This quarter, we invited one of our scholarship winners to sit for a quick round of “Asked and Answered,” our blog interview series featuring NITA personalities. Aileen Tsao works for the King County Department of Public Defense and is currently assigned to represent individuals accused of misdemeanors in the Seattle Municipal Court—important public service work that made her eligible to apply for a scholarship administered by the NITA Foundation. Aileen was awarded a Craig Spangenberg/John Liber Scholarship, which was founded in 2014 by the International Society of Barristers (ISOB), with the goal of helping public service advocates obtain the “learning by doing” training that’s necessary to hone their trial skills. What this interview with Aileen reminds us is how much self-awareness NITA program attendees develop as a consequence of training—how much more intentional they can be in both thought and practice. It’s a game changer. We wish to thank our friends at ISOB for providing this invaluable experience to lawyers like Aileen, and to thank Aileen herself for choosing a career path that truly makes a difference.
What kind of cases do you typically handle for King County?
Currently, I am in Seattle Municipal Court—so, I defend people accused of misdemeanors that are prosecuted by the City of Seattle (i.e., anything that has a sentence of under one year).
What is the most challenging part about working in public defense?
The sheer amount of cases and clients. As misdemeanor attorneys, we are assigned approximately 400 cases each year. Although some clients will have multiple cases, the biggest challenge is navigating through so many cases and giving each person/case the attention they deserve. Although the cases are misdemeanors, they carry heavy consequences for each person. Loss of housing, inability to get a job, immigration consequences, fees . . . all of which can be significantly more complicated than the jail time itself.
What is the most important personal attribute you bring to your work?
A personal attribute that has certainly been “groomed” by my work is not caring if someone is going to say no, yet asking and asking anyway. Even if it seems you’re asking for the impossible—repeatedly—I’ve really embraced the concept that “the worst they can say is ‘no.’” Sometimes judges, prosecutors, and people in general surprise me. So, even if you’ve been told no numerous times, you just never know until you ask . . . .
It’s been nearly one year since you attended the Building Trial Skills program in Seattle. Looking back, how has it made an ongoing difference in your practice today? What do you do differently now that you didn’t do then?
NITA provided me with useful guidance on practical ways to be creative and engaging throughout my trial (and not in the “bring a PowerPoint” kind of way). For example, I was always aware of the importance of a theory/story/one-liner. In preparing for a trial, I would have a theory, but kind of skim over really hammering down a sentence, thinking, “I’ll get to that later” (i.e., never). Brainstorming requires you to shift out of “How do I make sure I hit every point on cross?” which is hard to find time to do.
Building Trial Skills talked about having a “bumper sticker” for your case. Hearing a group brainstorm different “catchy slogans”—and referring to them repeatedly throughout the case—really solidified in my mind its importance. For one thing, it’s “cleaner” than a theory and forces you to make your big point really concise into a way the jurors can understand. Similarly, the “What is your one-minute opening/closing?” is also a concept I hadn’t thought about. Now, I really prioritize the “one-minute” and the “bumper sticker.” I understand their importance both for forcing me to truly understand my case and in presenting them to the jurors in a way they can come to a not-guilty verdict.
How did you first hear about NITA?
Judge Steve Rosen recommended it to me after he watched me fumble through admitting exhibits in my first solo trial. You can write the evidence rule down and think, “Yep!” But actually going through the process in the form of ask/answer with an adverse witness in a room full of people is completely different. The evidence drills at Building Trial Skills were invaluable.
What do you enjoy the most about working in the law?
I learn something new every day. There is always something worth working hard for. I’m never bored.
Your undergraduate degree is from the University of Toronto, where you double-majored in Anthropology and something called Peace & Conflict Studies. Sounds intriguing—not to mention necessary in this increasingly conflict-filled world of ours. What was that academic program like?
I loved both of those programs! Both of them shared understanding society and human behavior—why we do what we do. Peace & Conflict Studies was part of International Relations, so it was in a more global context of international conflicts. Anthropology was more in the realm of global development/globalization, but also understanding and respecting cultures on a more local scale. In anthropology, I took an interesting class on incarceration systems in the U.S. that still sits in the back of my mind.
What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
Travelling around Guatemala when my husband was working around Antigua for a few months. I learned about the local culture, we stayed in a beautiful treehouse (treehouse!), and my downtime was spent in a hammock eating fresh mangos and guacamole.
