Tuesday, August 15th, 2023.
After almost a year, I finally accomplished., for the first time, what I have been working towards; becoming a teen attorney. From observing trials, to volunteering for being a juror in three different courts, to training to become an attorney in two of them, becoming a bailiff, and now…officially acting as a teen attorney. It’s something I never would have imagined doing last summer, when I only first discovered that Teen Court exists. Through these proceedings, I’ve learned so much despite it only being the tip of the iceberg! Let me take you on a trip through the past to share some of these experience I’ve gained over these past few months.
Discovering Teen Court
The first time I heard of teen court, I felt burdened. One of my biggest flaws is my reluctance to work. I’d rather stick to doing the amount I’m currently doing, than doing more and expanding my schedule and adjusting until it’s normal again. That’s why Teen Court was so upsetting to me. I immediately dreaded it.
I first started at the Metroport Teen Court. I was genuinely terrified. Before I became a volunteer, I was able to observe a court proceeding to understand how it worked. It was my first time young to a court. I was scared, nervous even. What do I Wear? Is this not fancy enough? Is it too fancy? What if I start sweating? What if my phone goes off? So many questions but so few answers and time to process them. The good news was that my phone didn’t go off and I wasn’t too overdressed. The jurors really didn’t care that much of dress code- which I see pretty often- and end up wearing sweatshirts, jeans, t-shirts, shorts, etc. Often I’d be one of the few in dress code when arriving to other volunteering sessions. For the bad news, I did sweat and panic when talking to the Court supervisor. (She scares me, and I’m pretty sure she does not like me based on the number of questions and emails I’ve sent her up to today)
The first observation was pretty fun. I got to see a close representation of a court proceeding, except done by teenagers my age. This was one of the first turning points in my journey. The acceptance and realization of what a great opportunity this could be. I clearly remember seeing two attorneys who absolutely amazed me. Their cod finder e, persuasion, preparedness, and quick thinking skills when on the floor were everything. Not to mention, I’m pretty sure they both won the amount of hours they were setting as the prosecutors. They were actual professionals despite their age. It was remarkable seeing them. Afterwards, after a little convincing by my inner self, I decided to give it a try.
I went to the second observing case, where I got to participate as a juror.
In Teen Court there are two different trials. A court case and a Master Jury case. Cases that are taken to court with a judge and in a courtroom are generally for a Class between 1 and 4. Class 5 and 6 cases are for the Master Jury. In the Master Jury, about 5-6 jurors including a bailiff sit at a table with the defendant and their parent on one side, and a supervisor on the other. In this, everyone gets to listen to the case and the defendant’s recollection, and then get to do a round of questioning or more if needed. This is similar to the questioning attorneys do in a court night, but a little different. Following this, the defendant can make any last remarks before stepping out and allowing the jury to make a decision on the hours to be given. Once done, the hours are read to the defendant by the bailiff, and the case finishes.
About 2-3 cases take place per night, and afterwards jurors can leave. My second observing period was as a part of the Master Jury. The biggest thing I remember from there was the guy sitting next to me asking if I assaulted a person, to which I looked at him horrified and said, “I’m just volunteering here.” It then clicked that I was sitting with kids who were former defendants and were now helping current defendants out. The other thing that stood out to me was seeing this one guy who stood out to me for his fashion style, who I later discovered was a senior in my school, was in Orchestra, and happened to be on at least three different routes to my other classes during Freshman year. (That’s a story for another time)
Volunteering as a Juror
After that I became an official juror for the Metroport court. In my opinion, I think the Metroport Court is one of my least favorites because of the listing and some of the procedures. For the Metroport Court, I was put on a roster and called to a case night when my name came up. This is different to my other court volunteering periods, but I’ll get to that later.
It would be 3 or 4 months before I got called to a new case for the Metroport Court. Most of the time I would be on the Master Jury. Despite this, I only really became a juror for a few nights before signing up for the Attorney roster. A lot of emailing and Court supervisor bothering went into this. It’s partially due to my father’s persistence for information, as well as my want to become an Attorney, but we’ll say it was mainly me.
