St. Mary’s University School of Law on Jan. 31 dedicated its new $1.6 million high-tech courtroom, designed to give students the opportunity to learn advocacy in one of the most advanced university courtrooms in the country.

The courtroom was made possible through the generous support of many donors, including a $300,000 challenge grant from the AT&T Foundation, as well as law firms, alumni, the Law Alumni Association, St. Mary’s University, and faculty and staff of the law school.

“Many of our graduates, including jurists on the state’s highest courts, learned the essentials of advocacy in the law school’s courtroom,” said Charles L. Cotrell, Ph.D., president of St. Mary’s University. “This new courtroom will enhance and extend that tradition of teaching effective legal advocacy by providing succeeding generations of St. Mary’s law graduates the opportunity to learn and practice their skills with state-of-the-art technology.”

The original courtroom was constructed in the 1960s when the law school moved from downtown San Antonio to the main university campus, and had received only minor cosmetic enhancements over the past 40 years.

“We want to commend local and state lawmakers for contributing their time and efforts to support technological advances like these that will benefit so many St. Mary’s students,” said John Montford, AT&T senior vice president – western regional legislative and regulatory affairs. “Without their support, these students would lack the tools they need to compete and gain real-time courtroom experience in a high-tech atmosphere. The AT&T Foundation gladly supports St. Mary’s in its goal of bringing the best resources to all their law students.”

Key components of the new courtroom include the latest computer and audiovisual technologies with computer monitors at each counsel table and at the judges’ bench, sophisticated sound and video systems, and document cameras and plasma screens for viewing exhibits offered into evidence. These features allow for hands-on learning experiences as well as the ability to videotape students for evaluation and feedback.

“This is truly a first-class, state-of-the-art courtroom that gives our students the opportunity to learn advocacy in one of the best, if not the best, law school courtrooms in the country,” said Bill Piatt, dean of the School of Law. “They will be able to use the technology in this courtroom that they will encounter in real-world settings. With access to advanced programs and training made possible by the courtroom, our graduates will be well prepared to enter a workforce that is expected to be proficient and comfortable working within a technological environment in the nation’s 21st century courtrooms.”

Additionally, the new technology provides access to live webcasting of remote transmissions of trials and hearings from federal and state courts as well as video on demand for archival of state and federal court proceedings.

The courtroom opens to a theater-style configuration in which the courtroom serves as a “center stage” when all the partitions are open. Those partitions can be closed to make three classrooms or opened to accommodate one large area with seating for approximately 300 people.

The St. Mary’s University School of Law opened as the San Antonio School of Law in 1927. It became part of St. Mary’s University in 1934.

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