By Sym Posey
The Birmingham Times
More than 50 students from Birmingham City Schools were in the downtown Jefferson County Courthouse on Thursday for the first annual Mock Trial Competition sponsored by the Birmingham Bar Association (BBA) as part of its Students Today | Lawyers Tomorrow project.
The students came from Carver High School, Jackson-Olin High School, A.H. Parker High School, Ramsay High School, and Woodlawn High School with Ramsay finishing in first place and Woodlawn second.
Marcus Maples, President of the Birmingham Bar Association, an attorney and shareholder at Baker Donelson who initiated the program, said the day was about more than how the schools finished.
“This is about a vision. I want to ensure that the students in Birmingham City Schools have the opportunity to continue to dream,” he said. “There are incredibly talented students in Birmingham City Schools, and the only thing we need to do as a bar association is encourage each of [them] to dream and to dream big. We want to ensure that the bar association is doing its part to make [their] dreams come true. “
The pipeline program for students is a partnership between law firms and judges that intends to break down barriers.
In addition to the students, lawyers from firms including Cory Watson, Bradley, Christian & Small, Lightfoot Franklin & White, and Baker Donelson served as mentors and coaches for student teams, giving them legal documents and training in trial procedures and courtroom etiquette.
Elisabeth French, Presiding Judge, Jefferson County, also addressed the students.
“I am grateful to the BBA for inviting me to this opportunity. It lets [students] have an introduction to the court system, rather than [their] first encounter be as a juror, witness, or party … [they] get to come today to learn about the legal system.”
Students will also have an opportunity to pursue law at schools that include the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), University of Alabama (UA), Samford University, Auburn University at Montogomery and University of North Alabama.
“The goal of the program is to ensure that students have some of the things that I didn’t have,” said Maples.
As a first-generation college student and first- generation law student, Maples hopes the program will encourage more local students and city residents of color to pursue legal careers. He noted that the initiative will also help students build a network of fellow students who dream of becoming lawyers.
“In the state of Alabama less than 8 percent of the attorneys are persons of color. Twenty years from now we want to change that,“ Maples said.