Long before she made a living at it, Priya Harjani was among Illinois’ most successful attorneys, delivering powerful openings and convincing closings, winning over countless judges and juries.
Just ask anyone who happened to be in the vicinity of the UI mock trial team’s Lincoln Hall practice room between the fall of 1993 and spring 1997.
“My most memorable activity at U of I was being a member of the University’s mock trial team. I had been on my high school’s team and as a pre-law student, I was excited when I saw a table for the mock trial team at the activities and club fair on the Quad," says Northwestern's associate vice president and deputy general counsel.
“I picked up the flyer and subsequently tried out and made the team as a freshman. I then spent countless hours practicing in Lincoln Hall and competing with the team all over the country over next four years. I served as president of the organization and captain of the team during my junior and senior years.
“We had a lot of fun and did well as a team, picking up quite a few team and individual trophies along the way. We learned how to become trial lawyers before we even set foot in law school.
“The skills that I learned through that team have stayed with me and influenced the lawyer that I am today. In addition, the experience helped develop my leadership skills and abilities.
“I am still in touch with many of my former teammates, the vast majority of whom did go on and become lawyers.
“The one person who was most influential during my time at U of I was the sponsor of the mock trial team, Professor Joseph Wenzel. He was a speech communication professor and had sponsored the team for years.
“He taught us on how to ask witnesses good questions, how to present a persuasive closing argument, but most important of all, how to tell a good story that hung together through the course of the trial.
“He was a dedicated coach who spent so much time teaching the ‘mock turtles,’ as he called us. He also sought out law students and practicing lawyers to help coach the team.
“Joe was also a great person and professor who cared so much about his students. Due to Joe, I added speech communication as a double major, in addition to psychology. He has since retired but we stay in touch.”