The Legal Advocate

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

All posts by Alli Keefe

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.

Training the Child Advocate – NITA Public Service Program

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For the second year in a row, NITA partnered with Baker McKenzie LLP and Facebook for a unique public service program at the Facebook headquarters which trained both attorneys in child advocacy and in-house counsel looking to do more pro bono work.

This three-day program trained 43 participants and was led by NITA Program Director Angela Vigil. Vigil is also Partner and Executive Director of Pro Bono Practice at Baker McKenzie LLP. At the conclusion of the program, Vigil stated, “This program was about mixing experience and expertise from lawyers from different parts of our profession – public interest to private bar pro bono – to unite and learn NITA’s unique techniques to make better advocates for children. Where the participants varied in their day-to-day practice, there was no variation in their true commitment to justice for children through excellent legal practice. We were all proud to be a part of it!”

Likewise, NITA Faculty Member Ben Rubinowitz, also found the program to be extremely helpful for those advocating for children and wanting to improve their advocacy skills. “More than ever these children need good, solid representation,” said Rubinowitz, “especially with what is going on with the unfortunate child separation policy recently enacted by our government. Clearly, these children have no idea how to navigate their way through the legal system and can suffer life long injury if not represented properly. I am honored to be a part of this program. These lawyers are truly champions of children’s rights. They will make a difference. I applaud the efforts of Facebook in donating their facility and all the lawyers who so generously gave their time to help children in their time of need. Some of these children have had their lives turned upside down, some have been forced into prostitution, some have become drug users and many are just too afraid to speak up. This is why advocates are needed.”

Furthermore, NITA Executive Director Wendy McCormack, who had the opportunity visit the Facebook headquarters for the program, stated, “The partnership between NITA, Baker McKenzie, and Facebook is what allows us to do this unique program. The advocates leave better than they arrived, inspired and confident to take on their next challenging case. We are excited to explore opportunities to expand with other partners to offer a similar model of programming.”


Americans for Immigrant Justice – NITA Public Service Program

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Early this month, NITA had the exciting opportunity to team up with Americans for Immigrant Justice in Miami, FL for a public service program. This 2-day trial skills program for 16 attendees aimed to enhance skills in areas such as: objections, direct/cross examination, and closing arguments.

NITA Program Director Neil Kodsi led the program and found it very rewarding to see such great improvement in each participant by the end of the program. “I think NITA gives lawyers a unique opportunity to hone their skills with instant feedback from seasoned trial lawyers who can help them focus on their technique and presentation. There truly is no other trial practice CLE that comes close to what NITA offers.”

Furthermore, Director of Family Defense Program at Americans for Immigrant Justice, Adonia Simpson, stated, “The training was fantastic! Not only was it a great way to hone our trial practice skills, it was a good team building experience.”

NITA is thankful to our faculty for the great experience in Miami as we continue our public service mission.

NITA Faculty Member Jaymes Sanford Gives Lecture on Cross Examination

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NITA’s 48-participant program held in Boulder, CO for legal service attorneys began Tuesday, August 21st and ended Friday, August 24th, led by NITA Program Director, Amy Hanley. On the first day of the program, NITA had Guest Speaker and Faculty Member Jaymes Sanford join us in order to present on the topic of cross examinations to the attendees as well as the faculty members.

According to NITA Faculty Terre Rushton, “The highlight of the afternoon was watching Jaymes engage and connect with participants during his captivating presentation on cross examination. He has a fresh take.”

Thank you Jaymes for taking the time to stop by NITA’s headquarters in Boulder and give such an amazing presentation on the first day of the program. We appreciate your time and dedication.


Guest Speaker at NITA’s Legal Services Corporation Program: Karen Hester

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Today marked the second day of NITA’s 4-day public service program held in Boulder, CO for attorneys in Legal Services Corporations (LSCO). This day included a presentation made by NITA Guest Speaker Karen Hester, Executive Director at the Center for Legal Inclusiveness, titled “The Intersection of Model Rule of Professional Responsibility 8.4 and Unconscious or Implicit Bias.” The presentation was made to all 48 program attendees, as well as NITA Faculty.

NITA Program Director Amy Hanley stated “Karen masterfully delivered an interactive presentation on a powerful topic. The points she made had the room buzzing and will keep us reflecting and self-examining for years to come.”

NITA is very grateful for Karen’s time and preparation on such a relevant topic and we thank her for joining us at the program.

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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