It's not often that students have the opportunity to don robes, prepare formal arguments, and participate in a few mock trials during their first semester of college.
But moving from the classroom to the courtroom was all part of the learning experience for students in Dr. J. Thomas Wren's Judicial Leadership course this semester. The course was one of 30 new first-year seminars offered to introduce students to academic inquiry and sharpen critical thinking, communication, comprehension, and research skills.
The class immersed students in the historical study of major judicial decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade and culminated in students arguing or judging four cases in the School of Law's Moot Court Room.
The cases, albeit fictional, focused on the issues of immigration and gay marriage and gave students an opportunity to experience the legal system from a different perspective.
Being in the courtroom "was a little nerve racking to begin with, but everyone became more comfortable over time," says Elizabeth Sims, '14. "The courtroom brought a different feel to the class, making it more official and professional."
First-year student Erik Lampmann agrees. "It was a thrilling experience to don the robes and participate in a veritable case. The Moot Court Room is an authentic reproduction of an actual court setting and, when paired with the requisite protocol imposed by Dr. Wren, created a formal and engaging environment."
Students applied much of what they learned during the semester, which included looking at the role of the courts and addressing issues of originalism, constitutionalism, and leadership, and honing their written and oral communication skills.
Adrienne Hogan, '14, says the class has given her a broader understanding of how the government and Supreme Court function. "I found it fulfilling to be in the position of lawyers arguing cases that are incredibly relevant to today. The class overall has given me new insights on how the government and the people of the United States interact."
Wren couldn't be more pleased with his students. "By the end of the semester they had a pretty good idea of the concepts of judicial leadership. But I wanted them to get where the rubber meets the road and really see how it all works in the courtroom. They were quite impressive."
Wren earned his law degree at the University of Virginia and his doctorate in history at the College of William & Mary. As an historian and legal scholar, he brings a unique perspective to the study of leadership. He says the course has been beneficial to him as well. He plans to write an article for the Journal of Leadership Studies about some of his insights.
"It has really been a wonderful class for me to think through some of the issues," he said. "And the students have just been terrific."
Photos from the Mock Trial: