The Legal Advocate

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Cook County Public Defenders – NITA Public Service Program

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For the second year in a row, NITA and Cook County Public Defenders worked together on a public service training program in Chicago, IL. This year, NITA Program Director Richard Hutt led the 4-day trial skills program which covered topics such as: direct and cross examination, exhibits and evidentiary foundations, impeachment, opening statements, and closing arguments. Hutt worked closely with Chief of Professional Development at Cook County, Parul Desai, to develop the schedule that would be best suited for the training.

Furthermore, the program trained 22 Cook County Public Defenders who found the training to be very effective and helpful in developing their trial skills. One participant stated, “{The program had} excellent trainers! I learned great information and had great feedback from the trainers.”

Likewise, another participant stated, “It was a very fun and great experience. I learned a lot of tips and techniques to improve my trial skills.”

NITA is very grateful to have continued our partnership with Cook County for a second year in a row and to have had the opportunity to work with their Public Defenders.

Jury Speech Rules: The Art of Ethical Persuasion

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Authors David M. Malone and Warren S. Radler have brought out the third edition of their book, Jury Speech Rules: The Art of Ethical Persuasion. Trial lawyers will learn that persuasive jury opening statements and closing arguments require imagination, storytelling skills, and a thorough knowledge of the legal and ethical rules that govern this important part of trial. The third edition includes new material specifically for prosecutors.

Retail Price: $39

Available in: Print, epub, and mobi

From the Director’s Desk – April 2018

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The core values of an organization are the foundation on which we perform work and conduct ourselves. We have an entire universe of values, but some of them are so primary, so important to us, that throughout the changes in society, government, politics, and technology, they are still the core values we will abide by.

In an ever-changing world, core values are constant. Core values are not descriptions of the work we do or the strategies we employ to accomplish our mission. The values underlie our work, how we interact with each other, and which strategies we employ to fulfill our mission. The core values are the basic elements of how we go about our work. They are the practices we use (or should be using) every day in everything we do.

Like many great companies, such as Apple, Amazon, Disney, and Starbucks, NITA was built with a dream, at a kitchen table, with people. We’ve heard the saying “People are your most important asset!” Wrong! “The right people are your most important asset.” That is the magic of building and sustaining a great organization: the right people.

Over four decades, we’ve had the right people and the wrong people. Here is what the right people ―the type of people who excel here and the associated behaviors these people consistently possess―mean to us at NITA through exemplifying our five Core Values.

    • Respect: mindful manners, listens, open to ideas, willing to help, is responsible, accountable, authentic and honest
    • Integrity: takes ownership, committed to our mission, builds trust through follow through, true to your word
    • Flexibility: listen to feedback, overcomes new challenges on short notice, interested in finding a solution, not blaming, constant evaluation of processes, let go of ego or position for the greater good
    • Innovative: creative, challenges assumptions, encourage idea sharing, try new things, fail, try again, learn and grow from mistakes
    • Collaborate: solutions-oriented, a helpful resource, volunteers for projects

You have seen and will continue to see us incorporate the use of our five Core Values into daily interactions and decision making, as well as when we hire, promote, review, reward, and yes, even terminate.

These aren’t standards just for our staff. We hold all who work with NITA to these values. Let’s challenge ourselves and each other to exemplify our Core Values consistently, and to have them at the forefront of all our interactions, always.

Wendy's Signature




Wendy McCormack
Executive Director
National Institute For Trial Advocacy

Monthly Theme: Voir Dire Part Three

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Recognize Leaders

Written by NITA guest blogger Melissa M. Gomez and excerpted from her book Jury Trials Outside In: Leveraging Psychology from Discovery to Decision

One persuasive person can make all the difference. That is why, in jury selection, I not only focus on those characteristics that will make jurors biased against my client, but also those that give a person the kind of charisma that will make her a persuasive thought leader in deliberations.

Leadership is a topic that has been studied and discussed extensively in business journals and academic research. In 2010, for example, de Vries, Bakker-Pieper, and Oostenveld conducted a study that evaluated different leadership styles. In their research, they surveyed 279 employees of a governmental organization. They then categorized their leadership findings into six communication styles: verbal aggressiveness, expressiveness, preciseness, assuredness, supportiveness, and argumentativeness.[1]

In the jury context, one of the main goals of voir dire is to get a sense of who the leaders may be on a panel. Who will be the foreperson, and what kind of impact will that person have on the other members of the panel? In that and other contexts, we often perceive leaders as those who are outwardly talkative, dynamic, and forceful with their opinions. In other words, we associate leaders as those who act in line with de Vries et al.’s verbal aggressiveness and argumentativeness. In doing so, we focus on the wrong characteristics. What these scholars found is that the strongest leaders are not always the loudest—other qualities abound that make someone the kind of person others will actually want to follow.

