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A Legal Leg Up

NKU law professor creates opportunities for the next generation of lawyers.

By Belle Leininger | Photography provided by Caroline Braden | Published Feb. 20, 2018
Mock Trial
Dr. Bruce McClure (right) at the 2018 Kentucky mock trial invitational.

It’s not like Bruce McClure always wanted to be a lawyer. A blue-collar kid drafted into the Army right after high school, McClure tested into the Air Force on his father’s advice, training to become an X-ray technician and medical corpsman. Extending his enlistment, he then chose to work in special procedures with prisoners of war returned from Vietnam.

But when a doctor pulled the young man aside to tell him to become a lawyer, everything changed—McClure knew what he wanted to do.

“I got out of the Air Force fully intending to go to law school,” McClure says.

Taking advantage of his G.I. Bill, McClure earned a B.A. in political science at Northern Kentucky University. He then went on to complete law school, where he relied heavily on his family’s ideals for motivation.

“Ingrained in me was you can do whatever you want to do, you just put your mind to it and you do it,” McClure says. “And you don’t listen to anybody but your heart,”.

As a professor, pre-law advisor and director of legal studies for the departments of political science and criminal justice at NKU, McClure brings this idea of unflagging persistence to his students, providing encouragement in the face of their uncertainty or doubt. McClure notes this was something he didn’t have during his own education—many people, including his own pre-law advisor, actually discouraged him from pursuing a legal career. The memory motivates him to create a more positive law-school experience for his students, which he does in part by working to stay aware of their wants and needs.

“I go by the pulse of the students,” McClure says. He notes that his pre-law students’ emails expressing interest in having a mock trial prompted him to explore the idea.

Mock trials present ideal opportunities to introduce students to the practice of law. So, in 2013, McClure started an open mock trial tournament at NKU to give high schoolers in the region hands-on legal experience.

“It’s all about getting the students here, introducing them to our programs and working with them,” McClure says.

This year’s event occurred on Jan. 27, 2018, with 12 teams gathering at NKU’s Chase College of Law. Teams consisted of students from high schools including Henderson County, Covington Catholic, Seneca, Notre Dame Academy A and B, Jessamine, DuPont Manuel, Dixie Heights, Sheldon Clark, Model Laboratory School and Montgomery County.

DuPont Manuel and Montgomery County both finished the day with a record of 6-0, but DuPont won out in the end based on the total number of points accumulated throughout the day.

Beyond serving in positions at NKU, McClure’s practiced law for nearly 40 years and run his own law firm since 1996. His extensive experience is on full display in the number of connections McClure has made, one aspect of his career he tried to pass on by enlisting local lawyers, professors and judges as volunteer arbiters to listen to students’ cases.

“These judges have said to me, if half the attorneys were as prepared as these kids are when they come into the courtroom, my life would be a lot easier,” McClure recalls with a laugh.

Additionally, Chase law students earned pro bono hours for signing up to score each team’s performance, giving them experience on multiple levels and the opportunity to make their own professional connections. McClure speaks fondly of those he’s met throughout his practice, and by providing his students the chance to make their own connections he’s able to pass on a valuable asset to the next generation of lawyers.

Before he began NKU’s high school mock trial, McClure hosted a mock trial for middle schoolers, in which they played the part of the jury. While the setup for the middle school mock trial was notably different from that of the high school invitational, his success in the venture brought vital encouragement and became the motivation and foundation he needed to bring the event to life.

During the establishing years, McClure was happy simply to have NKU host an impactful experience for local students. This year was different, however, as NKU was officially selected by the Kentucky High School Mock Trial Association to serve as the Kentucky mock trial invitational. This designation makes NKU a stepping-stone to the regional competitions in Lexington and Louisville and the state championship, which will be held March 2-4 at the Kenton County Justice Center.

“The mock trial has exploded,” McClure says. “I know I’m going to be doing it again next year because I’ve been told over and over again that this was the best one in the state.”

McClure has found himself becoming the unofficial cheerleader for law school, saying he plans to continue hosting mock trials and encouraging students as long as he’s able. For him, it’s all about giving back.

“If I can help guide people, then a lot of what’s negative in the courtroom,” he says, “is kinda counterbalanced by the positive things we can do.”