The Legal Advocate

A blog brought to you by the national institute for trial advocacy

Monthly Archives: September 2012

Dealing with the Evasive Answer

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In this quick tip video Micheal Johnson discusses how to deal with evasive answers.

Individual Donors Make a Big Impact

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Special Thanks to Mike Ginsberg, Doug Irish, Leo Romero, Ben Rubinowitz, and Robin Weaver.

The NITA Foundation spotlights the generosity of individual donors who are passionate about supporting new Public Service Slots for Public Programs. Mike Ginsberg, Chair-Elect of the NITA Board and Partner with Jones Day donated $2,500. Doug Irish, NITA faculty member and attorney with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, gave $1,000. Leo Romero, Chair of the NITA Board and Emeritus Law Professor at the University of New Mexico Law School, gave $1,500 for scholarships to Rocky Mountain regional programs. Ben Rubinowitz, NITA Board member and Partner with Gair, Gair, Conason, Steigman, Mackauf, Bloom & Rubinowitz, donated $5,000 for scholarships for Northeast regional programs. Robin Weaver, NITA Board member and Partner with Squire Sanders, gave $1,800. We are so grateful for these donations. To join their efforts please make a gift today at


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Post by guest blogger Judge Robert McGahey

Henry Fonda was one of our greatest actors.  Born in Grand Island, Nebraska, Fonda was a star in Hollywood and on Broadway.  He made great movies: Young Mr. Lincoln, My Darling Clementine, The Grapes of Wrath, Mr. Roberts. But he served as producer on one film only: 1957’s 12 Angry Men, the best movie ever made about a jury – even though the film isn’t necessarily reflective of how juries actually work or are actually supposed to work.

The movie details the deliberations of a jury trying to come up with a verdict in a murder case where a young man (probably a teenager) is accused of killing his abusive father.  The jurors know that a guilty verdict will mean a death sentence for the defendant. After being instructed by the judge, the jurors retire to the cramped confines of the jury room.  A preliminary vote is taken: eleven “guilty”, one “not guilty.” The majority immediately turn on Juror #8 (Fonda) and badger him about his vote. Asked why he insists on discussing the case when the others think the defendant’s guilt is obvious, Juror #8 replies: “Well, there were eleven votes for guilty. It’s not easy to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.” And from there, Juror #8 begins to do exactly that.

The movie is extremely claustrophobic in its setting, and the director, Sidney Lumet changed the focal length of his camera lenses as the movie went along to increase that feeling.  Except for the opening and closing scenes (about three minutes total), the entire film takes place in the jury room or the tiny washroom attached to it.  None of the jurors are ever named until the end of the movie; in fact, in any cast list you can find, they are identified only as “Juror #1”, Juror #2”, etc. The cast is fabulous: in addition to Fonda you have such excellent actors as Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, and E.G. Marshall, and supporting actors you will recognize from many other roles: Jack Warden, John Fiedler, Jack Klugman, Robert Webber, Ed Binns, Martin Balsam.

12 Angry Men, like many ensemble movies, uses its characters as archetypes, which the lack of names emphasizes.  There’s The Truth Seeking Honest Man (Juror #8), The Arrogant Guy with Money (Juror #4), The Wise Old Man (Juror #9), The Immigrant Who Understands Citizenship (Juror #11), etc.  There’s also The Bigot (Juror #10) and The Psychotic (Juror #3). (With regard to the last two, any trial lawyer will wonder how these two got through voir dire?  Please.  Who got thrown off the panel instead of these guys?  Attila the Hun? Voldemort?)

Because of the setting, this isn’t a very “movie” movie. In fact, in a reverse of what we see today, where TV shows regularly are turned into movies, this movie was originally a live TV drama.  And it was anachronistic even for 1957.  A jury without any women on it?  And the jury does things during its deliberations that would result in a reversal if any of them came out during an appeal. (If you haven’t seen the movie, I’ll avoid spoilers here.) And it’s shot in black and white. Believe me, none of that matters when you watch it.

12 Angry Men is a movie every trial lawyer needs to see.  We can argue about how accurately it depicts real jury deliberations (highly debatable) or whether it represents a 1950’s liberal’s fantasy about how juries are supposed to work (not debatable.) But we can’t argue with its power and its ultimate message: this is a system of justice, regular people participate in it — and the Framers were pretty smart guys.

