The Privilege of Coaching

Why I'm An Attorney Coach for High School Mock Trial

By Judge Francis J. Connolly

I am a judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals.  I have been an attorney coach on the Visitation High School mock trial team since 2007.  Visitation is in the Ramsey division super region, and the trial rounds take place at the Ramsey County Courthouse or by Zoom on Tuesday nights from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the winter.

As a judge, I am limited in the pro-bono activities I can participate in, so mock trial gives me an opportunity to volunteer and give back to the community.  Being an attorney coach has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  It is a privilege to work with such dedicated students and teach them about the law.  Students are given a case file, which includes a complaint, answer, jury instructions, stipulations, pre-trial orders, witness statements, and exhibits.  The case is either criminal or civil, and it alternates each year.  The students must then draft opening statements, closing arguments, and direct and cross examinations for six witnesses.  They also learn the rules of evidence so they can make objections at trial.  The students then participate in several trial rounds against other schools, which culminates in the most successful schools going to the state tournament where they compete against schools from all over Minnesota.  Visitation has been to the state tournament five times.

You never know, the student you coach today may one day apply for a job in your office. 

I have also seen several of my students graduate college, go to law school, and then come back to practice law in the Twin Cities.  Many of them say they were encouraged to become a lawyer by doing high school mock trial.  The other attorney coach at Visitation is currently a Hennepin County prosecutor who was on the Visitation mock trial team that I coached and that went to the state tournament in 2009.

From a professional standpoint, mock trial also keeps me familiar with the rules of evidence.  Since I no longer preside at trials, I rarely deal with issues like hearsay, privilege, relevancy, and improper character evidence.  As any litigator will tell you, unless you are dealing with these rules every day, you forget how to apply them.

It has also been a privilege to have my students argue before the Ramsey County judges who volunteer their time to preside over our trials.  My students love to argue before a “real” judge.  It makes them sharper and more eager to get it right.  All the judges go out of their way to treat my students with courtesy and respect even when they are sustaining the objections of another team against us.

In short, I heartily urge all lawyers and judges to volunteer their time and participate in high school mock trial.  If you cannot be a coach, then consider being a judge for one of the trial rounds.  The MSBA will give you all the materials you need, and the Mock Trial Director, Kim Basting, is extremely knowledgeable and very helpful.  You won’t regret it, and you never know, the student you coach today may one day apply for a job in your office. 

For more information about participating in high school mock trial, contact Kim Basting at

The Honorable Francis J. ConnollyMinnesota Court of Appeals
Attorney Coach, Visitation School