What do you collect?
Books. Even in our new paperless world, I still love reading paper. And the batteries don’t die.
What do you do when you can’t sleep?
Read a book, turn off my phone.
What books are on your bedside table right now?
David Sedaris. Euphoria, by Lily King.
iPhone or Android?
Coffee or tea?
Rain or shine?
Early bird or night owl?
Cats or dogs?
And finally, what is your motto?
I don’t think I have one . . . ? Though I do tend to say, “There’s only one way to find out.”
The NITA Foundation awards a number of scholarships for our public trial and deposition programs to worthy applicants who have demonstrated a commitment to public service and/or financial need. Please support NITA’s mission to promote justice by training and mentoring lawyers to be effective advocates for their clients and donate now.
Enjoy this interview? Find more of our Asked and Answered interviews with NITA personalities here on The Legal Advocate.
In authors Jonathan Rest and Ed R. Stein’s second edition, Love v. Regency, a trademark infringement case is brought to life. Dr. Stanley Love, a dermatologist, alleges that Regency Plastic Surgery PC has infringed his common-law trademark of “The Love Look” by using a similar phrase, “The Look of Love” as its marketing slogan. Dr. Love is seeking relief and damages.
Furthermore, Regency denies liability, claiming that Dr. Love had no common-law trademark because “The Love Look” is merely descriptive and therefore Dr. Love could acquire no common-law trademark rights in the slogan.
This case file contains four fact witnesses, two liability expert witnesses, and two damages expert witnesses, as well as exhibits.
Retail Price: $38
Available in Epub
NITA Trustee Emeritus Tom Geraghty has informed NITA of the victory in which attorneys Laura Nirider and Steve Drizin earned in the Seventh Circuit in the Brendan Dassey case. Dassey was one of the subjects of the Netflix series, Making a Murderer. Geraghty’s clinic led the litigation for Dassey the defendant.
Winning such a motion is a massive achievement, so congratulations are in order! According to Geraghty, the decision was a result of the skill, dedication, and hard work of Laura, Steve, and their students.
This year, NITA joined forces with Cook County Public Defenders for a public service trial skills program, April 25-28 in Chicago. During the four-day program, the public defenders learned skills such as direct and cross examination, using exhibits, courtroom communication, and more. NITA Program Director and Professor, Robert Burns, led the program while working with Chief of Professional Development at Cook County, Parul Desai.
Furthermore the 22 public defenders who attended the program had great things to say about it. One participant stated, “The course was great! I learned a lot and the atmosphere was extremely supportive. It helped me get my confidence back!” Keeping with NITA’s “learning-by-doing” method, another participant stated the NITA teaching method was extremely helpful in improving trial skills.
Not only did the public defenders share their successes of the program, but Burns as well felt the course very worthwhile. “NITA provided an intensive four-day trial practice program for over 20 committed and gifted young trial lawyers from the Law Office of Cook County Public Defender. The Public Defender, Amy Campanelli, strongly encouraged the training and it provided a perfect synergy of experienced NITA teachers, the matchless NITA method, and eager young lawyers who are in the trenches every day.”
From January through April, I featured one staff department in each monthly post. This month rounds out those features. – and then draws back to see the assembled staff, putting grateful and humble words on the remarkable engine that these individuals become as we work together for you.
The NITA people featured this month are the ones who support all of the others you have met to date. The Business Services and Administration groups support every person in Programs, Publications, Sales & Marketing, and Finance. We also feature Claire Tompkins, who arrived after we featured her group in January.
There’s that pesky word, “Administration.” Don’t be fooled. These two groups are coaches, advocates, and communicators who contribute to the tone for our staff’s tremendous spirit of collaboration and quality. Said another way, these folks will make copies, answer a quick question, jump up to help with the sound system, or entertain and calm concerns, for all of our staff members and faculty. They lead by intelligence and strategic insight. They also lead with humility by modeling teamwork in their own behaviors. I salute these folks for all three of those reasons. Thanks to them and to all the staff, we remain focused on our corporate goals at the same time that our work is distributed among us. Everyone can lead; good ideas arise from every quarter; and we have each other’s backs — all regardless of rank.
This makes NITA “Central” a strong center of gravity for NITA’s nationwide teaching, bespoke published and broadcast content, and spontaneous creativity. You do it; we give you tools and back you up.
Please meet them below, in their own words.
