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Category Archives: Executive Director Letters

October 2017 Executive Director’s Letter: NITA Executive Director Transition

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Lockwood_KarenThe Essence of Continuity and Innovation. . .

Here comes December 1! Upon my retirement on that day, Wendy McCormack steps up to become the Executive Director.

I am so proud of her. I am so proud of NITA’s Board. And I am thrilled to know that NITA grows forward when we have taken succession planning seriously.

Why “Succession Planning” when we are a non-profit of dedicated volunteers?

NITA is our nation-wide network of trial lawyers, judges, and professors, joined at the heart by our passion for excellent trial advocacy. We constantly seek to widen our network. The program faculties volunteer their days to teach bespoke learn-by-doing programs. So what’s with succession?

The answer lies in the anchors under NITA’s success. These five things drive our work at Boulder’s headquarters.

  • Our understanding of what our mission is. Articulating that.
  • Our engagement of more trial lawyers and law students across the nation. Building the avenues to reach them.
  • Our insights into what lawyers want. Naming tomorrow’s needs in light of changes in how trials happen and how lawyers work.
  • Our service to all sectors of practice. Reaching the mid-size practice, engaging the small/solo, including the government practices, activating our dedication to public service, advancing with the largest practices.
  • Our faculty training. We steadily welcome superb junior faculty into our teaching tribe, and constantly seek the most recognized trial advocates to teach with us too. In every region, we do this.
  • Our innovating, planning, and administering all of NITA’s operations plus the NITA Foundation. We run a lean process that brings in NITA’s many programs and up-to-date publication collection, on-time, under budget, and national in reach. This is excruciatingly detailed work, and it is well-designed to be efficient and goal-oriented. The smart ED needs to understand the process.

These things must be curated, grown, and managed year-in and year-out.

Welcoming our next Executive Director

So, too, the staff’s work must be coupled with the hearts and hands of the volunteer-based faculty. The Executive Director oversees all of this, creating strategies and policies that assure both our lofty goals, our comradery, and our operational efficiency. The job is both heady and concrete.

Because I and the staff have practiced succession planning as a regular part of our work, Wendy’s leadership over the coming years promises sharp focus on continued strategies toward growth and innovation. She has been at the table as we have evolved strategies. She possesses both the leadership qualities and the depth of knowledge on how NITA gets the work done every day. This linkage is a powerful force!

Wendy’s talents and training in design, engagement, imagination, leadership, and friendships are some of the things she brings as ED. I am excited to see what strides NITA will make in the coming years. Volunteering and responding to the call is our responsibility as members of “the tribe.” We are one. I know that each of us will give her our best support – and answer her call to action when we know that she counts on great NITA volunteers. I will.

Please join me in congratulating Wendy, as she builds a great 2018 and plans for NITA’s continued success and growth. And thank you for all of your support during this transition.
I will save my personal “thank you’s” for last ED Letter in November.




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

August 2017 Executive Director’s Letter: Speaking of Women . . .

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Lockwood_KarenThis is a letter of fact, history, and call-to-action.

We have spoken of women before . . .

In 2005-06, I served as President of the Women’s Bar Association of DC, the oldest continuous women’s bar in the US. We courageously led an “Initiative” on women in the law. The title was carefully chosen to achieve our goal, and it connotes volumes:

  • Men are a critical part of the will to act to advance women in the law.
  • Talk alone is not productive, but discourse is a precondition to the will to act.
  • The Profession must commit to take the initiative if we are to change.
  • Competition to achieve agreed goals keeps men and women lawyers alike focused on the task.
  • Good will between advocates and doubters is essential to the discourse required to attack the factors at play – social “norms,” bias that ignores and sustains “norms,” stereotypes that disclose biases, blindness to factors at play, lazy thinking, unexamined business practices, and – ultimately — business systems and structures that perpetuate all of this in the profession.

The entire DC legal community stepped up to the Initiative – 220 men and women – from all sectors of practice. We got them to exchange problems and diagnose causes over 16 hours of structured dialogue. We took it in stages — reducing ignorance, talking frankly, examining current measures to advance women, and admitting that those measures are not enough. Inclusive community discussions would be of even greater value today than in 2005.

Then we wrote up a host of measures to improve the advancement and retention of women in the law. What we wrote was what the DC legal community discerned, deplored, and developed in those 16 hours. You should read it. WBA-DC Initiative Report 2006. (See also WBA-DC reports 2007-10.) What was left is the doing.

