The Legal Advocate

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All posts by Marsi Buckmelter

Asked and Answered—Tessa L. Dysart

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One could say “be careful what you wish for” has meaning for author Tessa L. Dysart. Three years ago, she emailed our Publications Department to ask whether a third edition of Winning on Appeal, one of her favorite texts for teaching, was in the works at NITA—and before she knew it, the old manuscript was on her desk ready for her to do it herself. The original author, the eminent Judge Ruggero Aldisert of the Third Circuit, had passed away just a few months before Tessa’s inquiry, and the question of who would carry on his legacy through this book was yet unsettled. But with her background in legal writing, intimate familiarity with the federal courts, and robust work ethic, Tessa was a dream come true for NITA and a joy to work with on the update. The third edition of Winning on Appeal: Better Briefs and Oral Argument, co-authored with Judge Leslie Southwick of the Fifth Circuit, came out in time for the start of the 2017 school year. Then, just when Tessa thought she was done writing for us for a while, along came “Asked and Answered” to ask for just a little more. As always, we’re so grateful she obliged.

How did you first meet “Auntie NITA”?
Through teaching. Before I became a full-time professor, I taught Appellate Advocacy as an adjunct. The school used the second edition of Winning on Appeal as the textbook. Right after I agreed to teach the course, I sat down over a week or so and read the book, which I thought was great. It wasn’t until later in my teaching career that I fully understood the unique role that NITA plays in educating attorneys and publishing practitioner guides, as opposed to just traditional textbooks.

Winning on Appeal was originally written by the legendary Judge Aldisert of the Third Circuit and is as near a legacy book as any that NITA publishes. What was it like for you to undertake the update of this book?
Daunting, to put it mildly. The book is a classic. We wanted to be sure that the update honored Judge Aldisert’s legacy while still providing the update the book needed.

How did you make the acquaintance of your co-author, Judge Southwick?
I met Judge Southwick during his Fifth Circuit confirmation process while I was working at the Department of Justice in the Office of Legal Policy on judicial nominations. I was struck by his demeanor, character, and perseverance through that difficult process. When it came time to find a judge to help with the book update, I knew that he would be an excellent choice. Not only is he already a published author, he has served as both a state and federal appellate judge.

You studied in Moscow on a Fulbright. What was that experience like?
Amazing! One of the purposes of the Fulbright program is cross-cultural awareness. I immersed myself in Russian culture. Despite the stereotypes, the Russian people are really quite warm, and they are thrilled when we take an interest in their language and culture. I made it a point to visit museums, experience the theater and ballet (I lost count of how many versions of The Nutcracker I saw while I was there), and eat all the food (well, almost all of the food).

On a more serious note, I was in Russia over 9/11. The outpouring of sympathy and support from the Russian people to Americans in the city was really touching.

How did you become interested in the law, and later teaching?
As a middle child, I always had a strong sense of “justice,” which I usually defined as being able to stay up later than my younger sister and sit in the front seat when my older brother wasn’t in the car. As I grew up, I became better aware of true injustice in our society. It was that desire to fight for what was right that led me to law school. As far as teaching, I sort of fell into that career when my husband, a veteran of the Marine Corps, decided to go to law school and we left the D.C. area. Once I started teaching I realized that it was my calling.

What is your favorite thing about your career?
Definitely the students. I love investing in their lives, seeing them learn, and hearing about all of the amazing things that they do in their careers. I was so fortunate to have amazing professors and mentors in law school and early in my career. It is an honor to fill that role in the lives of my students.

What is something you like to do the old-fashioned way?
Travel. I love a good road trip!

What’s the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
After my Fulbright, I traveled around Europe for a few weeks. I visited about eight countries in three weeks. It was a whirlwind of an adventure, but I got to see most of the big sights.

What movie can you watch over and over without ever getting tired of?
Elf, much to my husband’s chagrin. It came out my 1L Christmas. My sister and I saw it in the theater. She had seen all of the previews, while I, of course, had been living in a 1L bubble. It was so funny to see her quote all of the funny preview lines. Since then it has been an annual favorite for me.