Some of the volunteer nights were slow, others fast. Some happened when unexpected situations came into play hours before and I was left thinking about it the whole case night, and others were of utmost boredom and desperation to leave. Regardless, I enjoyed the experience all the more. However, this whole roster part bothered me. At this rate, I would end up having very little experience in 2-3 years. I started looking for other Teen Courts to volunteer at. My first was North Richland Hills.
North Richland Hills was better than Southlake (Metroport) Court. It was a little more professional, nicer, and had more availabilities to participate in case nights than I did at Southlake. I then started looking at attorney opportunities for NRH. They had a policy of attending two nights before signing up for an attorney. That I could do, but it was difficult. I started NRH near the end of my school year, when AP exams and finals took place. There was more focus on school than court, so finding nights to volunteer at were harder.
I started looking for more courts. Then, I finally found it. The court I most love out of the three I’ve volunteered at so far: Irving. Irving,as I’ve heard, is the oldest Teen Court in the area, making it more defined and professional. When signing up, they provided different areas you could apply for. Lead Attorney, Assistant, etc. If I remember right, I’m sure I did assistant attorney to start for my training. After submitting my form it provided me a date. The date I would receive my Attorney training.
Irving is amazing. I think my expectations for court and attorney training are slightly higher than they were at first solely because of the wya Irving did it. In my training there were a good 10-12 people. We all came and sat at tables in a room early morning and did introductions. We spent a good 5-6 hours in training that day. From the morning to afternoon we learned. Our court supervisor gave us handouts with notes on how to do things. From objections to questioning and more, it was there. We walked through the building and rooms. (Far more complex by the way) We were shown where we could hang out and where we would be working. We took a trip to the court room and Master Jury room, and returned back to where we were previously.
In our training we did a lot of application scenarios. For an hour or so we focused on one aspect, like openings per se. When focusing on openings, we would get into groups and then decide to be defense or prosecution. Based on this and the practice cases given we formed an opening based on what we wanted to prove and further explain using the trial. We did this with closing, questioning, and objections as well. We ate pizza and had snacks while asking questions for real life scenarios. It was REALLY fun. We then proceeded with a mock trial where we applied everything we learned, and then wrapped up for the day. This was the second turning point. I got really excited to become an Attorney at this point, as I am now qualified to become one in Irving. Being a part of the training was like a reality check. It kind of opened me up to the fact that me becoming an Attorney was very much real, and a big possibility. I unfortunately couldn’t attend the two sessions but I finally got to and it was AWESOME. More on that later.
Shortly after my Irving court volunteering, I finally had Southlake attorney training. Southlake, like I said isn’t as great as the others but it’s still a Teen Court. The training was pretty short and it felt rushed. They tried to squeeze everything into the 3 hours, but I felt like they could have kept it running longer and earlier in the day. Not only that, I feel like we didn’t get to process a lot of information that well. Things such as openings and questioning could have been practiced or given in demonstrations rather than just having.a reference to our given binders with the information. One thing I really liked was having experienced attorneys come join us during the training. We later split into 4 groups (2 cases with defense and prosecution each) and had the current attorneys give us advice and act as our defendant. One of the attorneys who is now a former attorney (off to college) was actually really helpful and incredibly knowledgeable and experienced. I really appreciate his help. He gave us a lot of key factors to consider, like establishing a timeline when questioning the defendant before trial (for the defense) and finding the information that could really help us when everything else wasn’t looking in their favor. He really walked us through.a lot of vague points that were covered during the training, such as how to relate the questioning into the opening and closing, as well as how to act and what details we should keep in mind of. The mock trial was okay since I messed up for my closing and rushed through it, but otherwise it was a fun learning experience. Now comes the fun part.
