The Legal Advocate

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Category Archives: Executive Director Letters

January 2016 Executive Director’s Letter. Thinking Outside the Box

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Lockwood_KarenWhat Does It Take To Stand Out From The Rest?

Every lawyer asks this stand-out question – sometimes musing while brushing teeth, or maybe staying quiet when watching others talk about their stand-out moments.

Talent is one thing. Put it in a category with knowledge, skill, and diligence.

Lawyers are aware if they are good at what is necessary: good work product; conscientious ethical practices; friendly attitudes toward peers; courtesy to superiors; pitches to work with the powerful partner or supervisor; notes and calls to potential clients.

Yet these measures are “the price of admission.”

So what makes the lawyer a stand-out success?



Having insights,

Sharing insights,

Being different, remarkable,

Being courageous.

Being right.



How can lawyers work up to being “courageous” andright”? Strategic opportunities to develop courage are few when your days are filled with client matters, and the senior lawyers in your office are equally booked for billable work. Where can you find safe places to try to fail, and to fail without risk?

Coaching in the office? Time and the private practice business model permits very little time for that. At the beginning of my career in a preeminent large firm, I could go to the assigning lawyer, could tag along to a court appearance (the firm organized these tag-alongs for associate groups), and could ask the partner to “tag along” with me so that I had a coach as I ventured into my first depositions (expert depositions, at that). Our billable hour requirement — a new idea then — was 1750.

Coaching from an outsider? That works for business development processes. But it is impossible to find tag-along coaching, even if it were affordable.

No, you must look for places of low risk for high-risk experiments on yourself. Here are the requirements of that place: you can perform experimentally; you know your experiment will fail because you are courageous enough to try; the failure teaches you something new; and you will repeat the experiment until you succeed.

Since you are taking that level of risk, you must look for the place that gives you the best teaching and coaching you can get. No pain without gain!

I have that place. It is NITA – a huge experiment by you on yourself.

We are safe. We are masters at teaching advocacy skills. We are coaches. We demand you repeat. We show you what to change.

And you come away with courage that you will always carry with you.

If you don’t know why NITA programs are the answer, please call me. I have the passion, the experience and the history. More, I have your best interests foremost in mind.

Think . . . Never again musing only into your mirror. Never again hiding in silence while others seem to gain courage. Join in with the wise learning at NITA: “trying to fail in a new skill, with friends.”




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

December 2015 Executive Director’s Letter. NITA in 2016: Strong, Growing, Touching Needs In Even More Ways

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Lockwood_KarenIt has been a great year. Next year, 2016, you will see NITA rolling out what we have been building here at “home.” In our work over these three years, we involved program directors, trustees, authors and faculty leaders in creative collaboration aiming at our growth.

I sounded two themes when I began my service as NITA’s Executive Director. In 2013, I envisioned what our greatest strengths are, how to cultivate them to serve the legal practice, and where we may focus to continue adapting in the coming years.

The strengths? Content. It is “king.” Quality. We own it in our field.

Serving the legal practice? We want to know everything about today’s challenges for practitioners. NITA does more than teach. We study the decade’s changes in the structure of law practice, including market concentration producing large global firms or vierens, the need for mobility that individual lawyers feel, the evolution in client service expectations, legal fee increases, the consequent demand for ever higher productivity, the resulting puzzle of how new lawyers are to gain their experience, and more. We study the fact of a reduced ratio of cases reaching trial and the often ignored fact of expanding numbers of disputes filed in court, in agencies, or in arbitration. We observe the spill-over pressures on underserved clients, the importance of lawyers in medium and small practices. There is more to say . . . perhaps in a later ED Letter.

The coming years? “Change” itself is changing. Change occurs more rapidly, and creates new forces more often. We stay abreast of the changes. Our most important question is this: “What do lawyers in this cauldron of competitive change and noble service need?”

Our answer is this. Every lawyer — from the most senior, the mid-level partner, the new partner, the senior associate, the corporate counsel, the public’s lawyer and the public service one – needs (1) deeply familiar advocacy skills, (2) that are freshened before calling upon them, (3) that are relevant to their practice now and as it changes. They need this for two reasons: first, their individual stature and mobility; second, their ability to “nail it” rather than being stale when entering a trial or hearing. They need it for their client. And they need it for their career.

Content: we have worked with the program directors and other NITA faculty leaders and authors to identify program topics that you need, always focusing on advocacy skills.

Quality: we have focused on the excellence that we have, the excellence that we demand of our faculty, and the excellence that we groom and keep fresh.

Watch us in 2016. Better yet, join us in 2016. Whether you are a lawyer wanting to freshen your skills or up your game, whether you are a client that is as passionate as we are about making your lawyers the best, or whether you are an accomplished trial lawyer who would like to try your hand at teaching with NITA, call me.




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

November 2015 Executive Director’s Letter: Taking Stock

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Lockwood_KarenDear Friends,

Thanksgiving, which you and I will prepare for over this weekend, is the time when my thoughts turn to my own year-end gratitude and the reflection of taking stock. I imagine you are the same.

What do you take stock of? Here are some of my zones of interest:

  • Accomplishing our mission at NITA
  • Accomplishing my goals—within my profession, and with my family and friends
  • Balancing my net effect on the larger world, in ideas, commitment, contributions
  • Oh yes, and then there is balancing for ending the tax year, for the full use of flexible spending accounts, for engagement with friends, and for the hours I devoted to exercise versus the hours slipping away to . . . well, to whatever

In this time, I think about the organizations that I support with my talent and tribute.