I then placed with the New York Times – with great luck and the wonderful journalist Tim O’Brien – the framework for what became the Times’ extensive Sunday Lead Feature article on this subject – page one, above the centerfold. Up The Down Staircase (NYT Mar 19, 2006). I referred him to key leaders to interview, he found more, and the Times sent photographers around to shoot us on location. It was a big thing. It was important. And Tim O’Brien got it right.

Tim asked me this important question during the series of calls we had (to paraphrase): “So the profession of law, charged with doing justice and upholding the laws against discrimination, is discriminating? ” My answer: “No. Law firms are way beyond discrimination — this is about advancement and retention. Problems with advancement and retention are grounded in biases, not discrimination.” This is bigger, squishier, and harder to attack. This is about changing how the profession grows and matures its future leaders – how it gains the will to keep the 50% of law grads who are women, a population bleeding out the talent base when they quit. And of course the obstacles are compounded for women of color and others who don’t seem to look like the classic male U.S. lawyer of the past.

I set my alarm for 5 am that Sunday to hit the drug store for my copy of the Sunday Times. We had set a path forward for open dialogue and productive change – and the nation knew now.

We are repeating ourselves still . . .

Eleven years later, are we still arguing about this?

NITA takes action through even-handed coaching of every lawyer who wishes to improve trial skills. We routinely have many women along with men in our trial advocacy sessions. We see no distinction between the genders in the trial skills they bring with them, or the great gains they make with us. They exhibit ambitious, use drive, and blossom under the individual attention and coaching at NITA.

But courtrooms remain skewed. In the August 8 New York Times Op-Ed piece, Females Can Talk, Too, recently retired Judge Shira K. Scheindlin (SDNY) related a courtroom scene, still so common, of a lead trial lawyer (most often male) turning to his co-counsel (a woman lawyer) to learn how to answer the judge’s question. She knows the case and its nuances. The Judge’s judicial group recently tallied how many New York courtroom appearances in a 4-month period featured women as the primary speaker in open court. In the 2800 court appearances noted, only 20% of those for cases between private parties featured women lawyers. Among all the cases (thus including public sector and public interest practices), only 25% were led by women. See also this Law360 follow-up article.

The readers’ comments to Judge Scheindlin’s piece included many reflecting a rush to judgment – even intemperate — with facile “values”-based assertions. Among others, those that attack the talent and capabilities of women as a gender to practice trial law are wrong, as I have said above. Those that ponder the societal pressures on family raise a real issue that our DC Initiative pondered too; and yet the balance between satisfaction at one’s career weighed against the satisfaction at having singular childcare responsibilities is often unfairly skewed because of negative stereotypes and forestalled opportunities at work. See The Difference Difference Makes (Deborah L. Rhode for the ABA 2003). There is no reason why females as opposed to males should be predominantly downsizing their career ambition – including women trial lawyers.

The call to action . . .

Let’s stop doubting . We have lot of work already written on diversity in the law and women’s advancement. I have cited just some of the older articles in this post in order to make that point – this is not new knowledge.

Let’s stop attacking the messengers. Learn, share, integrate it into your reality, pass it on, and continuously pursue new better ways.

In offices and bar groups around the country, take up the problem of how the profession represses our promise, capacity, reach and influence by losing diverse talent.

Recognize that this will take time and real work. Our efforts must not cease if numbers don’t seem to change in a New York minute (or to modernize it, in an Online essay). Rather, we must work together to discern the implicit bias, resist its influence, and uproot its patterns, firm-by-firm.

Everyone likes a list; here is my start —

  • Stereotypes are relatively easy to list out. Make lists with your practice colleagues.
  • Implicit biases underlie those stereotypes. Fereet them out through discussion with your practice colleagues; list them.
  • Jealously attack the business systems and accidental processes in your law office – all of them. They threaten to rob you of your best intentions.
  • Talk about this individually to every one of the lawyers you work with. Talk objectively and listen sharply, regardless of your secret impression of them.
  • Decide what initiative to take this year.
  • Measure and report – to all of the lawyers in your office.
  • Decide what initiative to take next year.
  • Ditto.
  • Keep it up. (Embedding change to conquer bias takes time.)
  • Get your corporate client’s help. Ask for it.

If you have trouble imagining initiatives, let me know. For example, put women in court no matter how much you yearn to stand up yourself. Be there with her – so she too has someone to consult during her argument and to pull her documents. So she can emerge proud that she did well AND that you saw her do so!

