When you give to the NITA Foundation, 100 percent of every dollar you donate is spent on programs that fulfill our mission of public service to the legal community. With just a few days left in the tax year, we’d love to count on your support of the NITA Foundation and its important work of financially supporting access to NITA programs for public service and financially needy lawyers. This includes specialized public service programs (domestic and international), and awarding scholarship assistance to worthy applicants working with underserved and historically disenfranchised populations—which is impossible without help from loyal donor like you.
Since 2003, the NITA Foundation has disbursed over $3 million in support to our programs and scholarships. There are so many ways to give—cash donations, memorial or honorary gifts, stock donations, planned giving, and even donations of your NITA teaching proceeds or NITA book royalties—and each way helps us award program scholarships to public services lawyers, provide NITA training programs in the public sector, defray travel expenses for program participants, and ensure the rule of law and access to justice in emerging democracies through our international programs. Please think of us during this season of giving. Visit www.nita.org/donate to make a secure online gift and learn more about how you can help.
One of the primary initiatives of the NITA Foundation is to provide tuition assistance to legal staffers at public service agencies whose lean budgets often put specialized advocacy training out of reach. But thanks to the generous support of our donors throughout the country, it’s possible for public services lawyers to attend NITA’s advocacy programs so they can fine-tune their courtroom skills as a way to serve the greater good. That’s how I met Emily Cooper, who attended the Northwest Trial Skills (NWTS) program in Seattle this fall. She’s a staff attorney for Disability Rights Washington, which is a nonprofit agency working to protect the rights of people with disabilities in Washington State. Emily represented her office at NWTS through a scholarship underwritten by the NITA Foundation and recently talked to me about her experience.
What’s a typical day in the life of a public services lawyer like?
The only thing that is typical is the overwhelming and persistent need for competent, affordable legal representation. Given finite resources to respond to the demand, many legal aid providers are in the untenable position of figuring out who, out of the needy, actually receives our services (especially costly services like litigation). An analogy I often hear is that practicing as a public services lawyer can feel like drinking out of a firehose.
What legal problems do you help your clients resolve?
The vast majority of cases I work on relate to either discrimination or the abuse and neglect of individuals with disabilities. For example, I went to trial this past spring regarding a class of pretrial detainees who languished in solitary confinement for court-ordered mental health services that were unavailable due to the state’s lack of resources. Without timely receipt of these services, several of my clients died or suffered permanent reduction in their cognitive functioning. (Editor’s note: Click here to read more about this crisis and what Emily’s agency, Disability Rights Washington, is doing about it.)
How often are you in court?
Rarely, but it is increasing. My agency is unique its ability to access and obtain records. See, e.g., 42 U.S.C. § 15043(a)(2)(J)(ii) (providing agencies like Disability Rights Washington twenty-four hour access to records of individuals with disabilities who have died while in facilities). Because we are able to quickly obtain necessary documentation, I am able to quickly discern any underlying issues and try to resolve them with the entity as quickly as possible to prevent any future harm. However, since the latest recession, many governmental services have been reduced and so we are seeing more and more entities push back on reforms or plans of correction that have fiscal implications. So, I went from having no cases in active litigation to three federal class actions in less than a year.
What is the most challenging part of working with the population you serve?
The bias that they experience at every turn. The assumptions the public, the media, the legislature, and even other members of the legal profession regarding people with disabilities (in particular, people with mental illness) are astounding. Implicit bias is not only real, but disproportionately impacts the lives and rights of people with disabilities.
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
Winning. It’s not about ego; instead, a win for my client often means long-term systemic improvements that benefit a whole class of individuals. When you are able to secure such a victory for your client—which is usually about obtaining necessary services or being free from discrimination versus a monetary ruling—you feel a part of the larger social justice community. This feels particularly good when you think about how affirming such a ruling could feel to marginalized client[s] who, even years after the[ir] case is over and done, will remember that their rights are equally important and worth fighting for. They may even be able to use similar strategies and techniques to resolve similar issues on their own, thereby truly becoming actualized in their own agency and autonomy.
Is there a particular trial skill you thought you had down cold but realized at NWTS wasn’t quite there?
Oral argument. My grandmother said I could talk the bark off a tree, and I have a long history of feeling comfortable public speaking. However, I didn’t realize how quickly I spoke or how I expected my audience (judge or jury) to understand some of the context. One of the best pieces of feedback I got a NITA was “landing my point on the beach.” The analogy is that I get ideas that were partially formed as waves but, like waves, they overlapped and could be construed as indistinguishable. Taking time to slow down and using clear, short sentences has been beyond invaluable.
