The Legal Advocate

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All posts by Marsi Buckmelter

Extra! Extra! Read All About It! The Nita Gazetteer Provides “Nita City” Snapshot

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If you’ve ever used a NITA case file to teach in your law school classroom or at one of our programs, then you’ve probably noticed that a great many of them take place in a mythical little metropolis known as Nita City. You’ve also probably noticed that the crime rate is distressingly high. Murder, rape, DUI, arson, theft, assault, discrimination, fraud, breach of contract, domestic violence, negligence—the list of offenses common to Nita City’s population is legion. Heaven for an out-of-work trial lawyer . . . .

Joking aside, what few in the NITA universe realize is, the State of Nita and its crime-riddled capital were the well-considered construct of the imagination of NITA author Thomas J. Reed. “I made the Nita Gazetteer in 1991 for John Kouris, who was NITA’s Chief Operating Officer in the 1990s,” said Reed, Professor Emeritus at Widener University Delaware Law School. “It had a very practical purpose: to provide a realistic scenario for lawyers preparing trial files to be used in NITA programs and NITA-related programs such as the [Widener] Intensive Trial Advocacy Program.”

The Gazetteer came to light once again at NITA this summer, when Mark Caldwell, NITA’s Director of Resources, shared what may be the only remaining original copy left in existence. “I actually used these materials in writing case files, and you will see the connections between cities and even streets in my files,” he said. “People [at programs] often wonder where in the United States is the location of the State of Nita. It is situated south of South Dakota, just east of Nebraska, and west of Iowa and Missouri. It is clearly a Midwestern state. Interstate 80 crosses the middle of the state. Nita City is close to the eastern border of the state approximately half way between the two north–south borders. The Missouri and Nita rivers run through the state.”

Reed added, “The drawings and maps were the most difficult part of the book. The histories of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa were the inspiration for establishing a Midwestern state, [with the State of Nita] sharing some of the characteristics of these states. The original settlement by Sieur de Nita parallels the history of Dubuque, Iowa, and Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. The indigenous natives parallel Nebraska and Minnesota tribes, except for the Mugwumps. The Civil War border warfare in Kansas and Missouri provided grist for the 1860s-era history—as the career of William Jennings Bryan did for the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century.”

Caldwell said, “Professor Reed used the names of all of NITA’s Program Directors, Board of Directors, and most well-known instructors in creating the names of cities, towns, counties, streets, buildings, etc.”

Reed confirmed: “I carefully invented a history of the State of Nita containing names from then-prominent NITA teaching faculty members as protagonists or major characters in the invented history,” noting the towns of Irving, Lubet, Oliphant, Kouris, Rose City, and Seckingerville, as well as Beskind County Hospital, Natali Gold Mining & Dredging Co., Moss County Savings & Loan, Carrigan Farm Implement Employee’s Credit Union, Seimer Consolidated High School, and K. Broun Discount Department Stores, in the Gazetteer.

“Clearly, Professor Reed spent a great deal of time thinking about all of the important story structures needed to make case construction a process with some uniformity,” said Caldwell. “It makes a fascinating read to consider Nita’s geography and history.”

It does indeed. To download a copy of the State of Nita Gazetteer and begin your own lesson in the history and civics of the State of Nita, click here.

Our Thanks to the International Academy of Trial Lawyers

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The NITA Foundation recognizes the generosity of a longtime supporter, the International Academy of Trial Lawyers Foundation (IATL). The organization recently awarded a $10,000 grant to the NITA Foundation to boost the scholarship program for 2018. The grant represents the latest gesture of goodwill in IATL and NITA’s longstanding relationship, which is based in part on the organizations’ shared value for the administration of justice in the United States.

The NITA Foundation has received scholarship funding from the IATL for many years. So far this year, the 2017 IATL grant has sent ten public service lawyers or lawyers of financial need to the NITA trial skills or deposition program of their choice. These scholarship winners practice in Arizona, California, Florida, and Virginia, and work at a local Legal Aid office, a federal agency, county legal services, a public defenders’ office, and their own small firms. They have attended NITA programs in Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, San Francisco, Scottsdale, and Washington, D.C.

The IATL is a group of elite trial lawyers who purpose includes elevating the standards of honor, integrity, and courtesy in the legal profession. Their outstanding commitment to NITA enables us to fulfill their purpose by training public service lawyers through scholarships to NITA public programs to become effective, ethical, and professional advocates.

For more information about the IATL Foundation, visit iatl.net.