When you take stock of your donations of talent and tribute, please think of NITA. NITA remains vibrant and impactful—zero-balance-budget and all—because of these two types of donations. When you attend NITA programs, you are taught through the volunteered talent of terrific faculty members. When you attend NITA on a scholarship, or in a public service program, you are learning because of dollars contributed to us to make it possible for us to support you.

Whether you usually contribute talent or tribute, I hope you will place NITA at the top of you giving list in 2015. We need your dollars in order to carry our missions forward.

And that you place us at the top of your list for 2016—start planning your participation in NITA now!

Please call me if you would like to talk. You will enjoy reading through The NITA Foundation section of our website for more information on the purposes of our funds. You can also catch up on what The NITA Foundation is doing by reading the latest edition of it’s newsletter, Giving Voice. Please let us know if you wish to have more information. I look forward to talking to you.

Please join those who give loyally every year. I look forward to writing my personal thank-you letter to you.

Join us. We are growing. We make a difference. NITA needs you in order to continue our organization’s huge contribution of talent and tribute.




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

October 2015 Executive Director’s Letter: Autumn Acknowledgements – NITA’s Staff Rocks!

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Lockwood_KarenNITA’s staff is stupendous. Let me share some of the ways.

Every person at NITA passionately owns our mission. They rejoice when participant praise comes in. They laugh and high-five when a program enrollment goes off the charts. They read, just as you do, Vanessa’s emails announcing new case files and books. They always say they love working for NITA because it is such important work.

Every person at NITA is really busy. They are focused on dual rivers of responsibility.

  • One river carries out tightly designed processes flowing across 200 programs , a live recording studio, fresh publications timely created, and a tight budget. In this river, staff weaves countless detailed elements, using best practices, that communicate NITA’s offerings and its value to the marketplaces we touch.
  • The second river is one you do not see from the outside. But it is equally important. It is constant innovation and realignment of how we do our work. The staff is ever restless to get more done faster, better, and with greater impact. They bring to that restlessness both creativity and NITA-love.

I want to spend a minute on the second river. It has brought you the benefits of an integrated marketing practice that continues to build on data we own. It engages with you as faculty to discern and create new content that is right for today’s market. It envisions how we can improve the way we organize the staff’s work teams. You will learn more about new Program Specialists we have welcomed recently, filling vacancies from recent departures of great folks who moved on up their career path. You will learn as 2016 opens about an important initiative to integrate sales across all program types, and to build a team that can leverage the improved marketing data and the customer relationships we groom.

With all of that, here is the most impressive thing.

Our staff members know and completely believe that NITA is You.

  • You, our program directors and faculty.
  • You, our program participants who bond with faculty in the programs, who strain and sweat to perform at levels beyond your expectation.
  • You, our law schools and professors who understand experiential learning; who know that NITA is unique in the way we integrate learning to include confidence, experimentation, and quality.

Please remember today and every day to thank our folks for their service. Facilitate their work in helping you. Team with them as we strive together to place NITA’s name strongly in every region of the US and before every lawyer who should join us.

Thanks to every one of you.



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

September 2015 Executive Director’s Letter: Jurors Bring Implicit Biases With Them. Can They Be Fair?

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Lockwood_KarenI have questions about how to rethink empanelling juries in order to take account of new brain research. Over the last decade, brain research has established the immutable presence of “implicit bias” in every human brain on earth. Those biases influence our behaviors and judgments in ways that are unrecognizable to the person who owns the brain.

Without this research, we have used age-old techniques to empanel a jury. We question each juror about the ability to judge “fairly” (without bias). Yet a truthful answer to that commitment question is impossible as to implicit biases. By definition the juror does not recognize what biases are harbored in his brain.

Explicit bias in jurors is a topic well known to trial lawyers. We watch for it, and use peremptories. As to their invisible and real “attitudes,” we do what we can to discern what attitude they will likely have to our fact situation, our theory of the case, and our cast of players at trial. But what latitude do we have to address implicit bias? What latitude could we use if we had it?

We use little latitude for implicit bias. Typically we use our own presumptions about what observable characteristics and background to infer potential attitudes that a juror would bring to the case. What is the scope of the “observable” characteristics? It includes the most skeletal information about occupation, the observable individual characteristics such as color of skin, presumed ethnicity, and presented gender. And our own human brains (also necessarily incorporating our experiences as implicit biases) lack facts to use as we seek to make good and fair judgments about a juror.

Whether we have more latitude is untested, and unanswered.

Clearly this bears new thinking.

  • Can counsel use the voir dire process to discern implicit biases based on stereotypes of race, gender, national origin, LGBT differences, and more? How?
  • During trial, how can counsel recognize moments when implicit bias lurks, and use witness examination, and argument to negate the bad effects of implicit bias?

On the first question, lawyers and judges on our NITA Bias in the Courtroom panels this year have coalesced around one basic technique that is both procedurally possible, and potentially helpful if it has any effect at all. That technique is this: the judge can caution the jury, in the preliminary instructions before opening statements, to watch for and recognize their own assumptions and stereotypes in the course of listening to witness testimony. Beyond that, lawyers have to groom their own powers of perceiving the moments where implicit bias may exist, and find a way to alert the juror that such biases may influence his perceptions without his awareness.

On the second question, we are largely unpracticed at using voir dire to alert jurors to the inevitable existence of implicit bias. Further, alerting them in theory to the existence of implicit bias cannot be enough. The progress to be made is in developing techniques to ask for the jury’s commitment. To make use of the principle that when a person of good will recognizes that he is reacting from an implicit bias, he would more likely self-correct. Self-correction means that the implicit bias ends up not influencing his behavior.

I invite you to share your ideas on the following question: “In trials, when you know that implicit bias is likely to be cued, how can use opening, witness examination, closing, and instructions toward negating the power of implicit bias?”




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.
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