The Legal Advocate

A blog brought to you by the national institute for trial advocacy

All posts by Alli Keefe

Legal Services Corporation – NITA Public Service Program

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For many years now, NITA has hosted a public service trial skills program at our headquarters, open to legal aid attorneys. This year, we are excited to be able to host two of these programs here in Boulder, CO. The first program took place August 21 – 24 and was led by NITA Program Director Amy Hanley. This program trained 47 attorneys on a variety of trial skills over the course of four days.

At the conclusion of the program, Amy stated, “I’m extremely proud of the impact we made on the future legal careers of participants who have dedicated themselves to public service. On behalf of a group of gifted faculty members, including new instructors, we’re thankful and proud of the 47 lawyers who arrived at their offices the Monday after the NITA program with more skills, more confidence, and a new network of peers and friends.”

Likewise, many of the attendees had positive feedback about the program as well. “The skills and tools provided were invaluable, as was the feedback from the instructors. Most trial advocacy trainings focus on putting together the notebook; this training dug deeper and let me practice the skills I needed to be more confident,” stated one attendee.

Similarly, another attendee stated, “This course was incredibly challenging and very transformative. The faculty could not have been more accessible and informative. They really went the extra mile to work with each individual and they were so transparent about their work product.”

NITA looks forward to hosting our next legal services program on September 25th!

NITA Legal Editor Takes “Learning by Doing” to Court – and Wins

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By guest blogger Virginia Judd, NITA Legal Editor

When I first joined NITA, I was working ¾-time as a legal editor and still practicing bankruptcy law. About a year into my NITA life, I had clients who had fallen behind on property taxes and were threatened with foreclosure. After I filed their Chapter 13 plan, the IRS filed a very large claim based on an unfiled tax return from many years ago. Of course this elderly couple no longer had the paperwork necessary to determine the actual tax owed, so I requested it from the IRS. When they didn’t respond, I filed a motion to dismiss their claim, figuring that it would at least get some action out of them.

The IRS never filed a reply, and so when the day of the hearing came, I stood before the judge, confirmed that I had properly served the government, and waited for a ruling.

“Well . . . ,” the judge said, “they are awfully busy over there. I think I’ll adjourn this hearing for a month.”

Before I started working for NITA, I would have accepted his ruling—he’s the judge, after all. But now, I’m a better advocate.

“Your Honor,” I said, heart in my throat. “If I missed a response deadline, you would not extend it for my clients. And I’m a solo practitioner. The IRS has thousands of employees. They should not be excused from the rules of this court.”

He looked at me, perplexed. “Are you asking me to rule on this motion today?” There was challenge in his voice, as if he thought my request astounding.

“I’m asking for a default judgment based on the IRS’s lack of response, yes.”

“You know they can just file another claim,” he said.

“Yes,” I answered, my trepidation diminishing. “And when they do, we will challenge it again. Right now I have an elderly couple who are trying to keep their home. Without the IRS claim, they can afford their plan and succeed. So we will deal with that claim when it arrives.”

Because of my NITA training, I stood up for my clients, and the judge ruled in their favor, dismissing the IRS claim. They are now two payments away from having their house free and clear of property tax liens.

And the IRS never did refile a claim.

ABA CILA – NITA Public Service Program

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For the second year in a row, NITA teamed up with ABA’s Children Immigration Law Academy (CILA) for a public service program. This three-day program focused on child advocacy and trained 52 attendees in Houston, TX. NITA Co-Program Directors Michelle Mendez and Tom Swett led the faculty team, teaching skills such as direct/cross examination, opening and closing statements, as well as issues in immigration trials.

According to Tom, “The ABA CILA immigration advocacy for children training provided 52 attorneys with the critical skills needed to represent their clients in asylum hearings…in addition, we discussed issues that often arise in immigration trials including how to use court interpreters properly to ensure the testimony is accurately given, how to deal with objections in a system that does not apply the federal rules of evidence, and how to address issues raised by the court during trial. This was NITA’s eighth immigration trial skills program offered since 2016, I hope there will be many more.”

Likewise, Director of ABA CILA, Dalia Castillo-Granados stated, “The Children’s Immigration Law Academy, a legal resource center in Texas that supports attorneys who represent children in their immigration cases, was grateful to partner with NITA for the second year in a row. The trial advocacy skills taught by the amazing program directors and NITA faculty will ensure that vulnerable children are effectively represented. Given the current climate in immigration law, it is more important than ever that advocates have the right skills when litigating children’s cases.”

Civil Rights Corps – NITA Public Service Program

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NITA Program Director Henry Su and NITA Faculty Jeffrey Collins led a public service program, August 1 – 2, for the Civil Rights Corps in Washington, DC. This deposition skills program covered topics such as: how to take and defend a deposition, questioning techniques, information gathering and exhibits, theory testing, and witness preparation.

Attorney Charles Gerstein at Civil Rights Corps stated, “Our instructors were excellent and the program has been immensely helpful. I really, really appreciate NITA’s help.”

Likewise, Henry stated, “I am proud to be a part of NITA’s longstanding effort in making its training programs available and affordable to lawyers engaged in public service. They ensure that people in our communities who are least able to defend their rights and speak up for their causes have access to skilled and effective advocacy. It is incumbent on us, as NITA program directors and faculty members, to help them succeed.”

A huge thank you to Henry and Jeffrey for putting together this 2-day training program for the attorneys at Civil Rights Corps!

NITA Thanks Communication Consultant Brian K. Johnson for 30 Years at the National Session

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NITA would like to give a huge shout out to Communication Consultant Brian K. Johnson, who taught at his final NITA National Session July 25 – August 2nd. Brian, along with his business partner and wife Marsha Hunter, taught a communication component of the program. According to Brian, “When Program Director Karen Steinhauser asked me, ‘You’ve taught at the National Session for how many years?’ the startling word ‘thirty’ left my lips as I stood to introduce myself. My co-author, business partner, and wife, Marsha Hunter, joined the National faculty back in 2000. The NITA National has been the central event of our summers for three decades. We are nowhere near retiring and intend to keep teaching at many other NITA programs for a long time to come. But thirty years feels like the right time to offer someone else a chance to enjoy Boulder in July.”

NITA is extremely grateful for the commitment to our programs that both Brian and Marsha have shown throughout the years. They continue to teach our Articulate Advocate program multiple times per year, to help attendees improve their communication skills. Their communication session at the National program was a true joy to watch so we will leave you with one final anecdote from Brian:

“We cling to one indelible NITA memory that resulted from a perfect coincidence. In the summer of 1991, during the National program, Marsha and I were engaged by the Colorado Music Festival to sing our concert of songs by Lennon & McCartney. NITA colleagues and participants joined the sold-out audience at the Chautauqua Auditorium. Heavy rain had been falling all day, but it stopped right before show time. As we strode onstage with our accompanist, a slice of rainbow was visible through the open door at the back of the hall. Such a good omen! We had a blast performing and, egged on by our NITA friends, so did the audience. The reviewer in the Boulder Daily Camera called it the ‘most enthusiastic audience ever’. He couldn’t know that our NITA colleagues were undoubtedly one reason why. The Beatles were right: We get by with a little help from our friends.”

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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