By Pariss Briggs
High school students across Loudoun and Fauquier counties got a taste of what it’s like to be attorneys, as they spent the week in mock trials as part of the Thomas D. Horne Leadership in the Law Summer Camp.
Named after retired Loudoun Circuit Court Judge Horne, the camp, now in its 16th year, provides 24 rising seniors with the opportunity to experience the work of a lawyer firsthand.
The overnight camp has a lot to offer, including a tour of the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Capitol, along with recreational activities such as white water rafting and dancing classes. But the heart of the week-long program is a series of mock trials in which the students take on the role of attorneys.
All week, local attorneys have served as mentors for the campers, giving them in-depth training of the legal system and coaching them on the ins and outs of courtroom procedures in preparation for their mock trials.
The trials got underway this morning, with Loudoun judges overseeing the cases and community leaders serving as volunteer jurors.
The trials were centered around a golfing incident, in which a lady received 12 stiches after she was hit by a club. Prosecutors sought to convince the jury the act was intentional, while defense attorneys argued that it was an accident.
While the jury deliberated that afternoon, Horne took the time to commend the students on their performances. “If I would rate this exercise today [I’d give it an] A-plus,” he said. “You can really be proud of this group.”
One jury ruled in favor of the prosecution while another ruled in favor of the defense. The two remaining juries could not come to a consensus.
The camp’s founders, Judge Horne and Virginia State Bar member Rhonda Wilson Paice, an attorney and partner with the Laurel Brigade Law Group, said they’ve seen the program help students determine whether law is a career path they want to pursue.
“[I want students to gain] a real appreciation for the practice of law,” Horne said. “[They learn] about team building, writing, how to deal with adversity, and speaking on your feet.”
For Tuscarora High School rising senior Yassine Elmellouki, the experience has strengthened his desire to pursue a career in patent litigation.
“I’ve learned a lot of things. [I now know] the courtroom, how the procedures work, and I know how to question people,” the 16-year-old said. “I thought this was a great experience.”
Anjali Kunapaneni, a rising senior at Rock Ridge High School, said she applied to get hands-on experience. “I really just wanted to get a feel for how the field is,” she said. “I think I’ve gotten a much better understanding.” Although she’s not sure what career she wants to pursue, Kunapaneni said the camp has definitely helped her. “This is a great camp, and I think a lot of other students should apply.”
Organizers of the law camp said many of the students have gone on to study and work in law-related fields, and even land internships with some of the attorneys who mentored them at camp.
Aside from the activities, the camp also brings in guest speakers to talk to the students. On Thursday, campers heard from Judge James Baker, former chief judge to the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
Law camp is open to rising seniors, but it’s highly selective, with an acceptance rate of about 30 percent.
Christine Newton, a member of the selection committee and attorney at The Turner Law Firm in Leesburg, said there are certain things that can set the students apart, including a well-written essay and strong teacher recommendations.
“What we’re looking for is someone that has an interest in the law,” Newton said. “[We want the students to] take the lead in trying to make the most of the experience.” Newton went on to say the program is based more on character than it is on grades. “We don’t ask for the GPA. We’re really looking for the personality.”
Perhaps one of the best parts of the experience, Paice added, is that it is funded through grants and private donations and is free to students. “There’s no financial obligation, just interest.”