Legal Eagles

From courtroom to classroom, a lawyer-turned-teacher
experiences the rewards of changing lives.

When Paul Landau started looking for a second career 15 years ago, teaching seemed a natural fit. Paul, a former entertainment lawyer who had been laid off in a studio downsizing, had always connected well with kids (he has two grown ones of his own, ages 22 and 27). After reading an article about lawyers who had transitioned into teaching, and tracking down several to hear their experiences, he decided to go for it. So in his late 40s, the Sherman Oaks resident earned a Master of Education from Pepperdine University and launched his second career.

You can take the lawyer out of the courtroom but you can’t take the courtroom out of the lawyer. At his first teaching job at El Camino High School, Paul helped with mock trial, an extracurricular activity in which a team of high school students replicates a full-blown criminal trial in competition against students from other schools. Paul was so enamored of the exercise (sponsored nationally by the Constitutional Rights Foundation) that he volunteered to develop a mock trial program at North Hollywood High School. In its very first year, 2004, NoHo’s team placed in the top 16 in the county.

Today Paul, who was ultimately hired full-time to teach AP U.S. history and government, still presides over the school’s mock trial program, which has racked up an impressive number of wins. He also launched and coaches the school’s Duke University Moot Court program in which students argue both sides of a hypothetical Supreme Court case in a national competition held in North Carolina. For six years running, NoHo has had more teams in the competition than any other school, and the school has taken home the first-place trophy twice. The NoHo team has also earned two second-place county wins.

Named “Mock Trial Teacher of the Year” for LA County in 2008—the fastest ascent to this title of any teacher in the county’s history— Paul tackles both programs with unrelenting enthusiasm.

“It’s gratifying to have helped students find a passion in high school that both serves and puts them on a path to deciding what they want to do with their lives,” says Paul. “But it also gives them incredible confidence in advocating and verbalizing very difficult concepts and makes them more confident individuals when they get to college and beyond.”

Indeed, of more than 300 students who have participated in mock trial and moot court, five have gone on to become lawyers. And two mock trial students from last season are starting Columbia and NYU law schools, respectively, in the fall.

Paul shares credit for the programs’ successes with a brain trust of 15 local lawyers and judges (referred to as the “Executive Board”) as well as parents.

“We approach it from the standpoint that the students can do anything and they can be excellent attorneys, so we expect a high level of performance,” says Deputy City Attorney Vivienne Swanigan Crenshaw, who started working as Paul’s number two when her son was on the mock trial team seven years ago, and never stopped.

Everyone seems to agree, however, that Paul is the critical link. “His legal training is a big plus, but it’s the devotion to his students that I think is one of the key ingredients,” says volunteer David Ettinger, an appellate attorney and partner in the Encino firm of Horvitz & Levy. “He spends so much extra time on these programs. He’s deeply committed always, and he’s so proud of his students.”

These sentiments are echoed throughout the corridors of North Hollywood High. Principal Ricardo Rosales shares, “Paul has a great passion for transferring his legal knowledge to students.”

Though competitive by nature, Paul can have a gentle touch when necessary. And his stu – dents, who tend to push themselves academically by juggling multiple AP and honor classes, find that endearing—not to mention freeing. “Mr. Landau is excited for your victories but not upset if you don’t win,” says Mila Herko Frank, who is headed to Kenyon College in the fall. Indeed, like any good lawyer, Paul keeps the big picture in mind.