The Legal Advocate

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Legal Aid of Oklahoma – NITA Public Service Program

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On August 6 – 8, NITA worked in conjunction with Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma (LASO) to put on a trial skills program for eighty-seven lawyers who provide legal services to the poor and disadvantaged. NITA brought a great team of instructors to the program, including Chris Behan, Julia Corty, Christina Habas, Suzanne Katchmar, Stephanie Ledesma, Thomas Linguanti, Michelle Mendez, Susan Ryba, Adam Shlahet, Cheryl Wattley, and Jim Zloch. NITA Curriculum Project Manager Mark Caldwell was the Program Director and Donielle Swires served as Program Specialist.

According to Caldwell, In addition to the diverse team of NITA instructors, a group of dedicated Oklahoma trial lawyers participated on the teaching team. Those lawyers included David Autry, Valerie Baker, Chris Bergin, John Heatley, Garvin Issacs, Debbie Maddox, Rod Ring, Mary Ann Roberts, Ted Roberts, and Michael Scheitzach.

All of the program instructors volunteered their time and expertise to help improve the skills of these dedicated legal service lawyers. According to Oklahoma faculty Chris Bergin, “I was just reviewing the participant testimonials from the LASO program. It’s very gratifying to me that they so appreciate their NITA experience and are already putting their skills to work for Oklahoma’s less fortunate. In the last five years or so, I have witnessed the rise of the boutique, new wave of egocentric, narrow focus, trial practice programs. I don’t agree with the jury physiology they represent and they are short on fundamentals. Participating as a NITA faculty member has reminded me of the importance of the NITA methodology and mission in advocacy. It’s still the gold standard.”

Likewise, many of the program attendees had very positive things to say at the conclusion of the program. One attendee stated, “NITA gave me the confidence I never knew I had. I used to be nervous as a new attorney having to go against seasoned opposing counsel, and after 3 days of NITA I feel as though I could go toe-to-toe with the best of them. The teachers I had were all wonderful and all gave me a unique way of viewing things. They gave me ideas and pointers that I will use and take with me the rest of my career. Thank you for this opportunity to learn. NITA was in one word: Magical.”

Furthermore, another attendee stated, “The faculty were superb and gave feedback that was helpful to me – even if the feedback was directed at my classmates. I left the training feeling much more confident in my trial skills, especially when it comes to direct and cross examination.”

The program used one of NITA’s domestic violence case files, Cooper v. Cooper as the basis of the training. Over the course of the three days participants worked on case analysis, witness examination, using exhibits, dealing with problem witnesses, and closing argument. The use of storytelling played a prominent role in working with all of those skills.

NITA is very humbled at all of the positive feedback from this program and we hope to continue to strengthen our relationship with the legal aid communities.

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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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