The Legal Advocate

A blog brought to you by the national institute for trial advocacy

Category Archives: Executive Director Letters

July 2016 Executive Director’s Letter: What Can A Lawyer Do?

Posted On By

Lockwood_KarenThe corners and boundaries of civilian violence are changing. I am going to talk about just one incident to illustrate.

Last night in Dallas, amid a peaceful demonstration against police shootings (largely by white officers), there was a sniper. He was African-American. He shot the police. He shot towards and at the largely black group marching for justice, and at an important voice against urban violence – Black Lives Matter. His shots hit their mark.

They cannot hit our freedom to assemble, or our non-violent demonstrations and marches. They must not. Nor can they hit the peaceful movement calling for just and appropriate police action. What is more, this unique Dallas event showed how good relationships among police officers and African Americans can look in urban centers. Police-Black Citizens strife was not at play in the demonstration itself. Yes, it was the topic. No, there was little of no such rivalry or aggression in Dallas demonstration. Quite the opposite, the officers dressed without riot gear, used and benefited from good credibility and relationships they have worked hard to develop, and worked as humans and professionals to maximize the peaceful (and effective) event.

So, the police officers are to pay? Of course not.

This cross-cutting of race, violence, protest, and freedom of speech exemplify a cauldron of actions based on automatic bias in our country. (You can think immediately of other examples in the political realm.) This event is unique. With that come an opportunity and a responsibility.

The opportunity is for us to use this moment to discuss bias and assumptions nationally. Indeed, shortly after the event and in the time since I wrote this blog, social media and new outlets have raised some of those issues. But we can hold the moment for longer than a news flash. We must combat the thinking that some groups in our diverse and heterogeneous society — a cultural trait which is our national treasure – are more privileged than others to hold sway, exert power, and predominate simply as a matter of privilege. No one group has a “propensity” to violence or a uniform viewpoint of what is right.

The responsibility accrues from our special status as members of the bar. The Dallas shootings situation deserves our reflection as lawyers. But we must act too, in our own cultures and communities. We swore to uphold our Constitution and to preserve and pursue justice. What inspiration for action do we gain from the Dallas events?

In the same vein, as a clergyman, Reverend Jeff Hood shared his insights that morning after. He was there in Dallas. In fact, he was one of the organizers of the day’s successful demonstration. At the front of the march, he was one of the first to hear the sniper’s shooting. He told NPR:

“Ultimately, I spent those three hours talking to people, asking the question, ‘Why? Why? Why is this happening?’ The only answer I know now, and the only answer I knew then, was turn to love, we’ve got to turn to love, we’ve got to stop shooting.” (Rev. Jeff Hood, Dallas, July 8, 2016, reported in CNN report 7-8-2016

As lawyers, and as citizens with that special knowledge and duty, what is it that lawyers are trained for, and good at, that our national society needs? You know how to answer. Share your answer with me and with each other

If clergy citizens can call for love and find ways to encourage it, lawyer citizens can call for what? How about personally acting locally and constantly to call for –

  • Interpersonal respect that fuels open discussions, listening skills, and cohesion necessary to draw out our differences tolerably (and long enough to think, rather than react with violence).
  • Self-awareness of hidden presumptions (starting with ourselves as examples).
  • Accountability for one’s beliefs and generalized judgments (in us as well as our candidates).
  • Real conversation among disparate groups (locally; just start conversing).
  • Teaching the Constitution, why it works, and how we risk sacrificing it (for all ages, and community-based).

These are things we lawyers are good at. Are we using those talents as opportunities?

Karen_ShortSig

 

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

June 2016 Executive Director’s Letter

Posted On By

Lockwood_Karen“Everybody has the power for greatness, because greatness is determined by service.” –MLK

Leading NITA these past three and a half years, is a privilege of a lifetime. Why?

Why leave a fine-tuned 30-year career for parts unknown? Why leave a rich professional and personal life in DC, friends, law partners, farm and urban condo, children; why? Every friend asked that, back then. My pithy answer: “I love NITA.”

This morning, I deviated from my ritual skimming of the day’s Washington Post feeds, snared by news of Jimmy Page’s testimony: “Stairway to Heaven” was not, it turns out, composed at Bron-Yr-Aur. (Good story.) I could not resist clicking on the story’s concert videos of “Stairway.” (Wow; still wow, after all these years.)

