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Notre Dame law students propelling Clay High’s mock trial team towards victory

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SOUTH BEND, Ind.—Clay High School’s mock trial team went three years without seeing a win at any level of competition.

Head coach Henry Leaman, a second-year law student at the University of Notre Dame, wanted that to change.

After Leaman became involved with coaching the team in October 2017, the Clay team began to see more wins, going undefeated in scrimmages throughout this year.

“I can’t even believe the improvements we’ve seen. The seniors who I have this year I started working with last year and they have gone from knowing very little about the rules to now they have certain rules of evidence memorized. Law students struggle with memorizing them and here I have a 17-year-old who can recite hearsay at the drop of a hat,” Leaman said.

The Clay students will take on 23 other teams on February 23 at John Adams High School in the regional competition sponsored by the Indiana Bar Association.  

“I’m anxious but I’m excited. I really believe that this team can advance past regionals and I’m excited to be the first team that’s going to do that,” said Clay High School senior Veronica Navarro.

The team receives their competition case six months in advance, which they dissect together, creating arguments and finding evidence to support their claims.

Seven Clay High School women, including Navarro, comprise the mock trial team, a rarity in a typically male dominated activity.

“For me it’s more just the empowerment of us being all women focusing on an activity where we’re learning about a career that it mostly male dominated,” Navarro said.

Leaman decided to take time out of his hectic law school schedule to work with the team because he spent so much time as a high school student himself competing in mock trial.

Clay High School junior Rayana Michalak has thought about becoming a lawyer since she was a child.

“Growing up I wanted to be a lawyer but I wasn’t really sure what being a lawyer would feel like so being in mock trial really helped me sink my teeth into that and find out that this is really what I want,” Michalak said.

Just three years ago, the Clay team had no full time coaches with legal experience.

Before their 2019 season began, Leaman recruited five more law school students to help coach the team. In their spare time, local lawyers also lend a hand to the team.

Longtime Clay High School mock trial faculty sponsor Dianna Christopher said that she hopes working with the Notre Dame students will inspire the high school students to pursue legal careers.

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