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Category Archives: Executive Director Letters

March 2014 Executive Director’s Letter: NITA’s First Quarter 2014: Forward, Grow!

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Lockwood_KarenIn my monthly letters this year, I have reflected on substantive topics of interest. In February:  what does it feel like to be a NITA alum, not thinking only of the courtroom, but rather thinking of your image — in your city or region or practice, among your peers or role models, to your junior admirers?  In January:  what does “experiential learning” mean, and does it best fit after actual practice experience?  And in December, I posed these and other topics that provide the essential inspirations of NITA. 

Today, I report rather than reflect. Springing from my December points of inspiration, here are a few of our accomplishments during the first quarter of 2014.

  • Our founders. At our 2014 Annual Program Directors’ meeting in January, each PD was asked to narrate the first time they had a conversation about NITA. Their individual answers wove a web of dedication and community. Each had been personally recognized and handed on to NITA by a faculty member or founder, from which they grew into the NITA community. As more stories were added, the reverence in the room grew like a vision. The accomplishment? — A consolidated push to engage our entire network in searching for and handing forward the talent and potential talent that lives around us in all of our states. We need your to help find these lawyers who need to know NITA. Call your program director with your referrals. Call NITA too. They deserve to have you hand them the vision and benefit of NITA. We have energized the network: you are a vital part of it.
  • Our faculty. As new program directors gradually succeed to those who are ready to pass that torch, we welcome their dedication, talent, and new ideas. The NITA way of grooming the best trial skills faculty in the nation is to take what we have – the best – and keep it tip-top through both mutual efforts to improve individual teaching “in the moment,” and targeted efforts to add a few new faculty members each year. Emerging from this rigor of maintaining excellent teaching, sharing lecture and leadership roles, and coaching each other, future program directors emerge and will eventually lead the program with continuity and excellence. The accomplishment? — A concrete focus on recognizing that NITA in its next 40 years must and will continue to provide the best faculty in the field, faculty that are sharp, experienced, up-to-date, and innovative. NITA – bigger than each of us, made up of all of us.
  • Public service: As I mentioned in December, times change, and we change with it. Times in the economy have generated troubled times in serving justice where there are few means. Our founders’ vision of improving justice through the art of advocacy means that all of the advocates need to be brought to the table – those who represent paying clients and also those who represent clients without means or access to justice. Those who prosecute and those who defend. Everyone who stands up to oppose the other in our advocacy system of justice. The accomplishment? – We are growing The NITA Foundation by increasing its capacity to fund not only scholarships but also public service programs aimed at the lawyers who represent the underserved. We want to – we need to — find more ways to extend our work to these underserved lawyers. In 2014 you will see us test your capacity to help us reach donors:
    • Focusing on specific programs like the Child Advocacy program at Hofstra in late spring as moments when we must fund from our public service program funds and replenish those funds.
    • Welcoming gifts to the Annual Fund, which allow us flexibility to target an additional scholarship or additional support needed to run a public service program.
    • Special events! We are working on an exciting new type of event in a major city in October, an event that is both entertaining and essential to serving justice the NITA way. Watch for news of this; join our supporters of justice when we reach out to you.

As a zero-based budget organization, we cannot live beyond our means.  Our public service budget for 2014 is 17% higher than the donations received in 2013 – already a challenge. More to the point, we must set our 2015 budget another 50% higher than that.  We will do so if you show us now that we can budget for that higher capacity next year.  Our public service depends on it, in this economy.

In short, we have a strong performance in the first quarter. We have a bigger-than-ever financial need for public service work. And we have built and are already walking concrete paths to expand our enrollments through your networking, continue grooming the best trial advocacy faculties in the nation, and support justice broadly by reaching all lawyers.

I hope you will write to me, and comment on our blog where my ED letters are posted.



Karen M. Lockwood, Esq.
President & Executive Director
National Institute for Trial Advocacy

February 2014 Executive Director’s Letter: NITA Alums Share Something Special

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Lockwood_KarenA lawyer at a large firm in Chicago snapped his attention from drafting at his desk to a vague spot on the wall opposite. His mind raced around that same loop: his trial—the first one he would first chair—was only two months off. No, he had not neglected his trial prep. His team was ready with proposed trial exhibits, the graphics for the economic expert were in final design, the handful of dispositive motions to narrow the issues would be argued in a month. His team was poised to then submit written motions in limine. The office preparation matched the timeline.

He looked up because, for the third time, he could not control his respiration rate as he contemplated delivering the opening. He could not get a bead on the approach to cross for three witnesses. And he just knew he would lag in confidence as he stood in the well of the courtroom. He had little direct trial experience—his advocacy work had been in motion hearings, trial-type administrative hearings, and as second chair taking a trial witness or two as assigned. And he felt rusty. “Well,” he said, “there has to be a first time.”