It is that deviation that launched this reflection on service, greatness, and NITA. You see, after “Stairway,” the video that automatically loaded showed me Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey on stage. Their wide-ranging conversation drew me in. Three days ago, at the United State of Women conference, before an audience of 5000 women and men, they paused to discuss service, fame and greatness.

Now I admonish you: Resist the urge to save time by reading news summaries. Instead, watch the whole video. That conversation is not about sound bites on “men” (swagilicious though they may be), or “women” (wise though they can be). That fabric of their conversation gives everyone reasons to reflect.

Bringing me to my theme today: I left behind a “life well-planned” to take on NITA’s top position for the reasons that Martin Luther King taught, and “Mrs. O” and “Ms. O” reflected upon: “Everybody has the power for greatness, because anybody can serve.” It is not about fame. Simply put, I at NITA want to make you Great.

NITA is about service. Using Dr. King’s syllogism, NITA is this:

  • Through inconvenience we learn commitment.
  • Through commitment we perfect our service.
  • Through service we become great.
  • Through greatness we improve justice.

To you who do not yet know NITA well, you need to. Lawyers who passionately believe in how our courts and hearing rooms achieve justice through due process must . . .must . . . join up with NITA. We are a force.

To you who teach NITA every year, you know why your commitment means so much to you personally. You are great, every one of you. The lawyers in your programs see you work magic, bringing your witness and argument skills to them, and teaching them that they too can learn to do that. The drugs of gratitude and on-the-spot change, which NITA teachers enjoy in every program, feed our teaching service. Teaching for NITA builds our individual sense of greatness, and secures our understanding of NITA’s fame.

Please call me — NITA’s doors are wide open to new faculty who are great trial lawyers. Mid-career, aspiring, or already famous, if you have teaching talent it belongs with us.

“Greatness is determined by service.” I am here to serve our mission. Our faculty passionately teaches for the same reason. Your soul to will sing at the difference you can make for justice as a member of our NITA network.

Karen_ShortSig

 
 
 

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

May 2016 Executive Director’s Letter: Your Pro Bono Service–and NITA’s Too

Posted On By

Lockwood_Karen“Justice Sonia Sotomayor Urges Mandatory Pro Bono for All Lawyers.” The headline in the National Law Journal caught my eye immediately.

Yes.

NITA urges all lawyers to deeply give in pro bono service, supporting the success of our justice system. Our system means less as fewer people gain access to it. We all know that:

  • Many qualify for, but cannot receive, assistance from programs like Legal Services Corporation grant funding, and the thousands of public service law practices funded through hypo-low fees and donations.
  • Many others do not qualify because of higher income levels for funded or free legal services. And they go without a lawyer.
    A barrier grows higher as the middle-income population finds legal services to be out of reach given their earnings. (See my prior posting based on the book Capital.)

NITA too invests in our own style of “pro bono.” We do not practice law, and so we don’t use the phrase “pro bono” for our work. We use the phrase “public service”. NITA strategizes endlessly to include in our training the lawyers who themselves earn very little for the sake of serving the indigent or legal services clients. We want also to reach more lawyers, to extend farther than our resources make possible.
Those lawyers need access to the finest advocacy training that can be found. To NITA.

And thus, NITA is known not only as the “premier provider of learning-by-doing for the legal profession.” It is also the provider that serves the public service part of our mission by reaching across the legal profession and including lawyers in financial need who serve clients who receive pro bono legal advice.

You and NITA. As you serve your own pro bono obligations, remember that we serve ours also, at our own cost. We cover as much as we can of the costs. But we need help. We seek partners for particular programs to help us fund them, and without that partner the program may not go forward. We seek donations for these reasons.

Think of us as the premier provider with the deepest heart. Think of us as you find bar groups and others who can partner with us to help us in our public service. Think of us as the training group that focuses hard on the entire profession.

Do pro bono. Do NITA. We match.

Karen_ShortSig

 

 

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

March 2016 Executive Director’s Letter: Advice and Democracy

Posted On By

Lockwood_KarenAs ED, I am dedicated, as is NITA, to non-partisan activity and viewpoints. This letter is apolitical. It supports our stable, three-branch form of government.

I imagine that you, as am I, are meditating almost involuntarily on the following question:

“How did we get here?”