Being an Attorney
Irving first! So the procedure for Irving is a little different than the other two courts. In this the supervisor sends an email to which we reply if we can participate that day, and she later emails us back with the positions given. For new attorneys that were recently trained she likes to give us juror positions so we can observe before working. I was meant to be a juror but the assigned bailiff couldn’t make it and I opted in for it instead. I had the option to be an attorney as well, but I felt that being a bailiff would be better for my nerves as well as for learning. It was right.
This is my final turning point, the moment I decided that I did want to be an attorney no matter what. I was a little nervous as the bailiff, but it was an easy enough position to be able to relax while working. I think I found the variety of defendants in all three courts to be most interesting. When one city is more heavily populated with brown kids you see more of those in the court room and vice versa. That was interesting to see, as well as how that played into who the attorneys were. More Asian kids in Irving compared to Southlake and NRH. Disregarding that, I really admired the Irving attorneys.
I’m assuming they all were pretty experienced since they had lead attorneys and they were familiar with the cases and judges than I was that day. Not only that, they were really comfortable and confident with the courtroom. You could feel it in the way they talked to the defendant or the way they spoke to the jury. It’s the small things like hand movements, eye contact, tone, pace. It was bewitching, in a way, to see how they worked. (Especially this one girl who was absolutely amazing during the cases) Being a bailiff allowed me to see the court proceedings without having to make a decision on the process. I could sit through both cases and hear them out, make my own opinions or what I think should be the next question and compare to what the attorneys did. It helped let me see things from a better experience than I could as a juror. ( On a side note, I’m pretty sure one of the jurors tried to act cool when I was around so that was awkward, but that’s something else)
Finally, Southlake. Tuesday was a big day. Not only was it the last day of summer for me- the first and last few hours of ‘summer’ I had gotten all break- but I would also be an Attorney for the first time. It would be the first time ever, I got to act as an attorney. It was TERRIFYING. I had a panic attack-like event a few hours prior to that so I was not in the best condition but I had to go. (I’m glad I did) It gave me my first taste of reality. This is my defendant. They did an actual crime. I am helping them. I am an ATTORNEY. This court was all rookies to give us a court experience – and because the experienced attorneys would grab at the sign up the second it was posted- so we all struggled in our own ways. For me, I froze up and I spoke too quietly. I couldn’t decide if I had to introduce myself or not, and furthermore I didn’t know HOW to do that so I hesitated at the beginning. Questioning went fine since I had a list of the information I needed to give the right questions. The only problem was that the defendant, although incredibly compliant and doing their best, kept giving extra information and too little information at times. They even changed their information once or twice during the questioning. I’d assume that was a mistake on our part. As the defendant’s attorneys we should have walked them through the process and what to expect before bringing them inside. At least we’ll remember for next time.
Other than that we actually managed to give the defendant the minimum hours! It was unexpected but still exciting. (Both cases got the minimum hours so major win) At least I’ve had my first real taste of court and now know what it’s like as an attorney. It’s scary, but fun. I think what’s holding me back is my fear. I actually really like the experience. It’s new, it’s different than what I usually do, and I only get to do this every month or so. The more I get involved in this the easier it’l become, I’m sure. It’s a good thing that I’ in two courts at the moment so I can keep going between the two without a gap in between. It also gives me different experiences with different supervisors. I can get twice the amount of feedback and learning opportunities. (It’s also twice the more time to work on my speaking) Otherwise, I’m excited. I finally debuted as a teen attorney, after a little more than a year later.
From an observer, to a volunteer juror, to a bailiff and now an official attorney, it’s crazy. I never thought to do something like this in my entire life, so it’s new to me. It’s a change of mindset and setting. Instead of just school and my house, it’s something else. A real world experience designed for my age where I can do something impactful and helpful for my community as well as other teens my age. Am I exhausted after these trials though? Very much so. That’s all right though! I’m more willing to put in the hours for Teen Court than I was at the beginning of all this. Soon I’ll be practically fighting the others to be at every case night. (Maybe not but you’d never know) Time will only tell!
Anyways, that’s all for this post. See you next time!