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Sahn Ward Coschignano, PLLC

Q&A WITH Joshua D. Brookstein

In addition to his usual legal work at the Firm, Josh Brookstein is coaching a group of students at the Crescent School in Hempstead, New York in this year's New York State High School mock trial competition. In this interview, Josh discusses his involvement in the mock trial and how he tries to make an impact on his team.

What made you decide to become a teacher?
I grew up in Philadelphia and was fortunate to have some great teachers who encouraged me to pursue my dreams. While in college, I learned about Teach For America ("TFA") and the opportunity to teach in a low-income community and work to eliminate the achievement gap. I wanted to inspire youngsters before pursuing my dream of becoming a lawyer.

How did you go from being an educator to being an attorney?
As a teacher and assistant principal, I always encouraged my students to set goals and develop action plans to meet them. I quickly learned that teaching is not simply "telling" youngsters what they need to know. I was most successful in reaching students when I was able to show them a new skill or strategy, not just tell them about it. I decided that it was time for me to go after my dream of becoming a lawyer and model for students that success can come when you work hard. For the next three-and-a-half years, I continued to reinforce this notion as an educator and part-time law school student.

After graduating from law school in 2012, I transitioned from the New York Department of Education to the New York City Law Department. I was assigned to the Family Court division where I investigated and prosecuted cases of juvenile delinquency. After three years at the Law Department, I transitioned into private practice and joined Sahn Ward Coschignano.

The people at the Firm are phenomenal. I came into this large law firm with such diverse practice areas, but was still able to draw on the expertise of others in the Firm, which is very welcoming. They not only helped ease me into this transition, but they want me to become a part of the Firm’s success.

What made you decide to become a mentor?
I have experienced the benefits of mentorship firsthand as a student, educator, and lawyer. Throughout my career, I have found ways to connect with youngsters and serve as a positive presence in their lives.

Middle school can be a tough time for youngsters. Peer pressure, the desire to be independent, and the constant stream of social media, can make the life of any 12-year-old more challenging. Add in potential academic difficulties and wide-ranging familial dynamics, and one begins to understand why many middle school students struggle. Mentoring is one opportunity to build a positive relationship with these youngsters and become a resource for them as they continue to navigate the complexities of adolescence.

Are you serving as a mentor now?
For the past year, I have had the pleasure of mentoring a seventh-grade student from Woodland Middle School, through the Nassau County Bar Association. Meeting twice a month for 45 minutes, I have been able to develop a positive relationship with my mentee. We talk, among other things, about our interests, favorite and least favorite subjects in school, video games, and anything related to Star Wars. My goal is simple: to serve as a positive and consistent presence, and, where appropriate, be a resource in my mentee's life.

Describe your involvement in the mock trial competition.
As a member of the Nassau County Bar Association's Speakers Bureau, I was aware of the mock trial. I volunteered as a judge last year and there was a new school that entered for the first time and was looking for a coach. The Crescent School was looking for a speaker on how the courts operate. I spoke about the courts and the law and gave them an overview as someone who was an educator, then went on to change careers.

When I was there, the teacher said I had a good rapport with the kids and said, "We'd love for you to be our coach." I've worked with the students since November 2016. We are currently in the middle of the mock trial competition, having completed and won the first two rounds. Our next round was on March 1 at Nassau County Supreme Court.

What is it like to be a mentor to these students?
For trial attorneys, organizing and persuasively presenting their cases are based on years of honing their skills. Mastering the facts, the rules of evidence, and thinking on your feet are some of the essential trial skills necessary before stepping into a courtroom. For the students of the Crescent School in Hempstead, New York, they had three months to get up to speed.

The Crescent School is one of Nassau County's 48 schools participating in the New York State Bar Association’s 2017 Mock Trial program. For the past three months, I have had the honor of coaching the Crescent Knights as they learn the basics of opening and closing statements, direct and cross examination, the rules of evidence, and developing and implementing a persuasive case theme. For the Knights, this was their first year participating in the mock trial program and they sought to gain a better understanding of how the trial process actually works, and not just what they see on reruns of Law & Order.

The mock trial program provided students with an opportunity to develop their skills in critical thinking, public speaking, and collaboration. Students were forced to learn how to think on their feet and present persuasive arguments. As their coach, I had the opportunity to watch as my team became more proficient in a once completely unfamiliar environment. At the same time, I have been able to reflect on my own practice when evaluating and presenting cases. No matter how far we get in the competition this year, the skills the students have begun to master will stay with them for life.

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