While you are taking that course of action —

  • Google past articles and sources on implicit bias, women in the law, and racial and ethnic diversity in the law. Look in journals like Harvard Business Review, and bar association reports. Buy the numerous superb concise books written by the women lawyers who consult in this field. Our armed services are quite good at this, and they share through the internet. Seek out the theory and the research; go deeper than the popular literature.
  • Read it all.
  • Demand open and critical thinking of yourself.
  • Discuss, opening dialogue in your office, your city, and beyond.

Your implicit biases are your own personal set, and you won’t ever be rid of them. But you can learn to recognize the “bias moments” that seem to cue a harmful bias in you. If you can see that, you can refuse to be sullied by it. I know; I work every day to find and counteract mine.

Tell me what you are doing. This is core to NITA’s mission to extend justice to all populations, through training of a profession across all sectors. By teaching the art of advocacy to every type of advocate.




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

July 2017 Executive Director’s Letter: Humanity, Lawyering, The Best Kinds of Wishes

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Lockwood_KarenEven with all the judicial words carefully chosen and deeply scrutinized for their wisdom in written opinions, the flags marking the character of any lawyer or judge are the ones said outside crafted rulings and precedential cases. This is not a political statement – it is one of humanity.

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.’s recent reflection illustrates the impact of this humanity. Each lawyer, whether or not the leading Justice in the land, sets the object and tone of true justice by the words and action expressed publicly. If those words are true as the North Star and delivered with some art, they will make a difference every day in your communities, offices, and courts.

Here, then, are the markings of the ideal advocates. This is the passage from Justice Roberts’ commencement speech to his son’s school of middle-years boys.

“From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either … I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.” Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr., June 3, 2017.

I too hope for these blessings of adversity for every lawyer and would-be lawyer. I count on them in every NITA attendee, and honor the ability of lawyers to rise above personal hardship and to learn. I honor their dedication to remembering, long after they can claim “success,” that feeling of struggling.

Speaking of struggling, the residents across the nation who seek consistent safety, shelter, and the “luck” of a predictable life know more about compassion than most of us will ever learn. In The Legal Advocate’s recent blogposts, you have read about some of the public service programs NITA presents, with at significant investment of its own resources. We thrill to serve these advocates who push justice forward against many odds.

And so, you may ask, in my ED Letters introducing our staff (January-June 2017), why have I not mentioned the “public service staff.” Simple — “They are Us.” We all serve NITA’s public service mission alongside our regular programs to bring the best NITA program-learning to every advocate who wishes to enroll. A public service program is no different in its quality of learning. But it is an extra measure. We are proud. We thrill to offer it. And we are thankful every day that we can do so, thanks to you.

Have a reflective and inspiring summer’s pause!




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

June 2017 Executive Director’s Letter: Now You Know Us All . . . NITA “Central” Loves Working For You

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From January through April, I featured one staff department in each monthly post. This month rounds out those features. – and then draws back to see the assembled staff, putting grateful and humble words on the remarkable engine that these individuals become as we work together for you.

The NITA people featured this month are the ones who support all of the others you have met to date. The Business Services and Administration groups support every person in Programs, Publications, Sales & Marketing, and Finance. We also feature Claire Tompkins, who arrived after we featured her group in January.

There’s that pesky word, “Administration.” Don’t be fooled. These two groups are coaches, advocates, and communicators who contribute to the tone for our staff’s tremendous spirit of collaboration and quality. Said another way, these folks will make copies, answer a quick question, jump up to help with the sound system, or entertain and calm concerns, for all of our staff members and faculty. They lead by intelligence and strategic insight. They also lead with humility by modeling teamwork in their own behaviors. I salute these folks for all three of those reasons. Thanks to them and to all the staff, we remain focused on our corporate goals at the same time that our work is distributed among us. Everyone can lead; good ideas arise from every quarter; and we have each other’s backs — all regardless of rank.

This makes NITA “Central” a strong center of gravity for NITA’s nationwide teaching, bespoke published and broadcast content, and spontaneous creativity. You do it; we give you tools and back you up.
Please meet them below, in their own words.

Anna Gallegos

Business Support
Business support can be described as a jack of all trades. Being the first face people see at our headquarters, as well as the first voice they hear over the phone, I am able to subconsciously adapt to the subject, and thus I represent NITA on many different levels.

