It seems funny now to think of him this way, but once upon a time, Mike Dale was a NITA attendee. “My first encounter with NITA took place at Hofstra Law School, when, as a trial lawyer practicing in Phoenix, I traveled east and took NITA’s trial skills program on Long Island,” he says. “After becoming a law school professor and teaching trial advocacy, I took the NITA teacher training program.” The rest, as they say, is history—a history with NITA that includes directing the Florida Deposition program for over twenty-five years, helping develop the new NITA Experiential Skill-Based Course on interviewing and fact investigation techniques now being offered to law schools, filming a lecture series and a webcast on child advocacy, co-authoring a case file on juvenile delinquency, and contributing articles to this very blog. Small wonder, then, that he received the Robert Oliphant Service to NITA Award in 2009. “Mike is a true NITA ambassador,” says Wendy McCormack, AED of Operations. And to think, it all started because Mike enrolled in a trial skills program. Catch him this summer teaching at NITA family law programs at Hofstra and in Boulder.
What made you want to become a lawyer?
Before going to law school, I passed the tests and was accepted into the Foreign Service. President Nixon froze the waiting list. So I went to law school hoping I would eventually be able to work as a lawyer in the State Department.
When you set out as a young lawyer, did you envision yourself one day as a law professor? How did it happen?
It never occurred to me during law school or for fifteen years thereafter that I would ever teach law. However, while practicing in Phoenix, I taught trial advocacy as an adjunct at Arizona State University. That experience caused me to think about teaching law.
What is the most exciting or interesting thing happening at law schools in 2017?
Watching and reading about the Ninth Circuit oral argument on the Trump executive order case on immigration. When the attorney representing the government hesitated and, in answer to a question from the panel, said there was no review of the order, the significance of Marbury v. Madison, which is taught in every constitutional law class, came back into vivid focus
You’ve mentored a number of your students in writing substantive articles that have appeared here on our blog over the last few years. How did they come into this opportunity? How do you decide the topic for each post?
My research assistants and I have written ten substantive blog articles for the NITA Legal Advocate, and three more are in the pipeline. The topics come from experiences I have had during NITA training programs when litigation-related questions pop up and it is clear that the answer the question is unclear. I have taken these questions back to the law school and have assigned my research assistant to write approximately five-page articles answering these very pragmatic litigation- and trial-related questions.
Why do you teach?
When one has done as many uncontested divorces, landlord-tenant trials, name changes, juvenile delinquency loitering cases, and fender-benders as I have, one develops some knowledge of the basics of the practice of law that one wants to pass on. The best way to do that is to teach both doctrinal and skills law courses from a very pragmatic vantage point. Seeing the light go on in the eyes of the student is what I describe as psychic income
What three things are vital to your day?
First, checking in with my wife and two daughters, both of whom, for reasons that continue to escape me, became lawyers. Second, teaching and meeting with students. Third, checking English soccer scores
In what ways are you the same as your childhood self?
I wear white shirts and ties to work, including at NITA programs just as I did when I went to Easter dinner at my relatives’ in Brooklyn.
If nothing were holding you back, what would you like to be doing in ten years?
Watching English Premier League soccer games in person in places like Southampton, Sunderland, and Swansea.
What song makes you nostalgic?
Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose.”
What bores you?
Interrogatories, food programs on television, and faculty meetings.
What is your motto?
“Do what’s indicated”—my father’s way of saying do the right thing.
Coffee or tea?
Coffee early, tea late—but not chamomile.
Early bird or night owl?
Introvert or extrovert?
City or country?
Cats or dogs?
Classic or modern?
Popcorn or candy?
Fiction or non-fiction?
Fiction—Colm Tóibín. Non-fiction—Robert Caro.
Enjoy this interview? Find more of our Asked and Answered interviews with NITA personalities here on The Legal Advocate.