The mustachioed high school senior
sneered as the much shorter, and more earnest, 13-year-old wearing
a bow tie questioned him on the stand.
"By the end of the
cross-examination, I got the smirk off his face," says the
questioner, Joshua McGuire, still satisfied with the victory some
21 years later.
That's how long McGuire, an
assistant state attorney general, has been swept up in the
Massachusetts Bar Association's High School Mock Trial Program.
He's participated in the program at every level, including
student-lawyer, teacher-coach, judge and currently, lawyer-coach
and organizing committee member.
"I feel that I am almost uniquely
suited to tell people what a powerful program it is," he said.
The competition, which begins in
January, will celebrate its 25th anniversary. More than
2,300 hours per year are donated by judges and attorneys for the
program, in which more than 100 teams compete each year. Students
assume the roles of lawyers, defendants and witnesses in
hypothetical cases before real judges.
McGuire credits teacher Marjorie
Montgomery of the F.A. Day School in Newton, now retired, with his
debut as student-lawyer as an eighth-grader in 1988. Montgomery had
woven legal issues into her junior high English and social studies
curriculum for years and was first in line when the competition
started in Massachusetts.
The Day School team, which included
some older students from Newton North High School, then without its
own team, went on to win the state title in the 1988 contest and
was the first team in the state to move on to the national
competition. Day was one of the few junior highs or middle schools
ever allowed in the tournament. Due to the program's growth in size
and competitiveness, it was subsequently limited to high
The next year, as a freshman,
McGuire helped found a team at Newton North, but much to his
chagrin, it was not strong enough to defeat the younger team from
his alma mater, the Day School, which included his little sister,
But then came the "three-peat," as
he and his friends dubbed it, and from 1990 to 1992, the Newton
North powerhouse team captured the state Mock Trial championship
and landed third, third and fifth places consecutively at the
national level. "We knew each others' strengths and weaknesses and
how to support each other … I'm sure there have been teams better
than we were, but none as successful."
In the final year of the three-peat,
the team "cleaned the clocks" of their opponents at the national
contest, says McGuire. Despite what he felt was a dominating
performance, the team placed fifth that year.
"Coming to grips with the fact that
life is not always fair" proved a valuable lesson for the young
upstart. "Sometimes the ball rolls funny," McGuire says he tells
his Mock Trial students. "I tell my clients the same thing. You
have to allow for the possibility that somebody won't see it your
It was in McGuire's sophomore year
that a young lawyer named Elliott Loew, who volunteered to teach a
legal class there, "got roped into" coaching the competition team
at Newton North. Loew would come to forge an enduring friendship
and Mock Trial partnership with its star student-lawyer, from being
McGuire's coach, to co-coaching Newton North to state championships
in 1997 and 1998, to working together on the committee.
Loew sees James McGuire, Josh's dad,
as the "father of the Mock Trial program" in Massachusetts for his
efforts promoting the extracurricular academic offering. The elder
McGuire convinced his own firm, Brown, Rudnick, Berlack &
Israels LLP, to fund the tournament through its Center for the
Public Interest with $25,000 every year since 1998.
As Mock Trial Committee members,
Loew and McGuire have put in countless hours over the years helping
create the cases, explaining the program at teacher conferences and
coaching students. It's their passion. "It's a commitment, but it's
not a chore," Loew says.
McGuire admits he can still recite
the first paragraph of his closing argument from his very first
case, in eighth grade. "That's frightening, Josh!" Loew teases.
Loew, who now coaches at Newton
South High, and McGuire, who coaches at the all-girl Windsor School
in Boston, meet with students at their schools weekly and are
available for extra consultations and weekend sessions during
Pleased parents regularly tell
McGuire about their teens' boosted confidence and academic skills
and particularly enhanced arguing skills, about which they may be
"of two minds." He can see that drilling these skills into his
students, down to the inflection in their voices as they present
their cases, helps end their fidgeting and verbal tics. But after
all these years, he finds the program a boost for his own work, as
"It's always nice to help kids
through the transformation to be more effective thinkers and
speakers. At the same time … it keeps your skills sharp. I've
refined aspects of my own practice just from going over this with
the kids. You find out what's persuasive."
There was little doubt in McGuire's
family that he was headed for a legal career, but his parents, both
lawyers, urged him to explore other options just to be sure. After
graduating from Dartmouth College, he taught for a couple years
before entering the University of Michigan Law School. While many
Mock Trial alumni are practicing lawyers, more than half choose
other careers. (McGuire's sister, Julie, went into psychology.)
As for practicing in the real world,
the realization that it's not all exciting trial work can be "a bit
of a letdown for most attorneys," says McGuire. Having come from a
legal family, though, his "eyes were wide open," and he finds even
the more mundane tasks of lawyering interesting. "When you're
writing a brief, for example, you are still trying to pick apart
someone else's argument and make a better one. Sure, it's more fun
to do that in the courtroom, but you get to do more deep thinking
when you're doing it on paper."
McGuire uses e-mail to keep in touch
with his three-peat teammates and about a dozen Mock Trial
participants with whom he has bonded. As part of the program's
25th anniversary, the committee will reach out to alumni
to get them involved.
McGuire says every student could
benefit from the way the Mock Trial program helps participants
understand, analyze and challenge issues, as well as make cogent
arguments in support or opposition with poise.
"It ought to be mandatory curriculum
for high school students," he maintains, echoing the sentiment of
his November 2006 article for
Lawyers Journal, in which he wrote, "To the extent that public
schools exist in part to produce better jurors and voters,
'reasoning' must be the fourth R."