The Legal Advocate

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Asked and Answered—Tessa L. Dysart

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One could say “be careful what you wish for” has meaning for author Tessa L. Dysart. Three years ago, she emailed our Publications Department to ask whether a third edition of Winning on Appeal, one of her favorite texts for teaching, was in the works at NITA—and before she knew it, the old manuscript was on her desk ready for her to do it herself. The original author, the eminent Judge Ruggero Aldisert of the Third Circuit, had passed away just a few months before Tessa’s inquiry, and the question of who would carry on his legacy through this book was yet unsettled. But with her background in legal writing, intimate familiarity with the federal courts, and robust work ethic, Tessa was a dream come true for NITA and a joy to work with on the update. The third edition of Winning on Appeal: Better Briefs and Oral Argument, co-authored with Judge Leslie Southwick of the Fifth Circuit, came out in time for the start of the 2017 school year. Then, just when Tessa thought she was done writing for us for a while, along came “Asked and Answered” to ask for just a little more. As always, we’re so grateful she obliged.

How did you first meet “Auntie NITA”?
Through teaching. Before I became a full-time professor, I taught Appellate Advocacy as an adjunct. The school used the second edition of Winning on Appeal as the textbook. Right after I agreed to teach the course, I sat down over a week or so and read the book, which I thought was great. It wasn’t until later in my teaching career that I fully understood the unique role that NITA plays in educating attorneys and publishing practitioner guides, as opposed to just traditional textbooks.

Winning on Appeal was originally written by the legendary Judge Aldisert of the Third Circuit and is as near a legacy book as any that NITA publishes. What was it like for you to undertake the update of this book?
Daunting, to put it mildly. The book is a classic. We wanted to be sure that the update honored Judge Aldisert’s legacy while still providing the update the book needed.

How did you make the acquaintance of your co-author, Judge Southwick?
I met Judge Southwick during his Fifth Circuit confirmation process while I was working at the Department of Justice in the Office of Legal Policy on judicial nominations. I was struck by his demeanor, character, and perseverance through that difficult process. When it came time to find a judge to help with the book update, I knew that he would be an excellent choice. Not only is he already a published author, he has served as both a state and federal appellate judge.

You studied in Moscow on a Fulbright. What was that experience like?
Amazing! One of the purposes of the Fulbright program is cross-cultural awareness. I immersed myself in Russian culture. Despite the stereotypes, the Russian people are really quite warm, and they are thrilled when we take an interest in their language and culture. I made it a point to visit museums, experience the theater and ballet (I lost count of how many versions of The Nutcracker I saw while I was there), and eat all the food (well, almost all of the food).

On a more serious note, I was in Russia over 9/11. The outpouring of sympathy and support from the Russian people to Americans in the city was really touching.

How did you become interested in the law, and later teaching?
As a middle child, I always had a strong sense of “justice,” which I usually defined as being able to stay up later than my younger sister and sit in the front seat when my older brother wasn’t in the car. As I grew up, I became better aware of true injustice in our society. It was that desire to fight for what was right that led me to law school. As far as teaching, I sort of fell into that career when my husband, a veteran of the Marine Corps, decided to go to law school and we left the D.C. area. Once I started teaching I realized that it was my calling.

What is your favorite thing about your career?
Definitely the students. I love investing in their lives, seeing them learn, and hearing about all of the amazing things that they do in their careers. I was so fortunate to have amazing professors and mentors in law school and early in my career. It is an honor to fill that role in the lives of my students.

What is something you like to do the old-fashioned way?
Travel. I love a good road trip!

What’s the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
After my Fulbright, I traveled around Europe for a few weeks. I visited about eight countries in three weeks. It was a whirlwind of an adventure, but I got to see most of the big sights.

What movie can you watch over and over without ever getting tired of?
Elf, much to my husband’s chagrin. It came out my 1L Christmas. My sister and I saw it in the theater. She had seen all of the previews, while I, of course, had been living in a 1L bubble. It was so funny to see her quote all of the funny preview lines. Since then it has been an annual favorite for me.

What’s your favorite breakfast?
Gluten-free pancakes that don’t taste gluten-free.

During what moments in life do you feel most at ease and in your element?
When I am with family, especially visiting my family in Oregon. I can put away the business attire and pull out the jeans and flannel.

What’s your secret talent?
Home repair. Our first house was a real fixer-upper and we were newlyweds without a lot of money. I learned that I am really good at painting trim and cutting in the walls and ceiling.

Coffee or tea?
Coffee in the morning, and tea in the afternoon (preferably rooibos).

iPhone or Android?
Definitely Android—the only “i” products in our house are a few ancient iPods. But, I also love my Microsoft Surface. It is great for travel and grading papers.

Early bird or night owl?
Most of my life I have been a night owl. But, in Arizona we don’t observe Daylight Savings Time, so I think that I need to transition to being an early bird. It gets dark so early here.

Call or text?
Email. I never caught on to the texting phase.

Rain or shine?
It doesn’t rain in Arizona (although it does monsoon the month of July, leaving the desert really quite beautiful).

And finally, what is your motto?
I have adopted the motto of my undergraduate institution, Willamette University: “Not unto ourselves alone are we born.”

Enjoy this interview? Find more of our Asked and Answered interviews with NITA personalities here on The Legal Advocate.

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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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