The Legal Advocate

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Office of the Public Defender Lagos State Ministry of Justice/NITA Public Service Program

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The National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA) and the Office of the Public Defender Lagos State Ministry of Justice worked together for the second year in a row on a public service program which trained approximately 70 attorneys on skills such as: direct and cross examination and use of experts. Judge Ann Williams served as Program Director – both in 2016 and again in 2017. Judge Williams worked with Yetunde Ajayi at the Office the Public Defender, in order to put together a 5-day program to meet the needs of the attorneys.

As a result, many of the participants felt their skills greatly improved by the end of the program. One attendee stated, “The course was illuminating and enlightening. I have gained a better understanding of the rudiments of examination and I am truly grateful to all the faculty members for this training.”

Similarly, another attendee stated, “The course was very effective, especially the relevance of the materials. The faculty was very knowledgeable and their teaching techniques were superb.”

Not only did the attendees who participated in the program have great things to say at its conclusion, but Yetunde also stated the program was fantastic once again this year. “It packed so much information and my colleagues and I learned so much in preparation for forensics being introduced into our criminal justice system with the opening of our new DNA & Forensic Center. The faculty was wonderful and we are so grateful to all the members who have offered up their time and NITA for providing the funds to make the program possible. Thank you very much.”

 

Furthermore, NITA Faculty J.C. Lore, who taught at this program, spoke with NITA’s Senior Legal Editor, Marsi Buckmelter, about his experience. To read the full article click here.

Domo Arigato, NITA and PSIM!

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written by NITA program Director Beth Sher

When I was invited to go to Japan in late August with NITA’s Executive Director Karen Lockwood to participate in a NITA training program in Tokyo, I was very honored to be asked. I accepted the invitation with a great deal of excitement and more than a little anxiety. While very comfortable as a NITA teacher, I worried about the language barrier, teaching with translators, inadvertently insulting someone through deed or words, or embarrassing myself or NITA in any way (including by my lifelong and thus far unsuccessful struggle to master chopsticks). Little did I know I would have the opportunity of a lifetime: to bring the NITA method to an eager and willing group of young Japanese lawyers and students, to work with remarkably patient and talented translators, and then to get to know the beautiful and amazing city of Kyoto in the company of our most gracious and attentive hosts and a superb tour guide.

Our host was the PSIM consortium — a 10-year old organization dedicated to the improvement of Japanese legal education. PSIM is currently headed up by Professor Akira Fujimoto of Nagoya University School of Law, our most amazing host and an energetic and passionate educator working hard to change the face of legal education in Japan. He was aided throughout by his remarkable assistant, Ms. Yoshiko Ohashi. The program took place in two parts: a stimulating, daylong PSIM symposium featuring presentations by Karen Lockwood, two dedicated professors from the University of Denver (Celia Taylor and David Thompson), a Japanese law professor, and a panel discussion on issues related to experiential learning – an area of focus for PSIM in an environment that has not yet fully embraced non-traditional learning. The next day Karen and I ran a mini trial skills program for approximately 12 Japanese lawyers and law school students, which the PSIM member professors observed first-hand.

What I learned from our short and intense teaching program – a skills program focused on storytelling, direct, and cross – is that NITA’s method works across borders, languages, cultures, and time zones. Admittedly each of us – students and teachers – needed to adjust to the rhythm of translation (sometimes simultaneous, sometimes sequential), but there was no doubt we understood each other. As a faculty member, I could see and hear it as the students improved from session to session, learning from the critiques and incorporating new ideas in subsequent workshops. But for the need to translate each of these reflections from Japanese to English – and a few anxious moments while we awaited their feedback – we could have been at any successful NITA program in the U.S. The dawn of recognition, the growing self-confidence, the willingness to try again – these hallmarks of success familiar to any teacher were as gratifying in Japan as they are to every NITA faculty member in every program. They learned by doing, and so did I.

