Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway (HAFTR) High School finished in the top four of this year’s New York State regional mock trial competition.
Two experienced trial attorneys, Michael Weinstock, a former Brooklyn assistant district attorney in the Sex Crimes and Domestic Violence Bureau and Timothy Kilgannon, a partner at the law firm of Mineola-based Kilgannon and Kilgannon, assisted the HAFTR students and teacher Lauren Lillien.
“Our lawyer coaches were really funny guys,” said senior Adam Liphshitz. “They taught use how to use humor to deflect a tough question and get a laugh at the same time.”
HAFTR’s team practiced after school and late into the evening. In the Long Island regional competition, all trials were conducted at state Supreme Court in Mineola. Students acted as witnesses and lawyers. Deeper into the tournament real judges evaluated the matches. Other students and family members sat in the gallery. Junior Matthew Goldstein described his experience as “being the perfect blend of law, intrigue, suspense and critical thinking.”
Weinstock said mock trial helps students improve their public speaking skills, while also learning “how to think like lawyers.” Senior team captain Michael Sosnick credits his four-year mock trial experience with helping him get accepted to the University of Pennsylvania. “Mock trial has not only improved my vocabulary, and given a boost to my SATs, but it also helped me think quickly on my feet,” he said.
This was HAFTR’s most successful mock trial season since 1996 when it won the state championship in Albany.
“Mock trial was not only a great learning experience, but it also provided the perfect excuse to convince my mom to buy me a new suit,” said sophomore Elliot Fuchs, about his first year on the team. “The coaches not only taught me how to draft a closing argument but also taught me how to fold the perfect pocket square.”
The students also learned the value of volunteering. “It doesn’t matter whether you call it a mitzvah (a good deed) or pro bono (for free), the important thing is that good lawyers always find the time to volunteer,” Kilgannon said.