What’s your favorite breakfast?
Gluten-free pancakes that don’t taste gluten-free.

During what moments in life do you feel most at ease and in your element?
When I am with family, especially visiting my family in Oregon. I can put away the business attire and pull out the jeans and flannel.

What’s your secret talent?
Home repair. Our first house was a real fixer-upper and we were newlyweds without a lot of money. I learned that I am really good at painting trim and cutting in the walls and ceiling.

Coffee or tea?
Coffee in the morning, and tea in the afternoon (preferably rooibos).

iPhone or Android?
Definitely Android—the only “i” products in our house are a few ancient iPods. But, I also love my Microsoft Surface. It is great for travel and grading papers.

Early bird or night owl?
Most of my life I have been a night owl. But, in Arizona we don’t observe Daylight Savings Time, so I think that I need to transition to being an early bird. It gets dark so early here.

Call or text?
Email. I never caught on to the texting phase.

Rain or shine?
It doesn’t rain in Arizona (although it does monsoon the month of July, leaving the desert really quite beautiful).

And finally, what is your motto?
I have adopted the motto of my undergraduate institution, Willamette University: “Not unto ourselves alone are we born.”

Enjoy this interview? Find more of our Asked and Answered interviews with NITA personalities here on The Legal Advocate.

J.C. Lore in Nigeria—In His Own Words

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Last month, NITA sent seven faculty members to Nigeria in support of an advocacy training program organized by the Office of the Public Defender of Lagos State in the Ministry of Justice. J.C. Lore joined NITA colleagues Judge Ann Claire Williams, Judge Michael Washington, Judge Debra Seaton (Chinaka), Judge Ruth Rocker McMillan, Judge Margo Brodie, and practitioner Tom Innes in Lagos State from November 6–10 to teach public defenders the art and science of effective trial advocacy. J.C. also introduced us to his Rutgers colleague Kimberlee Moran, the Director of Forensic Science at Rutgers-Camden, whose lectures on evidence dazzled program participants and faculty alike.

Though this program was not J.C.’s first visit to the Africa (read his report on Kenya from 2016), it was his first time in Nigeria. Once he returned home to Singapore, where he and his young family are midway through their year of adventure living in Asia, he shared with us his reflections on the inspirational experience of teaching fellow trial lawyers in Lagos State.

You had to piece together the fact pattern and evidence from a few different NITA case files for this program. Why did you need to do that? How did your adaptations to the case file work out?
Nigeria just opened the country’s first forensics lab. This was a somewhat unique NITA program because the offices in Nigeria wanted training in four specific expert witness areas: pathology, firearms identification, questioned documents, and fingerprinting. Unfortunately, there aren’t training materials that are ready to go that can handle that type of training. There certainly aren’t any adapted for Nigeria. Therefore, we had to create new materials. Fortunately, Joseph Taylor and A.J. Griffith-Reed have some brilliant case files that we were able to use as a base. State v. Bloodworth provided the basis for the fact pattern and the pathology expert, but we also included elements from State v. Casey and State v. Skywolf. Several experts from around the country then helped me develop materials in the other expert areas, which I then incorporated into a single, modified case file called State v. Mahlin. We created the case file in a way that was consistent with the Nigerian locale by incorporating local names, addresses, law, and terminology. It could not have been done in such a short time without our wonderful team. The Hon. Margo Brodie, Hon. Ann Claire Williams, Sam Kovach-Orr (my Rutgers research assistant), and Grayce Frink helped with the enormous task of editing this case file for use in Nigeria.

What was the greatest joy for you of being part of this program?
There were so many. Of course, at the top of the list for any NITA program is spending time with so many wonderful NITA colleagues. When you are all together in a different country, you get to spend time teaching, eating, and traveling together. Although I knew many of my colleagues well, it was such a wonderful experience to get extra time to spend with them. It is always wonderful experience to work with Judge Williams when she is the program director.

From the program perspective, the great joy came from the overwhelming and genuine appreciation from the participants for what we were trying to do there. There was no resistance to what we were teaching. There was only a desire to learn, improve, and move their justice system forward.

I think from a team perspective, we welcomed a new superstar to the NITA family. Kimberlee Moran, the Director of Forensic Science at Rutgers-Camden, joined us for the week. She is a special talent and really made this unique type of NITA the success that it was. She delivered ten lectures on the expert topics such as handwriting, ballistics, fingerprints, and pathology. Her lectures and written materials were superb! She also worked tirelessly with the lawyers in small groups to prepare the simulation problems and to more deeply understand the science. Kimberlee also played the role of an expert witness during all of the breakout sessions. I don’t think there is much doubt that, along with Judge Williams, she was the hardest-working NITA faculty member at this program. Our entire group believed we hit a home run by having her with us. At the end of the program, Kimberlee was given a standing ovation by all of the participants and dignitaries, who seemed to agree with our assessment. We were very fortunate to have her with us for the week, and we look forward to working with her to improve the delivery of legal services throughout Africa.

What was your biggest challenge?
The traffic, and there is no doubt about it. It made keeping the program running on time very challenging. The traffic in Nigeria is among the worst I have seen in the world. Sometimes it would take thirty minutes to get to and from the training site, and other times it would take more than two hours. The travel for the participants was even more challenging.

What were the attendees like?
They were warm, welcoming, and passionate. This group of lawyers is extraordinary. There are 63 lawyers supporting a population of 23 million people, and they represent the indigent in both civil and criminal matters. In contrast, Philadelphia has about 240 lawyers supporting a population of 1.5 million, with a much lower poverty rate, and only handling criminal matters.

Did you have time for extracurricular fun?
We were pretty tired at night, so we usually had dinner around the pool. For many of us, it was a great time to catch up and get to know each other even better. However, we did get out for a couple of dinners, including at a restaurant written up recently in The New York Times called Nok. We also had a wonderful faculty dinner with our local Nigerian faculty.

What makes this program important?
We aren’t just shaping the legal system in one courthouse, one county, or even one state. We are impacting the way that law is practiced throughout an entire country. When you teach in Nigeria, you get the strong sense of how important a fair and just legal system is to the stability of the country. What adds to the importance is that the people we trained all recognize the need to keep learning and improving. They work tirelessly. One of the participants who helped us throughout the week commutes four hours to work and two-and-a-half to three hours home each day. Those numbers are not typos, and they were not unique to just this one participant. How can you not feel passionate about supporting a group that fights so hard, works so hard, and does it with such limited resources? What better mission can there be for NITA or any teacher?

Remember the NITA Foundation on #GivingTuesday

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Today is #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving for nonprofit organizations. It’s in this spirit that we ask for your support of the NITA Foundation and its important work of awarding scholarship assistance and creating programs for lawyers working in public service professions.

Did you know that since 2003, the NITA Foundation has disbursed over $3.3 million in support of our programs and scholarships? Thanks to our donors’ generosity, we have been able to:

When you give to the NITA Foundation, 100% of each dollar you donate supports these crucial activities.

So, whether you’ve come to know NITA by attending a trial skills or program, using a NITA book in your practice, teaching at one of our programs, or even winning a scholarship yourself, we hope you’ll pay it forward on #GivingTuesday by contributing to the NITA Foundation.

Please visit www.nita.org/donate and make a difference today.

Immigration Court and Due Process—NITA’s Official Position

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Part of the mission of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA) is to promote justice through effective and ethical advocacy as a means of improving the adversarial justice system. We believe in due process, adequate representation, and access to justice for everyone, including immigrants who wish to remain in the U.S. NITA supports the immigration position of the American Bar Association:

The ABA supports measures to improve the immigration court system and to increase due process safeguards, including access to counsel, for those in removal proceedings. The ABA opposes mandatory detention of those in removal proceedings, supports alternatives to detention, and supports strengthening the ICE National Detention Standards and promulgating them into enforceable regulations. The ABA supports comprehensive immigration reform that promotes legal immigration based on family reunification and employment skills and that provides for new legal channels for future workers, a path to legal status for much of the undocumented population currently residing in the United States, and enhanced border security.