Asked and Answered—Rebecca Diaz-Bonilla

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Gal Gadot is a terrific actress, but if you ask me, the real-life Wonder Woman is someone right here at NITA: our own Rebecca Diaz-Bonilla. After all, what else would you call someone who runs her own international consulting firm, writes books (two in four years, with a third in progress), and teaches at NITA programs, while enjoying married life with a big (as in “ten kids” big) familyand who is also a wise, lovely, interesting, generous person to boot? (See what I mean? Wonder Woman.) This past winter, NITA published Point Well Made: Oral Advocacy in Motion Practice, a hands-on practice guide that Rebecca and co-author Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote about effectively arguing motions before the court. I don’t know how Rebecca made the time to treat us to a round of “Asked and Answered,” but I’m awfully glad she did.

 

How did you first meet “Auntie NITA”?
I met NITA back in 2010 through a longtime client. Teaching alongside Judge Nancy Vaidik and other such talented faculty was addictive, and I’ve enjoyed teaching with NITA ever since.

You’ve now written two books for NITA. What was the inspiration for each one?
I was inspired to write Foolproof after coaching thousands of lawyers, from both the transaction and litigation sides. In my work, I noticed lawyers were taught to communicate well through the written word, but little was being done with non-written communicationfor example, voice, body language, and tone. I thought Foolproof would be an efficient way to give practical advicethe basicsto all lawyers.

Prior to writing Point Well Made, I pushed pause on writing to focus on a few sizeable cases for my clients. Judge Vaidik, now a dear friend, approached me about co-authoring a book on motions practice . . . and I couldn’t resist working with her. We both saw a gap in the market and thought we could fill the need for litigators to learn proper motion delivery. Working with her on this book was an incredible experience; everything just clicked.

What was your first job in the law?
My first job in the law was during law school. I worked for a lobbying law firm in D.C. on banking derivatives and transportation legislation. I worked with friends from law school, and we would leave work and head to law school at night. It was fabulously fast-paced.

In your consulting business, Lumen8 Advisors, you work with lawyers to improve their oral communication skills so they become better advocates and communicators. How did you transition from being a lawyer yourself to helping them in this specific, but important, little niche?
The transition happened at the University of Virginia Law School. We moved from New York City to Charlottesville so my husband could get his MBA at Darden. Almost immediately after we arrived, Bob Chapel, a dear friend and my former undergraduate theater director at UVA, called to tell me that the law school was looking for someone who was an actress and a lawyer. He recommended me, and I met with Bob Sayler, world-class litigator turned law school professor. We hit it off, and we co-developed a course in rhetoric and communication, which we taught at UVA Law School for a few years. Law firms caught wind of what I was doing at UVA and asked me to come and teach my class to their lawyers. Through word of mouth, I was asked to do more and more consulting and, when we moved from Charlottesville, I started my consulting company. Since then, my consulting has expanded from seminars and lectures on communication techniques to individual coaching on live matters and team coaching and preparations for trial.

What is the most common communication problem you see in the lawyers you coach?
The most common communication problems I see is a lack of self-awareness. Superstar litigators sometimes forget how to use their strengths and need to be shown what areas need attention. There is always room for improvement, irrespective of your level of communication proficiency. But I find the best are often the ones that want my help the most. They worked hard to be the best, and want to keep it that way.

What does a typical work week look like for you?
Every day is different. Some weeks, I’m on site with a client coaching a trial team; other weeks, I lecture and coach training workshops, while still other weeks, I do one-on-one coaching with lawyers from a variety of practice groups.

It is said that genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. What is that ratio like for you?
That sounds about right. Moreover, a similarly relevant idiom I’ve seen played out in my life is that “luck” happens when [hard work and] preparation meets opportunity. I am grateful that I’ve been inspired to be a bit risky and do something off the beaten path, but I’m thankful to my family for the support they’ve given me as I carved out time to work hard, perspire, and prepare to deliver my very best to my clients. There are only a few lawyer-communication coaches in the entire country, and I’m fortunate for the opportunity to blend two loveslaw and theatereach and every day, joyfully and successfully.

What do you most often do to procrastinate?
As a mom of many kids, I have learned through various self-inflicted trainwrecks not to procrastinate. I constantly fight it, and also realize that I can’t sacrifice the good for the perfect at home and at work. Sometimes life just doesn’t’ allow me to deliver the “perfect,” but procrastination can’t be my excuse.

Outside of your family, who’s been the biggest influence on your life?
A mother of some dear friends. She is confident, smart, and elegant. She lives a life full of joy and purpose, with a big family, many grandchildren, and a deep faith. She suffers tragedy with grace and hope. Just being in her presence inspires and humbles me.

