For many years now, NITA has hosted a public service trial skills program at our headquarters, open to legal aid attorneys. This year, we are excited to be able to host two of these programs here in Boulder, CO. The first program took place August 21 – 24 and was led by NITA Program Director Amy Hanley. This program trained 47 attorneys on a variety of trial skills over the course of four days.
At the conclusion of the program, Amy stated, “I’m extremely proud of the impact we made on the future legal careers of participants who have dedicated themselves to public service. On behalf of a group of gifted faculty members, including new instructors, we’re thankful and proud of the 47 lawyers who arrived at their offices the Monday after the NITA program with more skills, more confidence, and a new network of peers and friends.”
Likewise, many of the attendees had positive feedback about the program as well. “The skills and tools provided were invaluable, as was the feedback from the instructors. Most trial advocacy trainings focus on putting together the notebook; this training dug deeper and let me practice the skills I needed to be more confident,” stated one attendee.
Similarly, another attendee stated, “This course was incredibly challenging and very transformative. The faculty could not have been more accessible and informative. They really went the extra mile to work with each individual and they were so transparent about their work product.”
NITA looks forward to hosting our next legal services program on September 25th!
By guest blogger Virginia Judd, NITA Legal Editor
When I first joined NITA, I was working ¾-time as a legal editor and still practicing bankruptcy law. About a year into my NITA life, I had clients who had fallen behind on property taxes and were threatened with foreclosure. After I filed their Chapter 13 plan, the IRS filed a very large claim based on an unfiled tax return from many years ago. Of course this elderly couple no longer had the paperwork necessary to determine the actual tax owed, so I requested it from the IRS. When they didn’t respond, I filed a motion to dismiss their claim, figuring that it would at least get some action out of them.
The IRS never filed a reply, and so when the day of the hearing came, I stood before the judge, confirmed that I had properly served the government, and waited for a ruling.
“Well . . . ,” the judge said, “they are awfully busy over there. I think I’ll adjourn this hearing for a month.”
Before I started working for NITA, I would have accepted his ruling—he’s the judge, after all. But now, I’m a better advocate.
“Your Honor,” I said, heart in my throat. “If I missed a response deadline, you would not extend it for my clients. And I’m a solo practitioner. The IRS has thousands of employees. They should not be excused from the rules of this court.”
He looked at me, perplexed. “Are you asking me to rule on this motion today?” There was challenge in his voice, as if he thought my request astounding.
“I’m asking for a default judgment based on the IRS’s lack of response, yes.”
“You know they can just file another claim,” he said.
“Yes,” I answered, my trepidation diminishing. “And when they do, we will challenge it again. Right now I have an elderly couple who are trying to keep their home. Without the IRS claim, they can afford their plan and succeed. So we will deal with that claim when it arrives.”
Because of my NITA training, I stood up for my clients, and the judge ruled in their favor, dismissing the IRS claim. They are now two payments away from having their house free and clear of property tax liens.
And the IRS never did refile a claim.
For many, public service is a calling, and to look at Kate Wieking Wardrip’s legal experience is to know it’s true for her as well. From providing legal assistance to people living with HIV/AIDS and mental health disabilities to helping run a restraining order clinic for victims of domestic violence, preparing immigration paperwork with her clients, and drafting fair-housing policy recommendations for city planners, to her current work representing tenants fearful of eviction, it’s clear that working for the greater good means a lot to Kate. “I spent a summer in college at a non-profit in Fresno and had training in community development,” she said. “I became fascinated by a line of work that would let me work with people in crisis while also being smart and creative about strategies to build up the community. I get to use my head and my heart.” Kate’s work for Legal Services of Northern California qualified her for a public service scholarship through The NITA Foundation, which in turn was funded by a grant from the International Society of Barristers (ISOB). It’s been a year since she attended the Trial Skills program, so we wanted to see how the experience is working out for her and the clients she serves.
What is the nature of your work for Legal Services of Northern California?
I work in one of the regional offices as a staff attorney providing civil legal services to low-income people and seniors. Though I get to participate in the larger work of the office, most of my work is providing representation to tenants facing eviction and all other landlord-tenant issues.