In response to an article that recently appeared in The Washington Post, The Legal Advocate asked Losmin Jimenez, Project Director and Senior Attorney for the Immigrant Justice Project at Advancement Project, to explain the impact on due process and access to justice on persons appearing before such a tribunal, should the DOJ proposal go into effect.

Shortly on the heels of the presidential inauguration in January, the Trump Administration issued Executive Orders 13767, 13768, and 13769 delivering on its promise of ramped-up enforcement on immigration matters. Some of the Administration’s enforcement measures include limiting the number of refugees and other foreign nationals from Muslim-majority countries. In September 2017, the Administration rescinded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), impacting the lives of 800,000 Dreamers and their families. DACA was originally instituted in a memorandum from the Department of Homeland Security titled “Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion with Respect to Individuals Who Came to the United States as Children” in 2012 under President Obama.

The current immigration system is experiencing a seismic shift. One such development is a Department of Justice (DOJ) proposal to use “numeric performance standards”[i] and “establish performance metrics for immigration judges.” It is in this vein that this blog post provides a brief discussion on the current status of immigration court and outlines the likely impact these proposed measures would have on 1) due process and access to justice for immigrants seeking protection in the U.S. and 2) those fighting deportation to remain with their families in the U.S.

The Immigration Court system is referred to as the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), an agency within DOJ. Immigration judges are appointed by the U.S. Attorney General; thus, immigration judges are DOJ employees. Immigration judges are administrative law judges who do not have the same protections, such as life tenure, as members of the federal judiciary. However, the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ), a voluntary organization, is designated as the recognized representative for collective bargaining for all immigration judges.[ii]

At the end of September 2017, the Immigration Court backlog had grown to 629,051 cases.[iii] This number may prompt one to ask, “How is this possible?” Over the last decade, the immigration courts have been severely underfunded in comparison to the exponential increases Congress has provided for immigration enforcement. Case in point: the budgets of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection exceed $20 billion.[iv] In contrast, the budget for EOIR is estimated at $420 million. [v] To provide scale of the disparity in funding, consider the Baltimore Immigration Court, the immigration court for all respondents in immigration proceedings residing in Maryland. This court has five immigration judges tending to, at present, 23,074 pending cases.[vi]

Meanwhile, armed conflicts, natural disasters, gender-based violence, and other root causes for migration have resulted in 66.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, and of these 22.5 million are refugees.[vii] Consequently, thousands of people, especially women and children, have sought asylum in the United States in recent years.

Adding to this underfunded and overwhelmed court system is the fact that respondents in immigration court have a right to be represented by an attorney in immigration court, at no expense to the government;[viii] there is no right to appointed counsel in immigration proceedings, even if the Respondent is a child. Approximately 37 percent of immigrants nationally and 14 percent of immigrants in detention have counsel.[ix]

As every judge and trial lawyer knows, pro se litigants slow things down for the court—yet, pro se litigants have a right to procedural due process and must be afforded some opportunity to present their case. At a master calendar hearing, which is a respondent’s first hearing in immigration court, respondents often appear without an attorney and, if English is not the language they know best, participate in the hearing with the aid of a court-provided interpreter. Respondents almost always request a continuance to secure pro bono counsel or a private attorney. For those respondents who managed to secure counsel prior to the first hearing, counsel will often ask for a continuance while they wait for documents from the respondent’s home country to arrive, begin to evaluate case strategy, and await documents from the client’s Alien File in the custody of the government.

Challenges for due process in immigration court are even more complex for detained immigrants. Detention centers are sometimes in remote locations, far from respondents’ families, removed from immigration lawyers and pro bono counsel, and provide prohibitive telephone costs just to communicate with a loved one or a lawyer. The law library at a detention center may be comprised of several immigration law books in English.[x]

In my experience representing immigrants, I recall a time in 2011 that an immigration judge in a detention center told an unrepresented Honduran woman seeking asylum that she needed to complete the asylum application in English and that she needed to have some documents translated from Spanish to English by a competent translator, as required by the Immigration Court Practice Manual.[xi] This unrepresented woman did the best she could and found a fellow detainee who spoke her native Spanish and a Spanish-speaking detainee translated the documents for the pro se Respondent.