How do you think finessing your trial skills has an impact on your clients?
Absolutely. The key to successful advocacy is competent legal representation. I have always had the drive to ensure my client’s story is heard. Now I have the ability to ensure that story is persuasively told.
What surprised you about yourself when you were at NWTS? (A good surprise, or a suboptimal one—just something you were surprised to learn about yourself.)
You need to anticipate what the jury may assume compelled the actors to take one action or another and anchor, in advance, the narrative you want the jury to hear about the parties’ intentions. The jury may not limit their analysis to the facts presented at trial and instead fill in any gaps with their own reasoning. Part of being human is trying to understand or justify an action based on who you are or what you know to be true. A litigator’s job is to give that compelling narrative.
Who are your heroes?
The everyday people you don’t see but who are instrumental in supporting the leaders and innovators you do see and revere.
What’s the perfect day for you in Seattle? What do you do, where do you eat, what do you see?
A perfect day in Seattle would be spending time outside (forests, water, and mountains, oh my!), talking and laughing with dear friends and family, and eating food made by someone really passionate about cooking it.
What’s your motto?
Be open and curious, especially when you think you are right or even afraid. You may be surprised at what you learn.
Do you work for a public services agency and would like to apply for a NITA scholarship? Check out our scholarship information here. We’d love to support you in your commitment to public service.
Federal Rules of Evidence with Objections, twelfth edition, gives readers a useful and easy-to-read guide of reference. This latest edition also has an alphabetical section on major objections including practical tips and legal interpretations for each rule. The small-format packaging is designed to make it easy to carry when you’re on the go so you never have to be without it!
Retail Price: $45
It has been a great year. Next year, 2016, you will see NITA rolling out what we have been building here at “home.” In our work over these three years, we involved program directors, trustees, authors and faculty leaders in creative collaboration aiming at our growth.
I sounded two themes when I began my service as NITA’s Executive Director. In 2013, I envisioned what our greatest strengths are, how to cultivate them to serve the legal practice, and where we may focus to continue adapting in the coming years.
The strengths? Content. It is “king.” Quality. We own it in our field.
Serving the legal practice? We want to know everything about today’s challenges for practitioners. NITA does more than teach. We study the decade’s changes in the structure of law practice, including market concentration producing large global firms or vierens, the need for mobility that individual lawyers feel, the evolution in client service expectations, legal fee increases, the consequent demand for ever higher productivity, the resulting puzzle of how new lawyers are to gain their experience, and more. We study the fact of a reduced ratio of cases reaching trial and the often ignored fact of expanding numbers of disputes filed in court, in agencies, or in arbitration. We observe the spill-over pressures on underserved clients, the importance of lawyers in medium and small practices. There is more to say . . . perhaps in a later ED Letter.
The coming years? “Change” itself is changing. Change occurs more rapidly, and creates new forces more often. We stay abreast of the changes. Our most important question is this: “What do lawyers in this cauldron of competitive change and noble service need?”
Our answer is this. Every lawyer — from the most senior, the mid-level partner, the new partner, the senior associate, the corporate counsel, the public’s lawyer and the public service one – needs (1) deeply familiar advocacy skills, (2) that are freshened before calling upon them, (3) that are relevant to their practice now and as it changes. They need this for two reasons: first, their individual stature and mobility; second, their ability to “nail it” rather than being stale when entering a trial or hearing. They need it for their client. And they need it for their career.
Content: we have worked with the program directors and other NITA faculty leaders and authors to identify program topics that you need, always focusing on advocacy skills.
Quality: we have focused on the excellence that we have, the excellence that we demand of our faculty, and the excellence that we groom and keep fresh.
Watch us in 2016. Better yet, join us in 2016. Whether you are a lawyer wanting to freshen your skills or up your game, whether you are a client that is as passionate as we are about making your lawyers the best, or whether you are an accomplished trial lawyer who would like to try your hand at teaching with NITA, call me.
Karen M. Lockwood, Esq.
President and Executive Director
National Institute for Trial Advocacy
NITA is proud to announce the 2015 Third Quarter recipients of the Advocate Designation. This designation is awarded to a person who has taken a well-rounded set of courses, proving they are serious about trial advocacy.