Last November, The Legal Advocate reported on the memorial celebration that was held in Chicago to remember longtime NITA program director Bob VanderLaan, as well the establishment of the Robert VanderLaan Memorial Scholarship which was inspired by Bob’s devotion to teaching at NITA. Both the memorial event and the scholarship were ideas brought into fruition by Bob’s dear friends and fellow NITA faculty members Dan Rabinovitz and Jon Barnard. Friends and colleagues from across the country gathered in Chicago to remember Bob, and many more contributed to the scholarship created in his name. Indeed, the fund received so many donations that The NITA Foundation was able to award a scholarship almost immediately. We are delighted to share this interview with the first recipient of the Robert VanderLaan Memorial Scholarship, Shameka Hall. Shameka traveled to Chicago in March to attend our Building Trial Skills program, where she met Dan and Jon as they served as program faculty. “Both Dan and I were genuinely impressed with Shameka’s passion and commitment for her work based upon her application, and even more so when we had the chance to meet her in person,” said Jon. “She was indeed a deserving recipient of the first annual Robert VanderLaan Memorial Scholarship.” Shameka is an assistant capital defender for the Office of the Capital Defender for Central Virginia, where she has provided legal counsel in capital cases since 2015. It was our pleasure to get to know her in this interview, and we hope it will be yours as well.
What is a typical day of work for you at the Office of the Capital Defender for Central Virginia?
Most days are spent going through the discovery on our cases, drafting motions that will help put our clients in a better position, and developing theories that can be used to save our clients’ lives.
How often are you in court?
Every four to six weeks, sometimes longer if we don’t have motions to argue. However, when we have a trial, they usually last four weeks.
How did you first hear about NITA’s trial skills training?
I did a Google search looking for trial training programs.
What did it mean to you to receive this training through the Robert VanderLaan Memorial Scholarship?
It was so amazing!! I read up on Mr. VanderLaan and all that he has done for the indigent community and the public defender system, and I was totally in awe!
What “bad” habit would you still be practicing if you hadn’t gone to the NITA program?
I would probably still be drafting my closing argument last. Now, I draft that first and work the remainder of my case from that.
If you hadn’t gone into the law, what career path do you think you might’ve taken instead?
I would have become either a CPA or I would have gone into computer consultation work.
What three things are vital to your day?
Prayer, breakfast, and music.
What fictional figure do you most identify with?
Mary Jane Paul from Being Mary Jane.
What is your hidden talent?
Befriending people and getting them to do what I want them to do.
What are you looking forward to?
Retirement!! Traveling the world.
What’s the most recent show you’ve binge-watched?
It’s a tie . . . The Handmaid’s Tale and West Wing (for the second time).
Lightening round questions. Coffee or tea?
Neither. Hot chocolate.
iPhone or Android?
Android, all day!
Early bird or night owl?
Cats or dogs?
Spring ahead or fall back?
Fall back because I get an extra hour of sleep.
And finally, what’s your motto?
I will always do and succeed at what people tell me that I cannot do.
Fundraising for The Robert VanderLaan Memorial Scholarship is ongoing. If you would like to make a donation in remembrance of Bob, please click here and select “Robert VanderLaan Memorial Scholarship” in the dropdown menu midway down the page. Your donation makes a difference in the lives of the public service lawyers who receive them―and most importantly, in the lives of the clients they serve.
Enjoy this interview? Find more of our Asked and Answered interviews with NITA personalities here on The Legal Advocate.
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.
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