The Legal Advocate

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August 2016 Executive Director’s Letter: Counsel will take notice…Trial Bar’s Next Gen

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“The Court . . . will particularly welcome . . .” —Grooming the Trial Bar’s NextGen

U.S. District Judge William Alsup issued this simple notice in Oracle America, Inc. v. Google, Inc., Dkt C 10-03561 N.D. Cal. (Nov. 6, 2015).

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Judge Alsup’s Notice speaks volumes in pointed terms:

  • The first sentence addresses the need. Disaggregated, its logic makes these points
    • Practitioners in court must have experience.
    • The next generation must learn by experience.
    • Their senior lawyers bear the obligation to train through experience.
    • Accomplished trial counsel must create in-court appearances by juniors.
    • The next generation needs opportunities from their very early years.
    • This applies even to lead counsel who may seem essential because of their renown (as can be inferred from the prominence of lead counsel in this case).
  • The second sentence addresses the hesitation:
    • Lest firms or lead counsel would avoid risk by turning (repeatedly) (only) to senior experience, comfort is offered: the Court will “particularly welcome” the junior lawyer to argue the motion.

Are you pondering this? Whether motions are the only place a court would welcome a junior who may fumble words or lack polish? Whether this case and this judge are unique? Whether lead counsel should wait for an order that puts out the welcome mat?

Don’t ponder. Lead.

Lead, with the secure knowledge that a firm lives by the promise of its future. A client invests its loyalty by the firm’s attention to its own future and to the experience built into lower billable rates.

Lead, knowing that the judiciary is taking us there and, really, it is not their job to make us do what we should do. See NextGen in Courtroom (seventeen federal district court judges have taken steps to remedy the problem; resolution pending for circuit-wide principle in Ninth Circuit to encourage orders and local rules on letting junior lawyer handle matters before the court).

I gained my own experience as lead counsel in my early years, yet I understand law firm pressures. As a partner for over twenty-three years in, respectively, a litigation boutique, a mid-size firm, and a global firm, I witnessed law firm economics transform. Thus, what I hope you will ponder is the structure and systems of the firm. We need to spread courtroom opportunities like fertilizer across the entire field of talent. Nearly every lawyer had wanted more experience in their earlier years, before they became young partners. It seems risky, yes, to ask seniors and stars to share when others will not be as polished. It is scary to bring in juniors knowing they may stumble or hesitate while forming their next sentence.

Don’t fear. Act.

Act, to provide opportunities that produce experience early and often. Start a series of discussions within your firm leading to mutual commitments to lead. In your own docket, find the opportunities for your juniors to star, and assign them. Coach the juniors. As they stand in court, sit by their side.
Act, to establish initiatives by your city and state bars so that even reluctant lead counsel will feel the ethic of sharing the courtroom—even if they yearn themselves for experiences once denied.

Act—at this precise juncture—by turning to NITA to help you get this done. When the judiciary rang the same bell forty-five years ago—a different time—NITA was founded for this precise mission. We do a great job. And we have adapted to the pressures of modern practice.

NITA is here for the lawyers who missed their big challenges eight or ten years ago. (It’s never too late.) NITA is here for the lawyers you need to groom for their first in-court challenge. NITA is here for beginners as well, and law students. NITA works for the more senior lawyers who have been out of court too long, or have a trial looming, or simply want to kick up their energy a notch.

How do you get lawyers ready for their in-court experience, at whatever level of the challenge? We partner with your firm’s own planning. We love serving you.

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Karen M. Lockwood, Esq.
President and Executive Director
National Institute for Trial Advocacy

About Karen M. Lockwood

Karen is the Executive Director at the National Institute for Trial Advocacy. Karen brings the insights and creativity rooted in serving corporate and business clients, first-chairing numerous jury and bench trials, and arguing appeals. Her specialty areas have included construction litigation, large disaster cases, multi-party commercial disputes involving all types of contracts, antitrust, trademark and copyright, and ADR.

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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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