Order in eCourt: Madison College opens mock-trial facility to local professionals

Madison College paralegal students now have a chance to hone their skills in a three-room eCourt complex that provides a real-world courtroom setting to help them prepare for their new careers.

The complex includes a courtroom that doubles as a classroom, an adjacent jury deliberation room, and an office/library. When classes are not scheduled, local professionals are welcome to rent the rooms for mock trials, focus groups, or interview training.

“This keeps up with our philosophy of trying to make things as real-world as possible,” notes Bill Bedker, an attorney and a full-time instructor in Madison College’s paralegal program, which currently has about 90 students. “But it also allows us to branch out from our traditional course offerings into continuing education for attorneys or other professionals needing to practice in a courtroom setting.”

Attorneys with million-dollar cases on the line, for example, could rent the suite and its state-of-the-art audio and visual technology to work out any kinks in their case strategy and even listen in on a mock jury deliberation afterwards to see how effectively they laid out their case.

Madison College's new eCourt allows students and local professionals to conduct mock trials, focus groups, and interview training.

Planning for the eCourt took about two years and included walk-throughs at the Dane County Courthouse and input from Circuit Court Judge Nicholas McNamara. And while the paralegal program is currently the most frequent user of the space, Bedker envisions the suite as a useful practice tool for other Madison College programs as well, such as court reporting and criminal justice. Transcription professionals, EMTs, interpreters, and medical professionals could benefit too, since they are often asked to appear in court.

Bedker says that prior to the unveiling of the eCourt — which features state-of-the-art technology, including Skype — he would just arrange chairs and desks around a traditional classroom and ask students to visualize where the judge would sit and where the jury would be. The eCourt makes that learning atmosphere more real and hopefully less intimidating.

Shari Porte, a post-baccalaureate paralegal student and freelance writer living in Madison, was one of the first students to experience the eCourt this past summer as part of a paralegalism and ethics course. “We held a mock DWI trial in the e-courtroom,” she says. With Bedker and another instructor role-playing as judges, Porte chose the role of prosecuting attorney, addressing and selecting the jury. “It helped lock in the learning,” she noted. “The technology gave us a sense of what it might feel like to participate in a real trial.”

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While paralegals wouldn’t typically address a jury, Bedker says those earning the highest salaries tend to have a good command of the court process and courtroom technology, so they can be of better assistance to the attorneys.

“[The eCourt] puts students in the driver’s seat and enables them to drive the car rather than listen to a lecture about driving,” Bedker says. “It enables them to get hands-on experience as a part of the team. The sky is the limit for training and assessment situations. We’re thrilled to have this space available.”

Sharing the space with local professionals is an added bonus.

The Madison College eCourt complex is located in the new Madison College Protective Services Building at 1701 Pearson St. on the Truax Campus. Those interested in renting time in the suite should email Bill Bedker at WFBedkerJr@madisoncollege.edu.

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