. . . to the Senate’s possible no-action in its constitutional role to “advise and consent” after a president nominates a new Supreme Court justice.

. . . to a presidential election cycle where the sparring seems abstract and “values” oriented, with not much of a nod at good governance or even the principles of a balanced, three-branch, democratic government.

. . . to the U.S. courts facing assumptions from the citizenry that judges vote their politics, whereas in truth judges and Justices apply the rule of law and guard the fact finding with rules of due process?

As I listen to the news, I reflexively return to two words. Education and Internet.

Education is good. We need more of it on the subject of how our democracy works. How else can citizens equip themselves to resist explosive campaigning about vague values du jour and exaggerated promises of surprising actions? A decade ago, Justices Breyer, Souter, and O’Connor mutually raised the alarm on the need for citizen education. They fanned out to urge lawyers to be ambassadors for the U.S. Constitution. The ABA joined them, too, with its citizen education initiatives in public schools. Lawyer groups did as well. But that education requires sustained energy, evaluation, and focus. Our national focus diverted to the recession, budgets tightened, and we swung our energy in different directions.

The Internet is a tool. But it tempts us to shop for opinions of others in places where the readers are already in agreement without a contrary voice. It teaches young learners to seek information in sound bites and summaries that do not require deep thinking. It creates seeming consensus without personal interaction by those who think they agree, and worse yet, without consideration of those who might disagree. So we create a national habit of yelling at those who do not consent to agree with our unexamined “values.” We argue to win, not to learn or to listen or to move forward.

My letter today is a call to the legal community to reach out and teach our communities about our democracy. To show that its three branches are given allocated responsibilities, each having checks and balances on the other two. If we allow each branch to work rather than halting its process, accusing it of imagined wrongs, or resorting to angry rhetoric, the government can be trusted to govern effectively.

How did we get here? I don’t really care.

How do we draw back from it? The lawyers across the state bars can make a difference. We have a few months left. Let’s do it.

Karen_ShortSig

 

 

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

February 2016 Executive Director’s Letter. Where In The World . . . and Why?

Posted On , , By

Lockwood_KarenLast weekend I attended an address by the President of the World Bank Group, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, to my law school in Washington DC. Regarding NITA’s international work, I posed the following question to him:

  • NITA is a national organization that serves justice in adversarial systems by teaching advocacy skills.
  • We have a small but impactful global involvement, limited by funding, where we teach advocacy skills to those who invite us in areas of the world where the justice system is in transformation. We choose by these criteria, believing that our work will count.
  • Unlike the distribution of malaria drugs that were proven effective in a poverty-stricken society in Haiti, we are not “delivering” a “product” for consumption. Rather we can be said to be exporting a system – one that we believe in, but ours nevertheless.
  • How would folks at the World Bank, and Dr. Kim with his experience in Haiti alongside Dr. Paul Farmer, suggest we think about our role, our instruction, and our boldness in supporting adversarial systems applied to non-western cultures?

Dr. Kim’s answer is piercing in its acknowledgement of widely diverse cultures, and inspiring in its recognition of the importance of our work. His points included these:

  • Proving, as Dr. Farmer has, that something which “cannot be done” in fact can be done, is critical. (See Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder)
  • The question remaining at the end of the day is how to use systems and governance in order to sustain such developments within a culture or nation.
  • The governance is what must create and retain systems, intact.
  • A huge part of development is going to happen in the private sector. That investment will not take root without people, governments, and systems that can be trusted.
  • “So, I would say, thank you so much for doing that and thank you so much for going out and pursuing governance” systems that bring justice.
  • No matter where we are we’ll see poor people who have smart phones and know how others live.
  • This hot line of transparency, from people taking pictures and transparent communications, will force the governments toward increasing services for people, attending to human rights, and putting systems in place.
  • Everyone has good laws; it is about implementation, and that is up to the government, a system, and a just system that people will believe in.

And that is why NITA works hard to do international work that is mission-driven, that helps nations to sustain their own justice systems, and that believes in the trustworthiness of due process gained adversarial justice systems.

I write because it is worth the moment to say this. Where do we go in the World, and Why we are there? Both have been answered when NITA goes overseas.

Karen_ShortSig

 

 

Karen M. Lockwood, Esq.
President and 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 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.
Feature Products
Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: