The Legal Advocate

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

All posts by Kathy Behler

NITA’s Alumni Association

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This year, we at NITA wanted to give program Alumni ample opportunity to connect and engage with NITA as well as their fellow NITA alumni. Therefore, the NITA Alumni Association was born. There are no dues to pay or forms to fill out to join, if you went to a program you are a member. The goal of the associaiton is to privde past program attendees the opportunity to engage with fellow alumni as well as NITA Faculty members through alumni only events including receptions, happy hours, CLE events, webcasts and more.

We hosted our first Alumni networking event in Seattle on August 4th on the last day of our 2017 Seattle Deposition skills program. Here, current deposition skills attendees and faculty mingled with past attendees and faculty from the Seattle area.

On September 28th, NITA’s studio71 will be hosting an alumni only Q&A webcast featuring NITA faculty members Christina Habas and Karen Steinhauser. This unique opportunity provides past program participants access to our esteemed faculty, getting answers to questions that alumni may have since taking their NITA program. It’s like having a NITA faculty member right at your fingertips.

Our second Alumni networking reception is in the works, and is tentatively planned on being held during the Advanced Trial Advocacy: Next-Level Trial Techniques Program in Washington DC in early November. Formal invites to the event will be sent out next month.

We welcome any thoughts/questions and ideas you might have for the association, please contacts us via phone at 1.800.225.6482 or email at customerservice@nita.org with those suggestions.

Interested in attending next week’s Live Q&A webcast? Register Here

Give to the NITA Foundation This Quarter

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When you give to the NITA Foundation, 100 percent of every dollar you donate is spent on the mission work that fulfills our goal of including public service lawyers in those who benefit from NITA’s training. As this quarter comes to a close in just a few weeks, we’d love to count on your support of the NITA Foundation and its important work of awarding scholarship assistance and creating programs for applicants working in careers that meet our public service attorney training objectives. This work is impossible without help from loyal donors like you.

Since 2003, the NITA Foundation has disbursed over $3.3 million in support of our programs and scholarships. There are so many ways to give—cash donations, memorial or honorary gifts, stock donations, planned giving, and even donations of your NITA teaching proceeds or NITA book royalties—and each way helps us award program scholarships to public services lawyers, provide NITA training programs in the public sector, defray travel expenses for program participants, and ensure the rule of law and access to justice in emerging democracies through our international programs. Visit www.nita.org/donate to make a secure online gift and learn more about how you can help.

P.S. Last week, we told you about the new Robert VanderLaan Memorial Scholarship being funded through the NITA Foundation. The founding donors are matching donations for the first $30,000 in contributions, so now is the perfect time to make a donation and maximize its impact.

Monthly Theme: Bias Part 2

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This month’s theme on The Legal Advocate is Bias In The Courtroom. This is our second article on the subject. Part 1 was written by Karen Hester titled a A Trial Lawyer’s Guide to Minimizing Bias.

Interrupting Implicit and Explicit Bias

written by NITA guest Blogger Karen Steinhauser via a FB post written by Karen

I normally don’t post much on Facebook other than pictures but I needed to post this:

I recently was fortunate enough to be the co-director for the NITA National Trial Program. We had participants and faculty from all over the country. This year, we added a session to the program that we had never done before entitled, “interrupting implicit (and explicit) bias. Our focus was addressing the many types of bias that occurs in the courtroom and the effects it has on lawyers’ abilities to be effective advocates, and second how we can interrupt the bias, whether we are the victims of it or observers of it. It was truly one of the most powerful things I have ever been a part of.

A number of things were made very clear. First of all, we all have biases and it is important to recognize and understand that those biases are so that we can interrupt our own biases. Second, these issues are prevalent in the courtroom and in the legal profession in general. Third, for the victims of the bias, it is incredible painful and the pain can last a lifetime; fourth, we all have a responsibility when we see something to say something and to be mentors to others who may not know how to deal with these issues.

These issues, of course are not just limited to the legal profession, and I think these sessions need to be a part of every legal and non-legal organization. I truly believe we need to be addressing it at our law schools and other professional associations. It certainly is as much part of professionalism as knowing the basic rules of Ethics.

I have to thank our incredible faculty who were willing to share with the participants their own stories, as painful as they were, and the participants who truly understood that advocacy isn’t just about knowing how to do a good opening statement or closing argument… that it is about advocating for each other as well.

NITA Faculty Facilitate International Training Session at Nova

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written by NITA guest blogger Mike Dale

The Nova Southeastern University College of Law recently held its second annual Faculty Training Workshop as part of the law school-sponsored International Consortium for Global Legal Education. Four NITA faculty members presented a one-day training on the “NITA critique” as a method of teaching in the “learning-by-doing” context. Law school professors from Europe, the Caribbean, and Central and South America were in attendance. Nova law school faculty Jayme Cassidy, Michael Dale, and Kate Webber-Nunez and Florida lawyer Jim Zloch spent the day instructing on the NITA teaching methodology so that the professors from other countries might use the technique upon their return to their law schools. All four of the NITA faculty had themselves gone through NITA’s teacher training program. The participant international law school professors observed six Nova law students conducting direct and cross-examination using the Nita Liquor Commission v. Cut-Rate Liquor and Jones case file, then practiced critiquing the law students, and then were critiqued themselves by the four NITA faculty members.