The research suggested that preciseness is the characteristic that most clearly indicates perceived leader performance and satisfaction with the leader, and this is above and beyond other leadership style variables. It isn’t about being loud. It is about being clear. Precision makes it easy for others to know what to do and where to go. It is the comfort of organization and clarity as opposed to leadership by volume, which can feel like chaos.

In Malcom Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point,[2] he discusses the precision type leaders and their power to bring other people to act, to adopt an idea or to purchase a product. He calls them “salesmen.” In your jury, these are the panel members that sell a case idea or concept in such an effective manner that the other jurors will follow. Having a person like this on your jury can be like having a jury of one person. You convince her, she will convince everyone else with precision. If she is against you, she will turn everyone else against you. All I have to say is that if voir dire reveals someone who appears to have that kind of strong leadership potential, you need to be pretty darn confident she is going to be on your side to keep her on the jury. For me, if I am not confident about which side she will support, she will be my number one strike (or, more likely, my final strike if I decide to play chicken with opposing counsel, hoping they strike her first).

A Pennsylvania focus group in which one of these powerful salesmen participated comes to mind. The case at issue involved an emotionally charged story about an injury to a child. Deliberations were heavy with debate. As the other panel members argued, the salesman did not jump out of the box, yelling his opinions. He was too effective for that. Instead, he sat. He watched. He listened. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t volunteer to be the foreperson. Once the rest of the jurors became exhausted and frustrated with one another, he spoke—not only from his own perspective, but using what he had gained from the other jurors’ opinions. He spoke with a certain grace and sophistication that drew people in. He didn’t say much, but after he did, no other juror voiced an opinion independent from his interpretation. The salesman was selling, and the rest of the jurors were buying.

At the end of their deliberation, I sat down and discussed the case with the group, actively trying to get opinions from the other jurors. They repeatedly referred back to what the salesman had said, repeating his words and starting sentences with “well, I just agree with Bob” or “As Bob said . . . .”

Therefore, when assessing leadership, you must ask not only if there is a person who has the confidence and assertiveness to lead. You also must consider whether that person has the kind of charisma that will make others want to follow and the precise clarity so they can follow.

The good news is that a powerful salesman will more likely than not make him or herself known in jury selection if given a chance. She will speak with confidence in voir dire and happily provide opinion with clarity and precision. For this reason, if the court process allows, ask questions that are open-ended. Getting a sense of communication styles by letting jurors speak freely will give you a better picture of confidence, charisma, and eloquence—the telltale signs of a salesman. Getting just the facts in voir dire may help you identify basic characteristics in your juror profile, but hearing the manner in which someone speaks lets you know more about the interpersonal style or skills of that person.

After all, the power of one can make all the difference.

[Nationally known jury consultant and the President of MMG Jury Consulting, LLC, Dr. Melissa M. Gomez holds a PhD in Psychology and a Master of Science in Education from the University of Pennsylvania. She has worked on over 500 jury trials across the United States with a focus on the psychology of learning, behavior, and decision-making. She is the author of Jury Trials Outside In: Leveraging Psychology from Discovery to Decision, published by NITA.]

[1]. Reinout E. de Vries, Angelique Bakker-Pieper & Wyneke Oostenveld, Leadership = Communication? The Relations of Leaders’ Communication Styles with Leadership Styles, Knowledge Sharing and Leadership Outcomes, 25 Journal of Business and Psychology 367 (2010).

[2]. Malcom Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (2000).

Trustees for Alaska – NITA Public Service Program

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Continuing to expand NITA’s public service reach – we headed off to Anchorage, AK for an appellate advocacy public service program with Trustees for Alaska, a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm. The program took place March 8 – 9 and was led by NITA Program Director, Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik, who has served as program director for many of NITA’s programs over the past 15 years.

Chief Judge Vaidik stated that the program was an amazing experience and that each participant, regardless of their experience, improved. “We were in pristine Alaska, surrounded by attorneys who wanted to keep it that way, and who were extremely motivated to improve their oral advocacy skills.”

Furthermore, the program was designed to help the attendees address several core competencies involved in oral advocacy. This process included a communications training, planning the argument, arguing the argument in front of a panel, and video review in order to receive feedback on the effectiveness of the argument.

At the conclusion of the program, one attendee stated, “This was the best training I have had as a lawyer! The training was tailored to what we needed and the execution was excellent. Thank you!”

Likewise, another attendee stated, “It was an excellent course, very informative and hands-on, just what we needed and asked for.”


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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