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8 Jun 2020 Download

Engaging the Future Generation of Lawyers with Attorney Michael Taylor

Legal professionals often have trouble predicting how future lawyers will approach the practice of law.

But that’s not a problem for attorney Michael Taylor with Bailey & Wyant PLLC. That’s because, when he’s not working defense litigation in matters like constitutional law and government liability, he’s teaching local high schoolers the nuances of our legal system.

“I like that I can teach kids constitutional law, as well as live it and practice it every day,” Taylor explains. Indeed, his passion for the law makes it easy for him to motivate students—many of which are aspiring attorneys.

A COURSE FOR SUCCESS

Taylor teaches these kids in a dual-credit educational program through one of the local colleges. That means, in addition to high school course credit, the students receive a transferrable college credit too.

The topics are commensurate with a college-level curriculum as well, going far deeper than a basic social studies class. “A lot of people think constitutional law means things like the first amendment and civil rights,” Taylor says. “We’re more focused on articles one, two and three—which are really the foundational principles on how our government works.”

The 50-minute class meets every school day for an entire academic year. And Taylor admits that the subject matter is a challenge, so he had to develop a classroom strategy that balances complex topics with a high schooler’s attention span.

“We take an incremental approach, starting off just speaking generally about the legal system,” Taylor explains. But pretty soon, he says the class is reading cases and developing case briefings.

Students are also encouraged to bring up current legal topics, which helps shed some relevance on the lessons they’re learning.

HANDS-ON LEGAL CLASSWORK

But Taylor makes it clear that students aren’t just reading textbooks. Over the course of the year, he introduces larger classroom projects. In the fall semester for example, there’s a mock oral argument. In that exercise, students are given a legal issue along with some basic legal research and instructed to build their legal argument.

Once the students craft their talking points, Taylor invites a few attorneys from Bailey & Wyant to serve as the judge and jury. The lawyers ask questions from the bench to give the students a real glimpse into a courtroom setting.

Then in the spring, the class holds a mock trial—with an interesting twist. This time, instead of Taylor’s colleagues in the jury box, he selects students from other classes. The classmates hear the arguments and then render a verdict. “It’s a real jury of their peers,” he jokes.

SCHOOL BEYOND TEXTBOOKS

Taylor finds that the mock arguments and mock trials help engage the students on a level that transcends what they’re reading in textbooks and case studies. “The value I bring to the students is the real-life aspects of laws and lawyering,” he states. Taylor also alludes to his ability to bring some practical legal insight into the classroom.

“There have been occasions where I would have an oral argument in front of the West Virginia Supreme Court,” Taylor recalls. “We’ll talk about that, and then the students can watch me [on a recording] to see it in action.”

For even more immersive learning during the summer, Taylor invites select students to shadow him for a few hours at his law firm. This experience gives them a firsthand account of a legal professional’s day-to-day life. And, since the Bailey & Wyant office is right across the street from the courthouse, Taylor will often bring those students over to watch a hearing or two.

THE FUTURE GENERATION OF LAWYERS

Taylor knows that many students in his constitutional law class want to go on to be lawyers, so he works hard to prepare them for that environment. “I’m going to teach them constitutional law,” Taylor says. “But I’m also going to give them a small taste of what law school entails.”

And the course is structured that way too—Taylor hopes that it provides a good foundation on the legal system to help students hit the ground running when it’s time to pursue a J.D.