How did you hear about NITA’s trial skills training?
Legal Services strongly recommends NITA’s trainings and most of my colleagues have attended at least one. I heard enough about the “learning by doing” program to want to attend even though I was repeatedly warned, “It’s not a vacation—you have to work!”
What kind of changes in your practice and work habits have you experienced since attending the NITA Trial Skills Program last year?
I feel much more confident in the courtroom. In particular, my examination of witnesses has improved dramatically. I got rid of bad habits, learned to ask better questions and through practicing at NITA, my flow is much better too. I knew I had improved when a coworker who was at trial with me to take notes (we have no court reporters in unlawful detainer court) told me he forgot to take notes because he was so caught up in my cross-examination.
What is the most important personal attribute you bring to your work?
I’m a good listener. I have learned that my clients are easier to work with and are better served if I give them an opportunity to share their story on their terms and validate the difficulty of their situation before moving into lawyer mode. I have bad news for my clients a lot of the time, and I find they receive it better and can to move forward if they feel heard.
What’s the best thing about living in Northern California?
The hiking! There are so many beautiful places to visit—the High Sierras, the rolling wine country, rugged coast, and redwood forests. Runner-up: the summer fruit.
If you had to quit your job to chase a dream, what would it be?
Hike the John Muir Trail or Pacific Crest Trail.
What’s the most recent show you’ve binge-watched?
I just finished the final season of Portlandia. Time for a visit!
What was your favorite band 10 years ago?
Emo/indie band Copeland. I was still in high school.
Got any phobias you’d like to break?
I’m afraid of conflict. My career as a lawyer is definitely making me work that one out.
What’s your favorite comfort food?
A little bowl of rice.
Lightning-round questions. Coffee or tea?
iPhone or Android?
Cats or dogs?
Sweet or salty?
Classic or modern?
And finally, what is your motto?
I’ve never thought to make one my own, but my husband says it’s “You do you, man.”
Enjoy this interview? Find more of our Asked and Answered interviews with NITA personalities here on The Legal Advocate.
For the second year in a row, NITA teamed up with ABA’s Children Immigration Law Academy (CILA) for a public service program. This three-day program focused on child advocacy and trained 52 attendees in Houston, TX. NITA Co-Program Directors Michelle Mendez and Tom Swett led the faculty team, teaching skills such as direct/cross examination, opening and closing statements, as well as issues in immigration trials.
According to Tom, “The ABA CILA immigration advocacy for children training provided 52 attorneys with the critical skills needed to represent their clients in asylum hearings…in addition, we discussed issues that often arise in immigration trials including how to use court interpreters properly to ensure the testimony is accurately given, how to deal with objections in a system that does not apply the federal rules of evidence, and how to address issues raised by the court during trial. This was NITA’s eighth immigration trial skills program offered since 2016, I hope there will be many more.”
Likewise, Director of ABA CILA, Dalia Castillo-Granados stated, “The Children’s Immigration Law Academy, a legal resource center in Texas that supports attorneys who represent children in their immigration cases, was grateful to partner with NITA for the second year in a row. The trial advocacy skills taught by the amazing program directors and NITA faculty will ensure that vulnerable children are effectively represented. Given the current climate in immigration law, it is more important than ever that advocates have the right skills when litigating children’s cases.”
NITA Program Director Henry Su and NITA Faculty Jeffrey Collins led a public service program, August 1 – 2, for the Civil Rights Corps in Washington, DC. This deposition skills program covered topics such as: how to take and defend a deposition, questioning techniques, information gathering and exhibits, theory testing, and witness preparation.
Attorney Charles Gerstein at Civil Rights Corps stated, “Our instructors were excellent and the program has been immensely helpful. I really, really appreciate NITA’s help.”
Likewise, Henry stated, “I am proud to be a part of NITA’s longstanding effort in making its training programs available and affordable to lawyers engaged in public service. They ensure that people in our communities who are least able to defend their rights and speak up for their causes have access to skilled and effective advocacy. It is incumbent on us, as NITA program directors and faculty members, to help them succeed.”
A huge thank you to Henry and Jeffrey for putting together this 2-day training program for the attorneys at Civil Rights Corps!
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.
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