Mike Dale is a frequent contributor to The Legal Advocate, directing the research and writing activities of his student assistants throughout the academic year at Nova. Learn more about Mike here.

Monthly Theme: Bias Part 1

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A Trial Lawyer’s Guide to Minimizing Bias

By Karen Hester, CEO of Center for Legal Inclusiveness

There’s a lot of talk about bias these days and unfortunately, it seems to be just that … talk. Many people have an idea about what it is and most just don’t know what to do. This blog post is a primer about bias – what it is, why it’s relevant and, most importantly, how you as a trial lawyer can reduce the impacts of bias in the courtroom by starting with three-steps.

What is bias?

Implicit biases or unconscious bias are those attitudes, beliefs or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decision-making. These biases are not always inherently bad, in fact, they help us make snap decisions. Problems arise, however, when we continue to make generalizations and don’t take into account new information that contradicts it[1].   

Why it’s relevant?

As attorneys, we are charged with the mission to zealously represent our clients – be they rich or poor, white or black, popular or disdained – with the objective to ensure fairness and equity under the law. Yet, research repeatedly concludes that attorney bias can and does impact the communication, counseling and representation of clients; interactions with jurors, witnesses and court actors; the evaluation of evidence, prioritizing cases and strategy; and recommending, accepting or rejecting offers related to pre-trial release, sentencing or probation.

We know that bias can impact jurors, judges and other attorneys, but this blog focuses on trial lawyers.  I encourage you to look internally and use these three affirmative steps to mitigate the effect of implicit bias.

Step One: Get Real

This is probably the easiest step of them all. If you’re breathing, you have implicit bias. Sorry, no two ways around it. Don’t take my word for it, start with a free online, anonymous test already taken by over five million people. The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is produced by Project Implicit and measures an individual’s unconscious attitudes about characteristics or traits[2].  The IAT measures bias related to race, ethnicity, gender, age, weight and other characteristics. After you take the test, my hope is you’ll be motivated to move forward to take the next steps to overcome your bias.   

Step Two: Do Better

As the saying goes “If you know better, do better.”  There are many things you can do to “do better.”  They are not intrinsically hard, but they likely won’t come naturally, and may actually increase the amount of time it takes to make decisions. But in this case, the end does justify the means.  Here are a few things you can do now:

  • Create a Decision-Making Process: Be transparent and operate within a well thought-out structure to make objective decisions. I really like using a checklist. Many biases occur when we tend to identify with someone who reminds us of ourselves. When that happens, we may give that person more benefit of the doubt or be more willing to work with them. But for those with whom we don’t have a natural affinity, we may be less inclined to go that extra mile. Use your checklist to check yourself.
  • Challenge Stereotypes: Once you are aware of your stereotypes, affirmatively replace those responses with non-stereotypical ones. Keep doing that until those initial stereotypical responses are automatically replaced with unbiased ones. For example, my mom loved Perry Mason, and as a kid, I would watch the reruns with her. Having never met a lawyer, I thought they were all white men, and defense attorneys were smarter than both the police and prosecutors. But my career path proved otherwise as I met attorneys of various backgrounds – plus, both my brother and sister-in-law are deputy DAs, so I know they’re smart too.
  • Out-Group Contact: Do a self-check. With whom do you typically spend time? With whom do you have an affinity? It is natural to be comfortable with people like yourself, or people who have the same experiences or who live in the same environment – typically these people are your “in-groups.” Your biases and generalizations about those outside your circle, your “out-group,” won’t change unless you push yourself to be around others who are unlike you. So make it top-of-mind and action to widen your experiences by engaging in positive interactions with out-group members.

Step Three: Be Mindful & Repeat

Implicit bias is not something you can ever completely remove but that doesn’t mean that you can’t decrease its impact on the decisions you make. Take the time to make a well-thought out, objective and informed decision, especially since you’re in a profession where others are dependent on you.  Repeat Step Two, until it becomes an unconscious action on your part.

Karen Hester is CEO of Center for Legal Inclusiveness, a nonprofit in Denver which works to make the legal profession more diverse and inclusive. CLI provides bias training year-round nationally and at its annual May conference, the Legal Inclusiveness & Diversity Summit.

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[1]  For more in-depth discussion about bias in the workplace generally, see my February 2017 NITA webinar on the topic entitled “Barriers and Bias in the Workplace and Winning Despite Them.”
[2] https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/education.html

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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