What do you like the most about where you live?
The Washington, D.C. area is full of deep thinkers. On any given night, I could attend lectures or debates on any number of topics. It’s thrilling to be surrounded with brilliant lawyers and policy wonks who are tackling huge problems.

What is your favorite restaurant in the world? And what do you like to order?
Eighteen years ago, my husband and I went to Italy on our honeymoon. We were driving near Verona and stopped into a village restaurant to have lunch. I had the richest risotto, creative salad, and a humble table wine. It was rustic and not fussy. Best of all, I got to gaze at my handsome husband. Pretty perfect.

What guilty pleasure music do you sing to in the car when there’s no one there to hear (or judge)?
You’d be hard-pressed to find me NOT belting out a song in my car, alone or with passengers. My house and car are full of me and kids singing show tunes, pop, and indie hits.

Coffee or tea?
Coffee and tea. My husband makes me a dazzling cappuccino every morning, and I chase it with a couple more cups. In the afternoon, I usually turn my allegiance to an Earl Grey.

Winter or summer?
Winter. D.C. summers are brutal with the humidity. Plus, I like winter fashion better.

Scrambled or fried?
As long as there is cheese on it, I’ll take my eggs any way you make them.

iPhone or Android?
iPhone.

Popcorn or candy?
Popcorn.

And finally, what is your motto?
There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Enjoy this interview? Find more of our Asked and Answered interviews with NITA personalities here on The Legal Advocate. While you’re at it, why not download Delivering a (Last-Minute) Point Well Made , the free NITA webcast that Rebecca and Judge Vaidik recorded this spring? It is a solid hour of value-added content, lots of little tips and tricks that you can put into practice at the end of the webcast. Rebecca’s first book, Foolproof: An Attorney’s Guide to Oral Communications, is terrific, too, and bursts with advice that anyone, and not just lawyers, would find useful in their daily lives.

Robert VanderLaan Remembered with Scholarship Fund, Memorial in Chicago

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This winter, NITA lost a beloved member of its family, when Program Director Bob VanderLaan passed away on February 28 in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the words NITA’s Executive Director Karen Lockwood, “Bob’s tremendous energy and talent in teaching touched countless people through NITA. He taught with NITA for thirty-five years, and his immense heart, genuine charm, and energetic legal advocacy made Bob unforgettable to everyone he taught—and taught with.”

Losing Bob was a tremendous blow to the NITA community. Two of his closest NITA friends, Program Director Dan Rabinovitz and longtime faculty member Jon Barnard, have taken the lead to memorialize Bob’s legacy by creating a NITA program scholarship in Bob’s name. Dan recently spoke to The Legal Advocate about the new Robert VanderLaan Memorial Scholarship, how he and Jon will host NITA’s collegial faculty in celebrating Bob’s life at one of Bob’s favorite places in Chicago this fall, and what made Bob such an inspiration to those who knew and loved him best. 

How did you meet Bob?
In the early 1990s, during the Midwest Regional Trial Program in Chicago, several faculty members, including Bob, regularly attended performances by Chicago bluesman Son Seals. During the same period, I was an Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney and played trumpet for Son Seals. At one of those shows, Bob learned I was a prosecutor, and shortly thereafter, he spearheaded an effort to obtain a scholarship for me to attend NITA’s National Session in Boulder. During that National Session, in 1994, Bob was my team leader and we became friends.

What qualities made him unique among NITA instructors?
Bob’s infectious level of energy made him unique literally everywhere he went. When you look up the phrase “natural charmer” in the dictionary, it shows his picture. He had a seemingly magical way of critiquing a student’s performance, by delivering the appropriate criticism, while at the same time making a student excited to continue to improve. This approach was not only consistent, but it was completely natural and totally effortless.

Do you have a favorite memory of working with him?
There are so many to choose from, but I think my favorite memory of working with Bob was when he was selected to be the Program Director of the National Session, which coincided with NITA’s fortieth anniversary celebration. He was so proud to have been selected to lead that program at that special time. He threw himself into leading that event in such a meaningful, soulful way that it made each and every person associated with that program felt proud to be working with and for Bob. The same natural ability he had to make a student feel great was just as powerful a tool for relating to the faculty members who taught with him.

What did you learn from Bob?
I learned how to be a better trial lawyer, a better instructor, and a better person. And I learned the importance of being able to survive on only a few hours of sleep, when necessary.