Business support can be described as a jack of all trades. Being the first face people see at our headquarters, as well as the first voice they hear over the phone, I am able to subconsciously adapt to the subject, and thus I represent NITA on many different levels.
NITA is always growing and adapting to new technology, so it’s exciting to see how our methods drawn from or founders still mesh with new ideas. I love being able to connect with lawyers and to see firsthand how our programs make a difference in so many lives.
Associate Executive Director, Operations
I keep the trains moving, operationally on a day-to-day basis and also strategically look at short-term and long-term goals and objectives of the organization. We have a well-oiled machine. Of course we still have hiccups. I’m here to brainstorm and help problem-solve issues, create and implement ideas to be efficient and effective, and inspire our staff to push beyond what they think we are capable of. I’m a big promoter of taking risks and learning from them.
Advocacy! Helping lawyers become better advocates helps create better systems. Seeing our attendees grow in confidence over the course of program is phenomenal. Watching our staff raise the bar all the time with quality and innovation is fulfilling. The relationships and collaboration in our community are what makes us family. I enjoyed my interview on these values of NITA for “Asked and Answered”. I hope you will read it!
Lead Business Support
My focus at NITA is customer service, specifically internal customer service. In short, I help make it easier for the staff to do their work. I ensure NITA’s business and workflow needs are translated to our outside web and database designers so that we can develop useful tools. I spend most of my time developing and testing these tools, creating efficiencies within our systems and training and assisting staff. I also oversee our external customer service efforts and policies.
NITA’s exemplary staff and dedicated faculty collaborate to achieve NITA’s mission to promote justice through the highest quality training and materials. I love my job because I get to find ways for NITA to be better, faster and more efficient as we strive to achieve our goals. Our future lies in our ability to stay agile and sustain growth while remaining loyal to our mission and community.
I see three distinct facets to my work with NITA.
1) Strategic Partner: Aligning HR business objectives with the overall NITA mission and the strategic business plan.
2) Employee Advocate: Building employee ownership of the organization by fostering organizational culture and climate.
3) Change Champion: Emphasizing the NITA mission, vision, core values, goals, and action plans.
I believe in NITA’s mission and what we do to help the adversarial system work better so that ultimately, justice is served. I get enormous satisfaction by helping to attract, retain, and develop our employees into great “owners” and leaders.
Director, Business Services
As Director of Business Services, I oversee our IT, Customer Service, Office and the NITA Education Center. I pride myself on being a hands-on working manager, giving our faculty and staff all the tools they need to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.
I see NITA in a period of transition related to incorporating technology, and inserting on-demand Studio 71 lectures/demos into our programs to supplement the invaluable live presentations. It involves using courtroom presentation technology to give our participants all the tools necessary to tell the full story of their cases and provide the most effective learning environment. I also see NITA continuing to evolve with smaller specialized programming either by location or specialty. In addition, now and extending into in the future, I see world-class faculty that mentor our participants into great, competent, skilled advocates for their clients and organizations. I see NITA evolve as publisher from printed textbooks/case files to E-publications and on-demand printing. Knowing that I help facilitate this on a daily basis and am involved in the evolution of our brand and product is an honor.
Program Administrative Assistant
My role is to help the Program Specialists with whatever they might need so that their programs run smoothly. My specialties are applying for Continuing Legal Education and doing the post-program CLE processing, drafting emails for the faculty and participants, and deciphering the faculty members’ reimbursements. The Programs Department is a tight-knit group and I love being a part of a team where we work hard but can also be friends.
I started at NITA just about 4 months ago and I knew from the moment I interviewed I was going to love it here. I asked the NITA staff who interviewed me what they liked best about working here and they all said essentially the same thing, “it’s a great place because everyone cares about what we do and with that common goal we work as a cohesive team.” It is fantastic to be part of a non-profit where people get excited about what we are doing and what we could do in the future. I think we will keep creating interesting programs in new places with new topics to engage attorneys across the country. By increasing our participants we will be able to offer more public service programs and provide Continuing Legal Education to attorneys who may not be able to afford it otherwise.
In one breath, this post extends my deepest thanks to every single member of our staff — each important, each valued. Valued by each other, and valued by our NITA network. Thank you..
Please lift your phone and say hello to our folks. You and they together make NITA what we are as we gaze together, forward, into our next 50 years.
Karen M. Lockwood, Esq.
President and Executive Director
National Institute for Trial Advocacy