Was the translation accurate? Did the unrepresented woman have a choice? What if she spoke Amharic, Mam, or Nepali—would she have been able to find a fellow detainee to translate documents from her home country? What about issues of confidentiality? Where do unrepresented, detained immigrants find counsel and translators?

It would be unfair to initiate deportation proceedings against an immigrant, detain him, not provide him an attorney, not allow him time to try to secure pro bono counsel or a private attorney, and not allow him sufficient time to gather evidence for his case. What about when a three-year-old facing deportation shows up to Immigration Court without a lawyer? Granting a continuance is the only sensible and human thing to do. An immigration judge would, and should, grant a continuance to a person whose life is at stake and where she may be returned home to face religious persecution, torture, or death.

If the DOJ proposal to establish performance metrics for immigration judges is approved, immigration judges will be forced to grant fewer continuances, rush through an already crushing docket, and decide cases in which respondents are more likely to be pro se and without all of the evidence necessary to present their case. This will result in more respondents being deported from the United States without, in contravention of existing human rights obligations, first having a meaningful opportunity to be heard.

It is easy to see how the immigration court backlog has come into existence. It naturally follows that establishing performance metrics for immigration judges is not a solution. Immigration judges should be focused on the facts of the case and be provided with sufficient time and resources to afford due process to those who appear before them. They should not be under the threat of metrics and numeric performance standards to evaluate their performance. The legal profession must push back against this proposal by the Trump administration.

Losmin Jimenez is currently the Project Director and Senior Attorney for the Immigrant Justice Project at Advancement Project, a next-generation, multi-racial, social justice organization. In this role, Losmin works to advance immigrant justice as a part of the broader struggle for racial justice. Previously, she was a Litigation Attorney at Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice) in Miami, working on impact litigation, appeals, policy, and advocacy defending the basic human rights of immigrants. This summer, Losmin wrote about immigration relief for unaccompanied minors for The Legal Advocate. Her free studio71 webcast, Introduction to Immigration Advocacy—Overview of Humanitarian Relief, is available on demand.

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[i] Maria Sachetti, Washington Post, “Immigration judges say proposed quotas from Justice Dept. threaten independence,” Oct. 12, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/immigration/immigration-judges-say-proposed-quotas-from-justice-dept-threaten-independence/2017/10/12/3ed86992-aee1-11e7-be94-fabb0f1e9ffb_story.html?utm_term=.c10b81209fe7.

[ii] National Association of Immigration Judges, https://www.naij-usa.org/about.

[iii] See Backlog of Pending Cases in Immigration Courts as of September 2017, Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, http://trac.syr.edu/phptools/immigration/court_backlog/apprep_backlog.php.

[iv] Department of Homeland Security Budget in Brief, Fiscal Year 2017, https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/FY2017BIB.pdf.

[v] EOIR FY 2017 Budget Request at a Glance, https://www.justice.gov/jmd/file/821961/download.

[vi] See Individuals in Immigration Court by their Address, Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, http://trac.syr.edu/phptools/immigration/addressrep/.

[vii] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Figures at a Glance, http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html.

[viii] Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 240(b)(4)(A).

[ix] Ingrid Ealy and Stephen Shafer, American Immigration Council, Access to Counsel in Immigration Court (2016), https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/access-counsel-immigration-court.

[x] Author’s personal knowledge from visits to an immigration detention center as an attorney.

[xi] EOIR, Immigration Court Practice Manual, Filings with the Immigration Court, § 3.3 (a), https://www.justice.gov/eoir/office-chief-immigration-judge-0.

Asked and Answered: Karen Lockwood

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This month, “Asked and Answered” went straight to the top to put someone in the hot seat: NITA’s own Executive Director, Karen Lockwood—and not a moment too soon, either. After a successful, gratifying career as a D.C. trial lawyer and five years guiding the tiller at NITA, Karen will be retiring at the end of this month. With her interests wide-ranging and her to-do list extensive, Karen is a veritable Renaissance woman who’s saved the best years for last. If she’s anything like the other adventuresome sorts we’ve all known throughout our lives, she will be even busier in her retirement than she was during her years hard at work. We hope you’ll join us in thanking Karen for her service and great “NITA-Love,” and wish her an abundance of joy, rest, play, and good health in the coming years. (And Karen, don’t be a stranger, ok? NITA loves its volunteers!)