Working with three fabulous translators was a unique and extremely helpful experience for me, never knowing when in my litigation practice I might need to examine a witness who does not speak English. Learning to simplify my language and to speak slowly and clearly was great practice and a not-so-subtle reminder of the many facets of being understood. Watching Japanese law professors, who are not as experienced with experiential learning as we in NITA are, understand and appreciate the value of learning in a non-lecture format was immensely rewarding. Chatting with the participants and professors in the receptions each evening – finding ways to be understood and to share our common interest in improving legal training – was enlightening and delightful. But the most rewarding aspect of the program came at the end, when we invited each participant and the observing Japanese law professors to share one thing they had learned or observed. “I learned it is okay to make mistakes because that is how we learn,” said one young lawyer who had been somewhat reluctant at the outset of the program. “I learned I need to encourage my students more when they do well, and smile more when I am helping them to improve,” said one professor. “There are too many things to name just one,” said one shy but grateful lawyer. “I learned how important it is to tell a good story, to control the witness with yes and no questions, and to have my witness talk more than me.” As with Reflections at the close of any U.S. NITA program, it was clear and gratifying that we had taught as best we could, and they had learned more than we could have hoped.

After the program, our hosts escorted us to Kyoto for several days of learning and sightseeing. Kyoto is a city of over 2,000 temples and shrines, and we merely scratched the surface of her treasures. Everywhere we went the people were warm, friendly, respectful, eager to help, and very proud of their city and their heritage. The food was authentic and delicious everywhere we went – and I am proud to report I became a successful (even if not graceful) user of chopsticks by the time we left. We were lucky to have an experienced local tour guide for much of our visit, who enriched our understanding and constantly amazed us with the breadth of his knowledge. (If you ever go to Kyoto, I would be pleased to put you in touch with our new friend, Doi-san.)

I close with a personal reflection. I drive a Japanese car, own Japanese televisions, and use a Japanese camera. But if I could import only one thing from Japan, it would be their extraordinary sense of hospitality, courtesy, and gratitude offered to friends and strangers alike. I am immensely grateful to Akira and Yoshiko for making us feel like visiting dignitaries and members of the family, all at the same time. I can only hope that our paths will cross again, including here in the U.S. where I can attempt to repay the kindness shown to me in Japan. As we learned during our visit, there are many ways to say thank you in Japanese. As far as I’m concerned, there still aren’t enough for me to express my gratitude – to PSIM and to NITA – for this experience of a lifetime.

Beth Sher
Day Pitney LLP

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?

Equal Justice Works/NITA Public Service Program

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October 29-30, NITA and Equal Justice Works (EJW) joined together for a public service program held in Arlington, VA – one day after the Equal Justice Works Conference. NITA and EJW have worked together for several years – this year alone training over 30 EJW Fellows. NITA Program Director Marcia Levy, who has staffed over 100 NITA programs over the years, led the trial skills training, working with a team of NITA faculty and EJW Events & Special Projects Manager, Anita Adams.

The two-day training consisted of skills such as opening and closing statements and direct and cross examinations. After the training concluded, Marcia stated, “It was an incredibly rewarding experience to have gathered together a most dedicated team of NITA faculty, who volunteered their time to provide trial advocacy training to the Equal Justice Works Fellows. The Fellows are smart, passionate and fired up to represent the most underrepresented clients, and it was thrilling to be able to work with them to increase their skills, thereby supporting their impactful work.”

Furthermore, the attendees of this program felt as though their trial skills were greatly improved. One participant stated, “This was extremely helpful, and the instructors were all excellent in the direction and guidance they gave. I really appreciated this great learning opportunity.”

Another attendee stated, “The NITA training course was fantastic – it met me right where I was and provided concrete tips to improve. It also let me get out jitters about performing in the legal arena. Additionally, all of the teachers were helpful and incredibly entertaining. I highly recommend this program and am grateful I got to participate.”

As with all NITA programs, the participants were given the chance to practice each skill over the course of the training and receive immediate feedback from the faculty. Many of the participants agreed that this approach was very helpful and that the faculty were extremely knowledgeable. NITA is grateful to have been able to work with EJW once again on a public service program and hopes to continue training efforts together for many years to come.

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.

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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