You’ve established NITA’s Robert VanderLaan Memorial Scholarship as a lasting tribute. How did it come about?
Almost immediately after Bob’s passing, [fellow NITA faculty member] Jon Barnard and I began brainstorming about organizing something that would honor Bob in a way that preserved his memory and spirit. This tribute is part of the way we are coping with the tremendous sadness we both feel. We wanted to do something that struck the same balance between work and play that dominated Bob’s life. And so we decided to raise funds for a scholarship in his name, so that for a very long time, each year at least one student gets to participate in a program Bob regularly taught. So that’s the work part. But Bob was also someone who loved to have fun—in many ways. One of those ways was to gather with friends, raise a glass or two, and tell and listen to great stories. So the second part of our tribute is an event where those who also enjoyed doing that with Bob can do that together.

What’s the best way to make a donation to the fund?
Making an online donation is fast and easy when you click this link: donate and from the “Select Fund/Amount” section, use the dropdown menu and select The Robert VanderLaan Memorial Scholarship Fund option. I want to mention that the founding donors of this scholarship fund have pledged to match the first $30,000 in donations that NITA receives—in effect, we will double your contribution if you donate now. Each year, this scholarship will provide tuition, travel, and lodging for one attendee to attend a program at which Bob taught.

Describe the plans for the memorial you and Jon Barnard are hosting in Chicago on November 11.
We are going to gather at one of Bob’s favorite Chicago places—Mike Ditka’s restaurant—and we are going to eat, drink, be merry and tell a bunch of Bob VanderLaan stories. Over that weekend, the Bears play the Packers in Chicago. We hope that element will elevate the energy at Ditka’s that evening. But I should add that if people plan on attending, they should let us know in advance, so we can make sure we have a big enough room, by emailing me at rabinovitzd@gtlaw.com.

How would you like Bob to be remembered?
I hope Bob is remembered as the smart, warm, funny, tough, talented, dedicated, and experienced human being that he was. I hope he is remembered as someone who through teaching for NITA for over thirty-five years helped literally hundreds, if not thousands, of young lawyers become better trial lawyers. And finally, I hope he is remembered as someone who day in and day out was fun to be around.

NITA would like to invite you to join Dan Rabinovitz, Jon Barnard, and Bob’s family and friends at Ditka’s on Saturday, November 11, 2017, to remember and celebrate Bob’s life. RSVP directly to Dan to make reservations and receive further details on the memorial. Please make your travel plans early, as we expect the Bears‒Packers Midwest rivalry will make hotel rooms and Airbnb rentals in Chicago scarce as game weekend draws near.

Stephanie Ledesma Receives Appointment at Thurgood Marshall

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Longtime NITA faculty member Stephanie Smith Ledesma has been appointed as the Associate Dean of Experiential Learning at Thurgood Marshall School of Law (TMSL). In her new role as the Associate Dean of Experiential Learning at TMSL, Professor Ledesma will restructure, help define, and expand the Experiential Learning Department at the law school while increasing the initiatives and offerings in the area of experience-based education. Currently, the law school offers a variety of clinical experiences, over 100 externship opportunities, trial simulation taken by hundreds of students each year, and the NITA Client Interviewing program, a weekend module specifically for law schools that was co-designed by Ledesma and other NITA faculty, including Mark Caldwell, Mike Dale, and Marsha Levy.

Of her promotion, Professor Ledesma said, “I look forward to working with colleagues at TMSL, students, and NITA partners to help build upon and expand the powerful attributes of ‘learning by doing,’ for the benefit of every law student that chooses TMSL as their training ground.”

Professor Ledesma has served as a faculty member, a team leader, and a program director, teaching at NITA public service trial skills and deposition programs and custom trial skills and deposition programs around the country. In 2016, she was one of six faculty members that donated more than 100 hours of her time toward NITA volunteer efforts.

“As a servant-leader, I think one of the most important responsibilities that I have to the legal community, and those whom the legal community serves, is to teach what I have been taught and to share with others as others have shared with and mentored me. I was inspired by NITA faculty and their service to others. These NITA faculty not only became my friends, but my mentors. In fact, these mentors are the reason that I sought an academic position in the legal academy to begin with,” Professor Ledesma remarked to The Legal Advocate.

“I was further inspired by NITA’s ‘learn by doing approach to teaching attorneys how to raise the bar of legal practice and make excellence their goal. By bringing the tried and true NITA pedagogy and methodology to the legal classroom, I believe that I not only fulfill my duty to the legal profession, but I am helping feed future generations of lawyers and attorneys that will continue to have a positive impact on legal representation and advocacy in every corner of the world,” said Professor Ledesma.

NITA wishes to extend its congratulations to Professor Ledesma for her promotion and thank her for her continuing service to the legal community through her work with NITA.

For more information about the Client Interviewing program for law schools that Stephanie and her NITA colleagues designed, please email Michelle Windsor.

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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