Masked students spread out around the Baker Courtroom in the Rutgers Law School building in Newark learning trial presentation skills, while other students followed along virtually. The students are learning from Judge Zahid Quraishi RLAW ’00, through a new hybrid class model at this fall at Rutgers Law School.
Quraishi lectures to the students, who can hear him in person or through the large computer screen in the back of the class. With only 10 students in the course, there is plenty of room for them to socially distance, but still ask the professor questions on items that include opening arguments or details of a particular court case.
“My primary focus is to first ensure a safe environment for the students and enforce all safety protocols while conducting the class,” said Quraishi. “The students and I also received training on those protocols in advance of taking the course.”
The Trial Presentation class is the first such hybrid course at the law school. Originally scheduled as an in-person class and later switched to hybrid, this course might serve as a model in the spring 2021 semester if it is successful.
Quraishi is a United States Magistrate Judge in the Trenton vicinage and is the first Asian-American to sit on the federal bench in New Jersey. Before his appointment in 2019, he was the chair of the White-Collar Criminal Defense and Investigations Group and the first Chief Diversity Officer at Riker Danzig Scherer Hyland & Perretti in Morristown. He also brings to the job the unique perspective of a prosecutor and veteran, serving as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and captain in the U.S. Army JAG Corps after 9/11.
The course includes lessons on the basic stages of a trial, including opening statements, witness preparation, direct examination, cross examination and closing arguments. He said he plans to conduct a mini mock trial at the end of the course and believes it’s an advantage for students to be able to do some of the class exercises in person, in front of an audience, similar to an actual trial experience.
However, for the students attending remotely, adjustments have been made so they can still fully participate with their classmates and complete the class exercises via video.
“I have a great class of students who seem eager to work with me on how to best implement the format of the class so I am confident we will work out solutions together,” Quraishi said. “In some ways, the students and I are in this together and I was pleasantly surprised at the level of enthusiasm for the class.”
Although the semester is only in its fourth week, students say they are enjoying the course and appreciate the opportunity to attend in person. “I am happy that I chose to enroll in a hybrid class that allows for in-person classes as it gives us some semblance of normalcy during these unprecedented times,” said Gianni Garyfallos RLAW ‘21. I wanted to finish my final year of law school in the traditional law school setting with my peers. Trial presentation is definitely something that is better to learn in-person because it requires a hands-on approach in learning to prepare and present at trial.”
Taylor Lodise RLAW ‘22 added, “I am comfortable being in the building. We all keep our distance in class and have assigned seats to ensure this. The school has also implemented measures to keep the building at low visitor capacity at all times, with built-in times for sanitation.”
In order to get the course approved, Vice Dean Rose Cuison-Villazor submitted a plan to the university that laid out various safety protocols, including ensuring that the students are spread out and that the room is sanitized before and after the class.
The students’ collective enthusiasm for the course appeared to be matched by their new instructor. This is Quraishi’s first semester teaching at the law school, “I graduated from this law school twenty years ago – and now I have been given the chance to share my experiences with the next generation of Rutgers lawyers. Whatever small role I can play, I am in.”