How the Judicial System Works: Trials and the Law

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This course is no longer being offered.

Course Description

Taught by the Honorable Dennis J Curran, Justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court (Ret.), this course is intended for those who wish to have a “behind the scenes” look at how the judicial system works - at the legal mechanics behind the dramas and the way the law functions in practice when human lives and living is at issue. The course intends to quicken the student’s exposure to these human emotions and hopefully, and enable them to learn from these foibles.

Students will learn the “nuts and bolts” of a trial: the opening statement; direct examination; how to cross-examine a lay person; how to cross-examine an expert witness; the closing argument; how to try a case in a hostile environment, including dealing with a difficult jury or judge; and the professionalism that flows (or should) from being a member of the bar. We will focus on the basic principles of criminal and civil procedure and criminal and civil law as well as provide a discussion of law and the public policy reasons behind such law.

Our approach in what we read and watch will be to unearth the “nuts and bolts” of trials: students will, on their own, watch the very best scenes of courtroom drama selected for their content, themes and film awards. They will read articles about trial practice and the law, as well as many judicial decisions on interesting and unusual cases which show how the law was applied, many authored by the instructor.

Students interested in courtroom drama, and criminal and civil law would benefit greatly.

Students successfully completing this course will gain a fundamental understanding of how society works; why we have certain laws; how such laws were passed, and for what purpose. The students will especially improve their oral advocacy skills by participating in mock trials, and in the process will learn storytelling techniques and improve their oral and visual communication skills.

Prerequisites: An interest in viewing the law and the judicial system by pulling back the judicial curtain.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPS0970
  • Length: 3 weeks

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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