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Student works past visual impairment, intellectual challenges

Not many lead attorneys wear sunglasses in the court room.

Although Brian Kempfer has been challenged by visual impairment all his life, he has worked past it to become the leader of the University mock trial team.

Born with nystagus, a condition causing a person’s eyes to twitch uncontrollably, Kempfer started wearing his sunglasses during matches to make others more comfortable.

It’s made him more comfortable too. Kempfer became the captain of the team and he began ranking higher on national mock trial standings.

Kempfer, a history major, was recognized as an Outstanding Attorney Award Honoree at the 2012 Happy Valley Invitational this past October.

As an attorney, Kempfer’s position requires heavy reading of trial documents and research material.

“I need to know those documents backwards and forwards,” Kempfer said.

He uses computer programs to read documents to him due to his legal blindness.

His ability to problem solve and overcome his own challenges has made Kempfer one of the most skilled and diligent mock trial members, said team coach Neal Browne.

Not only is Kempfer the most likely to improve himself, he also has great team approachability and actively helps other members, Browne said.

“It’s natural that he would be the lead attorney,” he said.

The mock trial team features students of various majors and backgrounds competing against other universities around the country. Members are not expected to pay for travel fees or be pre-law experts.

“We really don’t want people to be excluded if they can’t make ends meet,” Kempfer said.

While any student can try out for the team, successful members must show work commitment and have “coachability.” Kempfer said they need to be willing to improve and listen to advice.

For this year’s team, this advice usually comes from Kempfer, the “go-to” person when someone has a question, said senior Chelsea Brown, who plays a witness.

“He works extremely hard to go the extra mile,” Brown said.

Kempfer hopes to become an attorney after graduating and has already applied to Ohio State University, Northwestern, Harvard and Yale. Kempfer competed against the latter two in the Happy Valley tournament previously.

While his vision presents challenges, Kempfer said he’s learned to live with his impairment.

“I live with it every day, so it’s not something I’m not used to,” he said.

Kempfer said he enjoys creating logical arguments with the mock trial team, using his communication and presentation skills to appeal to the judges.

For now, though, he prepares for a life as a real attorney as the mock trial captain.

“I really like how intellectually challenging it is,” he said.

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