We ask jurors to resolve issues of significance between their fellow citizens — and between their fellow citizens and the government. Trial lawyers have a symbiotic relationship with juries: we each need the other in order to do our job properly.  Watching 12 Angry Men can help you remember why you wanted to be a trial lawyer – and why you want to be the best one you can be.

John Baker

September 2012 Executive Director’s Letter: Advocacy Skills: Northern Ireland

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John BakerSince 1999, volunteer NITA faculty members have shared the “learning by doing” method of teaching advocacy skills with Solicitor Advocates from Northern Ireland. Seven American “Tutors” joined local, NITA-Trained Irish faculty to run the 13th Annual Law Society of Northern Ireland Advanced Advocacy Course for five days in Belfast September 3-7, 2012. As with all thirteen of the earlier NITA courses this program was sponsored, organized, and staged in conjunction with the Law Society of Northern Ireland.

The program was virtually identical to any of NITA’s Basic Trial programs in the United States. Since the legal system in Northern Ireland has some subtle procedural differences with the American system, NITA trained Irish tutors assist teaching in the performance rooms and in video review. The 49 Irish participants teamed up to represent their respective clients in an “Irishized” NITA criminal case file, reflecting terminology and procedural differences. High Court judges heard the cases without jurors in final trials. Completion of the program helps the Solicitor Advocates complete a comprehensive course of advocacy training.

The American tutors for this year included Jim Brosnahan, Doris Cheng, Angela Vigil, Bill Hunt, Peter Hoffman, John Baker, and Communication faculty member, Rebecca Diaz-Bonilla. This year’s trip was special for Jim Brosnahan as he was one of the NITA family, who was instrumental in organizing the original program in 1999.

The legal profession in Northern Ireland helped the country through the civil strife of the “troubles” as one of the constants for the Irish society. As Course Director Fiona Donnelly reminds us, “This advanced course is likely to be an integral part of the process for the solicitor advocates to achieve Higher Rights to practice in all courts in Northern Ireland.” The NITA community should be proud to play a role in supporting that legal profession going forward.





John T. Baker

A Historic First for NITA: Live Webcast

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Late in the morning on Tuesday September 18th NITA held its first ever live webcast.  Recorded right here at NITA’s studio71, this first installment in a four part webcast series was a big success.  Since the launch of studio71 in April of 2011 there have been a number of lectures and demonstrations available for viewing on demand, as well as full, three day deposition programs taking place online.  This was, however, the first time NITA has broadcast its content live as a webcast.

Participants logged in from across the country and saw Christina Habas (recent recipient of the Barrister’s Best Award for Colorado’s Best State Trial Court Judge) moderate the first part in her series The Story of Your Case, From Start to Finish. “As a judge I was essentially a professional audience for ten years and if you don’t tell an effective story to the judge or the jury they won’t remember what you’re talking about and they won’t understand what you’re talking about,” Habas said.

Dierdre Ostrowski (Keating Wagner Polidori Free) and Melody Mirbaba (Senior Assistant Attorney General), both NITA alum, conducted demonstrations on case analysis and fact investigation to help viewers develop the story of their cases.  Witnesses were also brought in for these demonstrations, giving the webcast a feeling closer to that of a NITA program rather than an online lecture.

To add to the interactivity of the webcast, those watching were able to submit questions in real time which were addressed during the live broadcast.  Shortly after  the hour-long broadcast, registered viewers were able to access the recorded content online.  This gives them access to review what they learned as they prepare for the second part of the series.

The series continues on Tuesday October 16th when the teaching team will go over the idea of using the story as a settlement or negotiating tool.  For complete information on the rest of the series click here.

NITA’s team of practicing lawyers, professors and judges from around the nation dedicates its efforts to the training and development of skilled and ethical legal advocates to improve the adversarial justice system.

NITA’s Goals are to:

  • Promote justice through effective and ethical advocacy.
  • Train and mentor lawyers to be competent and ethical advocates in pursuit of justice.
  • Develop and teach trial advocacy skills to support and promote the effective and fair administration of justice.
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