NITA alums share the assurance that they already met their “first time.” They confronted and conquered these same fears earlier, along with other NITA learners, when a client’s matter was not at risk, and when plenty of seasoned trial faculty were attentive with critiques, coaching, and support focused on each person. Whatever the new trial challenges they will meet, they will never again suffer the lead-foot, memory-erasing loss of confidence about guiding the trial and performing their advocacy.

What Else Alums Share
NITA Alums share more, too. When they look across the courtroom, they recognize other lawyers to be advocates who also learned trial skills at NITA.

More than this, they share a fondness for the memory of that NITA week even ten years later. They know that a colleague who took the NITA trial program five years earlier feels the same way. After whatever program, whenever performed, the alum understands its transformative power. And the alum knows that the other NITA alum across the courtroom feel the same way.

Now to my “special” point. NITA alums want to tell about their experience. They want to pass the secret on and invite someone they think is special to do NITA.

And so I conclude with my news: NITA Program Directors in programs around the country gather annually to plan and share their insights. This year, they are reaching out within their regions, and asking you to reach out too, to lawyers who should attend NITA now.

  • Spreading the word means taking someone by the hand who is ready for this transformation, and asking them to sign up. You mean a lot to that person, and your NITA connection is special.
  • Spreading the word means taking what you want to tell about your experience and actually sharing it.
  • Spreading the word means making connections with other alums and remembering about your NITA experiences.

Sure, the Program Director in your area is the person who led the entire program as “dean,” as top coach, as master demonstrator, as chief cheerleader—as organizing advocate for your learning. But your faculty feels as strongly. And your colleagues in the program do. More than that—you know others who have done NITA but you have never introduced the conversation. Ask them! Find them! And when you find people who have not had the NITA experience, tell them about yours and the difference it made.

NITA alum share something special. I am asking you to share it when you speak with others. Invite them in. The stronger they are, the more they gain from NITA. We welcome all—the most inclusive “tribe” in America.




Karen M. Lockwood, Esq.
President & Executive Director
National Institute for Trial Advocacy

January 2014 Executive Director’s Letter: Applied Learning—at School; Experience and Learn—on Career Paths

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We at NITA have been thinking hard about educating the trial lawyer and oral advocate. Law schools are focusing hard on teaching the student enough to be “ready to go” upon graduation. My question today is this:  “ready to go” . . . do what?

I thought hard about that question when I was teaching law school, too. A small seminar-style enrollment allowed me to design a class that suits the Academy—challenging students to read a lot, think hard, be able to discuss the principles, and reinforce this learning through quickly paced, unforgiving, but delightful class discussion amid lecturing. Their final paper—their approved topic, original research, a strong issue about the evolution of ADR, and excellent writing—cinched the academic challenge of leading them to master the legal substance of ADR and the principles of its practice. My students were receiving credit for a course in Alternative Dispute Resolution.  I targeted delivery of deep remembered learning, and they got it done. Fine.

My remaining challenge was to work application of those lessons into the course syllabus. As the Academy and the ABA recognize in the ongoing certification discussions, the smart law school provides students the chance to apply the course material in very class, even contracts.  Clearly, applying the learned principles of law and practice deepens both the understanding of the reasons behind the legal principles and how hard it is to deliver just results.  (If done within every course, it also raises the stakes on the student’s study of the course material to begin with.)  For my class, the puzzle was how to give them that chance to apply their “substance + process” learning and feel the processes at work. My answer? To pause after concluding the study of each ADR type (for us, arbitration, mediation, negotiation) and devote one entire class week to prepare and conduct a moot exercise. I more than filled their plate for a three-credit course: they worked really hard; they “got” the law and its reasons and processes.

Let us take an unpolarized hard look at what the question is around the current debates on “experiential learning,” the law school’s accreditation requirements, and every law school’s marketplace desire to declare its graduates “ready to go.”

We seem to suffer from a misnomer. “Applied learning” is the better term. Students arrive with no client/matter experience. They need chances to apply what they learn in each class subject, getting a feel for helping a client in that substantive area, and deepening their grasp of the why’s and wherefore’s of The Law.  By analogy, undergraduates are lucky to be supported with a unified program of learning, application, externships, and pre-career guidance and development.

Except for clinics in states where law students may appear in court on behalf of clients, however, this learning is different from experience. Experience comes from doing it for the stakes. Doing it to win for a client. Doing it case after case, year after year. We as a profession cannot shoe-horn that into the law school environment. The more you actually do it, the more experience you accumulate. The more you accumulate, the more you appreciate your mentors. (This is why we call our client work “practice”!) And, in today’s fast-paced and competitive practice environment, the more you seek mentors, the more you wish you could pause and deepen you mastery without having a client depending on you for an outcome. Actual experience, assuming you already have studied and mastered the requisite law curriculum, provides the solid framework on which to hang new lessons and better skills.

