Fifty Texas high school students attended the third annual Pre-Law Academy hosted by the Stephen F. Austin State University Division of Multidisciplinary Programs on the SFA campus this month.
“The purpose of the academy is for students to familiarize themselves with law and how to prepare for a law career, what courses they might consider and how a liberal arts-focused education can help prepare them for law school,” said Dr. Joyce Johnston, SFA professor of modern languages and director of the academy and multidisciplinary degrees. “The program started with 31 students three years ago and this year we hit our maximum at 50 participants.”
The “jewel” of the academy is the mock trial competition, Johnston said, run by Dr. Don Gooch, SFA assistant professor of political science.
“During the week, the students prepare a mock case—this year, the case was a question of self-defense or murder—and serve as attorneys and witnesses as they compete with each other acting out the trial according to given facts,” she added. “In addition, students have sessions with SFA professors, including a simulated crime scene investigation, sessions on mental health, literature and languages, history, etc.”
More than 30 area attorneys and judges attended the academy to help teach students important aspects of the law. Deans and admissions officers from five different law schools also visited with students, answering myriad questions on how to best prepare for law school and a career in the field.
“One thing that really impresses me with the mock trial is that these students do not know whether they are going to be the prosecution or defense attorney until they are in the courtroom,” said Assistant Nacogdoches County Attorney Keith Bradford, who has been participating in the SFA Pre-Law Academy since its inception. “It’s a flip of the coin. Every day of my legal career, I have known which side of the fence I’m on and prepare my case based on that. They have about 30 seconds to rearrange their thoughts and move the other direction if need be. That, to me, is really impressive.”
Bradford said he believes the academy not only brings recognition to both SFA and Nacogdoches but is developing necessary skills in some of our nation’s future leaders.
“Most of these students have aspirations to go to law school and as you well know many lawyers don’t practice law,” he added. “Some are top 200 CEOs. So not everyone who has a law degree practices law, but going through law school gives you a certain insight. The academy brings name recognition to Nacogdoches and SFA and I hope that continues to grow.”
To be eligible for next year’s academy, students must have finished their sophomore year of high school prior to the start of the program. Applicants must supply a short essay explaining why he/she wants to attend along with two letters of recommendation.