Budding surgeons can practice their skills on high-tech virtual patients. Architects can try out various building designs in small-scale wind tunnels to see whether they’ll work in reality. Psychologists and other therapists rely heavily on role playing to hone the skills they’ll need in the field.
The same kind of experiential instruction and participation is working for soon-to-be lawyers who choose to practice in the complex and often high-stakes world of family law. Sixteen law students from the University of Colorado and University of Denver law schools recently gathered for a mock trial clinic offered by the Colorado Supreme Court and the Office of the Child’s Representative in partnership with Colorado Law and DU School of Law.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for you to get a chance to try out your skills in a safe way,” Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey told the students before the clinic’s first stage in the Colorado Supreme Court courtroom. “In this setting, the mistakes you make don’t affect anybody.”
The fourth annual clinic, which began Feb. 24, brought together five students from the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and eleven students from the Juvenile Law Clinic at the University of Colorado at Boulder Law School.
The students and faculty were organized into four teams to run separate mock settlement conferences in preparation for mock trials scheduled for March 2 at the Sturm College of Law and March 4 at the CU Law School.
Among the faculty conducting the settlement conferences this year were two former Colorado Law students who now work as family court facilitators in the Colorado court system: Julia Kneeland (’07) and Janet Lee (’06). Joining them were Barbara Bosley, family court facilitator in the Denver Juvenile Court, and Loretta Koehler, family court facilitator in the First Judicial District (Jefferson and Gilpin counties).
“I think because I had been in their shoes not too long before, I knew exactly how they were feeling,’’ said Lee, who is the family court facilitator in the 17th Judicial District, which encompasses Adams and Broomfield counties. Lee went through the mock trial program as a student in 2006 and has returned in each of the following years to help train soon-to-graduate students.
“For so many students, when you’re in law school, when you’re trying to figure out what area to practice in, many are scared off by family law,” she said. “It’s a really good opportunity to introduce students to this area of law. There are upsides to it … a real sense of doing something that’s improving the lives of the children of Colorado.”
Kneeland, the family court facilitator in the 2nd Judicial District (Denver), is relatively new to family law, having graduated with a focus on civil law and having clerked for a Denver District Court judge until May 2008, when she took her current job.
She said she was attracted to family law to help people resolve emotional disputes in a way that’s fair to each party, and wants to impart that sense of enthusiasm to law students. “It’s important to increase awareness of what a unique field of practice family law is and what opportunity you have to impact people’s lives,” Kneeland said. “I like that you get to interact with people before they begin the adversarial process. You have the opportunity to help people sort out their problems in a way that’s mutually beneficial to all the parties.”