Thus, “experiential learning” is a misnomer for the problems we are trying to solve at the law school level. What we are talking about is applied learning for law students. Applied learning is the real issue in the ongoing the debates about ABA accreditation standards, a two- or three-year law school foundation, and defining the scope of the legal curriculum so that a graduate is “ready to go” start working for clients.  I take no position on the accreditation debates. I simply hypothesize that application of substance + process should occur in every law school course, with support from centers that coordinate and assure the students are getting their chance to apply.

We treasure and invest in our NITA contribution to the Academy.  Our intense work at NITA is to provide a real-life experience, for experienced practitioners who have more under their belt than law students, where they can return to solid and safe learning-by-doing. Repeatedly, as their experience lengthens.

Apply it in law school—try it on.  Experience it through, well, experience—and periodically seek to learn better ways in safe places.



December 2013 Executive Director’s Letter: Why Do We Do What We Do?

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Lockwood_KarenDo you save any quiet moments at year-end to contemplate?

  • What inspires you to do the things you do, all year?
  • Does it make a difference to do them in the way you do?
  • Can you find better ways to do them, more effectively?
  • What if . . . . ?

My topic does not address broad, cosmic, “what do I want to do with my life” questions. This is not about any law versus lifestyle debate. (Indeed, Continue reading

November 2013 Executive Director’s Letter: Legal Writing And the Performing Advocate

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Lockwood_KarenBefore you read further, answer this question:  What is the definition of legal writing?  (Take your time.)

Perhaps you defined it; if you did, your answer likely differs from that of our other readers.  Or perhaps you gave my usual response: “B-hah! There is no such thing.”

Wikipedia disagrees.  An entire article characterizes “legal writing.” It states, “many practicing lawyers, busy as they are with deadlines and heavy workloads, often resort to a template-based, outdated, hyperformal writing style . . . . This is understandable, but it sometimes unfortunately perpetuates an unnecessarily formal legal writing style.” (Wikipedia, “Legal Writing” (Nov. 15, 2013).)

Brian Garner disagrees too, really.  His seminal book title centers on that term:  Legal Writing in Plain English.  Lawyers do, after all, write about the application of law to life. Bryan’s prescription for Plain English starts with thinking, being sure of what points to make. Using fifty sets of exercises, Garner progresses from how to decide the point to be made, through creating a logical sequence of supporting thoughts, to disciplines for organization and efficient expression. (I highly recommend Garner’s teachings on writing by lawyers.)

Why, then, would I disdain the concept of “legal writing”? Because to me it connotes an imagined virtue in learning to write undisciplined, arcane, and dense prose.  Take away that assumption, however, and I readily admit that most of us suffer from relaxing into so-called legal writing. It is laden with prepositions, dependent clauses, reflexive verb phrases, and afterthoughts.  Our writing can resemble a boxwood shrub left unpruned for years—branches projecting at random, without direction or purpose, on which grow other undisciplined branches with minds of their own. They catch your clothes on your way by.  A witty example:

Insofar as manifestations of functional deficiencies are agreed by any and all concerned parties to be imperceivable, and are so stipulated, it is incumbent upon said heretofore mentioned parties to exercise the deferment of otherwise pertinent maintenance procedures.

In plain words:  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Why should the oral advocate care? Ironically, Garner elevates spoken advocacy to a higher position. Among Garner’s fifty exercises is number 20:  “Make everything you write speakable.”  While his exercises on Rule 20 address written expression, Rule 20 invites careful scrutiny by every courtroom lawyer.

What, after all, is admirable about “speakable” expression?  Saying it out loud renders it no more speakable than any loosely conceived thought, or boxwood bundle of words. Our rule 20 for trial lawyers must be, “Make everything you say speakable.”  That is, make it understandable in the milliseconds it takes to listen to it as it passes you by.

So, the question I posed above is worth extended reflection. If we cannot personally distinguish the effective character and purpose of legal writing, we surely will suffer as trial lawyers in our legal speaking.

Rather than “B-hah,” take time to consider carefully your definition of legal speaking. Consult Garner. Hear yourself. In NITA trial and deposition programs, our students speak all day. On each try, they learn how a more simple point, a better logical backbone, a more direct expression, and non-technical language immediately improve their performance.

“Legal speaking for the performing advocate”—worthy of unending practice and critique.

Best wishes to you all for a glorious Thanksgiving,



Karen M. Lockwood, Esq.
President & Executive Director
National Institute for Trial Advocacy

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 Goal is 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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