What accomplishment during your five years as Executive Director made you happiest?
Do I have to decide? We did many things in those five years, focusing on NITA’s strength. So it gets hard to isolate the “most happy.” But here is my answer. I chose three principles for the theme of my first annual meeting of NITA’s Program Directors: Quality, Content, Engagement. They were right for that time—happy enough. Even more happily, they have remained central to who NITA is today, why we excel through change, and how we will excel into the future. But most happily, it turns out that I can continue to be happy about them: the staff embedded those as the Core Drivers in NITA’s 2017 Operating Plan. They live on in the 2018 Operating Plan as well. An Executive Director strives to focus on our truest needs and strongest imperatives, and it is gratifying that these imperatives continue to inspire.

Can you talk a bit about the trial work you did in D.C.?
My commercial trial practice included trials, federal appeals, and SCOTUS briefs. I love this practice! If you think about a giant hotel burning on New Year’s Eve, with deaths and rooftop evacuations (arson, Puerto Rico), IBMs designing and building its first semiconductor plant (fast-track design, Burlington Vermont), the value of the eastern railroad properties that the U.S. carved up to create Conrail and Amtrak (trial before a remote, one-time federal court), and trial-testing a merger of the four largest drug wholesalers into two, then you have an idea of some of my most visible cases. Think of an amicus brief on handicap accommodations on cruise ships (for winning side, SCOTUS), Medicaid for persons with disabilities (Texas, Fifth Circuit), and child support/divorce repping an indigent mother (D.C.), you have an idea of my pro bono work. Starting with posing the questions in two-week expert depos in my first year, moving to my first jury trial for four weeks as lead, it has been learning-by-doing. Learning early—but not too early—from NITA built a strong base for courtroom instincts and conference room foresight. That was the right way to do it!

How did it lead you to meet “The NITA Tribe”?
You know that I talk about us as the most inclusive tribe in the U.S. And yes, that is exactly how I met NITA. A colleague who started practice with me at Hogan—he after his clerkship and I after my JD—waltzed into my office that first year and asked, “When are you taking your NITA program?” (It was 1978.) “What is NITA?” I responded. There began my anticipation. I got ready, with some deposition and trial work already accomplished. It was up to me and timing was perfect.

The Tribe took it from there. Progressively, a suggestion that I teach, an invitation to fill in as faculty at a custom program, a formal invitation to join the deposition faculty, then onto the faculty roster and eventually program director of the D.C. Trial Program. It was like a drumbeat of learning/teaching/loving NITA. No matter how busy, my vacation plans always started with the NITA commitment. When the Executive Director position came along, it continued to be NITA-Love.

That is still how you join in. It starts with taking a program. Meeting us. Joining us.

What do you think you’ll do on your first morning of retirement?
Run and lift weights, for as long as I wish instead of as long as I have! Follow with a hot protein breakfast. If weather holds, fill the gas tank, pick up a friend, and explore parts of the Front Range I have not seen yet. Ahhh . . . sounds good to us all, I’m sure!

Looking farther down the road, what opportunities are you most looking forward to in your retirement?
I thrive on making change, for communities and professions. Retirement is often described to be when one can “volunteer.” But I see it differently. It is that period when the 99 things you would like to have done along the way are open for you to pick up and do. Some 14 of those 99 things are still on my mind. So I’m looking forward to making a difference in the lives, politics, and hope of people. That may touch diversity training; women professionals striving for success; non-profits and small businesses; democracy and the courts and the vote; students from high school on who may love NITA someday; and avocations like singing, fiber arts, cooking, and fun with family. (That is 9 of 14!). I have no idea how they fit together. But I will take them on as a retired person bringing new ideas to the table. It starts with three months to gaze without decision or plan at how they intersect, what is possible, and how to start. Sound like fun? Keep in touch: Lockwood.Karen@gmail.com.

