing submissions. Among many other benefits, the project helps develop their reading, writing and public speaking skills.
I have been a tutor for this initiative for the last four years and, most recently, I was lucky enough to work with the youngsters at both Sanderson’s Wynd, Tranent, and Pencaitland Primary. Around 80 children all-in-all.
I visited both schools over the course of eight weeks or so towards the end of last year.
Following these tutoring sessions, my Pencaitland primary sevens took part in the mock trials at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in November. The defenders received the highest marks on the night, and hopefully the overall mark will mean they’ll make it to the finals next month.
I was also both tutor and sheriff for the primary six Sanderson’s Wynd youngsters, who showed fantastic effort and enthusiasm for the project.
And feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
It’s also incredibly rewarding for me, and important for the firm, after all, these youngsters are possibly future Ledingham Chalmers lawyers!
It’s crucial to promote the legal profession to young people, especially because, for some, their overall experience of the legal system is not always positive, so the project is a wonderful way of making sure they engage with the law in a really constructive way.
On a personal note, I was a pupil at Sanderson’s Wynd when it was Tranent Primary, so it was a very proud moment to be able to stand up and tell the children about my experiences of becoming a lawyer starting from exactly the same place as they are now.
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