Meet #MOLawyers: Peter Stragand
Not everyone gets the chance to work with future generations of lawyers. But for 22 years, Peter Stragand has been able to do just that – even in his retirement. Stragand received his J.D. from Washington University in 1978 and practiced in both private and public settings before transitioning into teaching. As coach of the Kirkwood High School Mock Trial Team, Stragand applies his legal background to help educate students and provides an opportunity for Missouri lawyers to get involved as attorney-coaches.
Why do you enjoy coaching the mock trial team?
It provides the opportunity to work with two groups of people: teenagers and attorney-coaches. As every teacher knows, working with young people is exciting and rewarding to see growth in skills and intellect. My other pleasure comes from working with lawyers who volunteer their time. Our mock trial team could not operate or have had any of the success we have without their time and expertise. And I am very proud to say that while I have benefited from the assistance of several local lawyers through the years, our team is currently assisted by six lawyers, including four who were students on teams I coached.
How has your background in law impacted your civics education lessons?
I originally became a lawyer because of my interest in government and politics. Once I became a teacher, my legal background supplemented my teaching of the U.S. Constitution, the post-Civil War amendments, and the expanded role of the federal government during the New Deal.
What are some of your favorite moments from coaching the mock trial team?
Since I could talk about mock trial forever (ask my friends) it is difficult to choose only a couple of favorite moments. But I have to include a set of moments that always brings me a smile. I try to review every type of preparation that the students create, including all direct and cross examinations, opening statements, and closing arguments. I am careful to make “suggestions” rather than “edits” because I think it is important that the students do their own work while being provided coaching guidance. When I see my experienced students “rejecting” my suggestions, I know that the students have taken full ownership of their work and have reached a level of confidence, knowing they are qualified to make those decisions.
What is the best advice (professional or personal) you’ve received?
I would say two suggestions have influenced me professionally as well as personally when confronted with a complex or challenging task. First, I find it is best to break that task down into its essential components and then learn and master each of them, one at a time. The other piece of advice that I have adopted is to determine the ultimate goal and then work backwards as you prepare your work. Regarding trial work, either as a lawyer or as a coach of high school mock trial students, it’s important to formulate the points you need to convey in a closing argument and then work backwards to prepare direct and cross examinations, so they support the points needed for the summation. I believe that is the best way to present a clear and concise case.
What is a favorite activity or adventure you’ve experienced since retiring?
I have volunteered as an interpreter at Henry Shaw’s Tower Grove House at the Missouri Botanical Garden and I have given tours of our magnificent Central Public Library as a docent. Also, traveling with my wife, Mary K. Hoff, our children, and friends, to various countries in Europe and to China. I also spend a lot of time walking our golden retriever, Morgan.
Editor’s note: These responses have been edited for clarity and brevity. Do you know someone who should be featured in Meet #MOLawyers? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.