You’ve got a fiber arts workshop set up in your garage at home. What exactly is that, and what do you do? (I know: “Objection, compound question.” #sorrynotsorry)
Yeah, you know those three months? I will set up and dwell in that creative studio. The loom still bears a tartan plaid I warped onto it a number (ahem) of years ago. Fabrics for costumes and more sit in the attic back at my Shenandoah Valley farm. The skill of tatting is in notes written to my grandmother’s description. (Ok, I probably will never “tat.”) Get to work, Karen! What better way to let the brain settle and ambitions meld for three months?

What was your dream job as a kid?
Looking back, every dream revolved around changing things for the better, writing, and connecting with smart people. Thanks to distant relatives’ stories about China, there was the early embodiment of “I want to be a missionary,” but I figured out that was a child’s vocabulary. (May I go beyond the “kid” in your question?) In high school, it was journalism, thanks to many 2 a.m. nights as the high school newspaper editor, getting to decide how bold The Tunlaw could be in 1967–68 (so much material at hand!!). The odds of making a living seemed better with medical school, since I entered college with a jump on science and math. Finally, Urban Studies off-campus, plus Kent State (near my Ohio college), cemented my focus on law.

We lawyers make change. We write. We connect with smart people. Voilà! What luck for me.

During what moments in life do you feel most at ease and in your element?
Laughing with fun and daring people, sharing stories, and challenging each other!

What is one activity you do every day without fail?
Eat. At least one square meal. (Awaiting your question about a certain drink.)

People are surprised that you . . .
Sing in a choir, play classical piano, and cry at symphonies.

How would you spend a million dollars?
Start an awesome non-profit that educates communities to engage with each other in teaching why democracy works. Education. Freedom of speech. Talking with those “unlike” us.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Omnipresence! (Wow, that feels sacrilegious.) (Web 3.0?)

What could men learn from women?
Wisdom. That is, self-restraint of the type that observes, encourages others to contribute, balances, and thus leads with the future in mind. (P.S., I am a woman.)

What could women learn from men?
Aggression. That is, “using power,” which really amounts to what can feel like aggression of the sort that might halt progress. We can figure this out, but it takes a few good women to lean in together. (P.S., I am a woman.)

For all of us—me, too—I would say we need to learn about the “other,” no matter the gender.

iPhone or Android?
iPhone. It made no difference that one of my law partners in the mid-’90s preached constantly about his “user-friendly” Mac. He demonstrated. He extolled. He bragged. We had to start meeting in my office to shorten the meetings. But when the second-gen iPhone promised entry into a connected system of computers and devices, I converted business and to the Apple platform. Still there. Still great. Still simple.

Coffee or tea?
Coffee. COFFEE!! Why do I have so many teas at home? Perhaps my friends are living by example, hoping to teach me better ways.

Early bird or night owl?
Both. Sometimes in seriatim, sleep being what it is.

Winter or summer?
. . . (thinking . . ) . . . Summer, I guess. The possibilities—fly-fishing, hiking, river trips, colorful vistas for photography, farm gatherings under a large maple tree with horseshoes nearby, laconic laughter into the night, movies shown on the wide white garage door . . . . (I can hear “Someone make her stop!!” among your readers!) But winter . . . . people willing to gather indoors to exchange their best selves. That, too.

Eat in or dine out?
Out! No matter how much we love to cook and bake, what’s better than dinner with friends and new menus?

Asking questions or answering questions?
Asking, for sure. First, to know what occupies someone’s attention in the moment. Second, to talk about something interesting to that person. It’s easy to think that one’s own thoughts are fascinating when we are (a) old (seasoned), (b) lawyers (hard-charging), or (c) well-traveled (with important friends). Truth is, our society is quite transactional—we connect with people who can get us something. If I want to make a difference in the moment, I try to start with questions immediately after “hello.” I constantly try to be better at this . . . .

Finally, what’s your motto?
If you build it, they will come.

Enjoy this interview? Find more of our Asked and Answered interviews with NITA personalities here on The Legal Advocate. Incoming Executive Director Wendy McCormack is a great one to start with.

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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