NITA is always growing and adapting to new technology, so it’s exciting to see how our methods drawn from or founders still mesh with new ideas. I love being able to connect with lawyers and to see firsthand how our programs make a difference in so many lives.  

Wendy McCormack

Associate Executive Director, Operations
I keep the trains moving, operationally on a day-to-day basis and also strategically look at short-term and long-term goals and objectives of the organization. We have a well-oiled machine. Of course we still have hiccups. I’m here to brainstorm and help problem-solve issues, create and implement ideas to be efficient and effective, and inspire our staff to push beyond what they think we are capable of. I’m a big promoter of taking risks and learning from them.

Advocacy! Helping lawyers become better advocates helps create better systems. Seeing our attendees grow in confidence over the course of program is phenomenal. Watching our staff raise the bar all the time with quality and innovation is fulfilling. The relationships and collaboration in our community are what makes us family. I enjoyed my interview on these values of NITA for “Asked and Answered”. I hope you will read it!

Vanessa Munzert

Lead Business Support
My focus at NITA is customer service, specifically internal customer service. In short, I help make it easier for the staff to do their work. I ensure NITA’s business and workflow needs are translated to our outside web and database designers so that we can develop useful tools. I spend most of my time developing and testing these tools, creating efficiencies within our systems and training and assisting staff. I also oversee our external customer service efforts and policies.

NITA’s exemplary staff and dedicated faculty collaborate to achieve NITA’s mission to promote justice through the highest quality training and materials. I love my job because I get to find ways for NITA to be better, faster and more efficient as we strive to achieve our goals. Our future lies in our ability to stay agile and sustain growth while remaining loyal to our mission and community.

Gary Pope

HR Manager
I see three distinct facets to my work with NITA.
1) Strategic Partner: Aligning HR business objectives with the overall NITA mission and the strategic business plan.
2) Employee Advocate: Building employee ownership of the organization by fostering organizational culture and climate.
3) Change Champion: Emphasizing the NITA mission, vision, core values, goals, and action plans.

I believe in NITA’s mission and what we do to help the adversarial system work better so that ultimately, justice is served. I get enormous satisfaction by helping to attract, retain, and develop our employees into great “owners” and leaders.

Mike Sisk,

Director, Business Services
As Director of Business Services, I oversee our IT, Customer Service, Office and the NITA Education Center.  I pride myself on being a hands-on working manager, giving our faculty and staff all the tools they need to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.

I see NITA in a period of transition related to incorporating technology, and inserting on-demand Studio 71 lectures/demos into our programs to supplement the invaluable live presentations. It involves using courtroom presentation technology to give our participants all the tools necessary to tell the full story of their cases and provide the most effective learning environment. I also see NITA continuing to evolve with smaller specialized programming either by location or specialty.  In addition, now and extending into in the future, I see world-class faculty that mentor our participants into great, competent, skilled advocates for their clients and organizations. I see NITA evolve as publisher from printed textbooks/case files to E-publications and on-demand printing. Knowing that I help facilitate this on a daily basis and am involved in the evolution of our brand and product is an honor.

Claire Tompkins,

Program Administrative Assistant
My role is to help the Program Specialists with whatever they might need so that their programs run smoothly. My specialties are applying for Continuing Legal Education and doing the post-program CLE processing, drafting emails for the faculty and participants, and deciphering the faculty members’ reimbursements. The Programs Department is a tight-knit group and I love being a part of a team where we work hard but can also be friends.

I started at NITA just about 4 months ago and I knew from the moment I interviewed I was going to love it here. I asked the NITA staff who interviewed me what they liked best about working here and they all said essentially the same thing, “it’s a great place because everyone cares about what we do and with that common goal we work as a cohesive team.” It is fantastic to be part of a non-profit where people get excited about what we are doing and what we could do in the future. I think we will keep creating interesting programs in new places with new topics to engage attorneys across the country. By increasing our participants we will be able to offer more public service programs and provide Continuing Legal Education to attorneys who may not be able to afford it otherwise.

In one breath, this post extends my deepest thanks to every single member of our staff — each important, each valued. Valued by each other, and valued by our NITA network. Thank you..

Please lift your phone and say hello to our folks. You and they together make NITA what we are as we gaze together, forward, into our next 50 years.




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

April 2017 Executive Director’s Letter: And Now We Feature NITA’s Finance Gurus

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Each month this winter, my column has featured our NITA Staff members, in person and in their own words – Programs, Publications, Sales & Marketing.  And now it is Spring and we turn your attention to our Finance Department. They bring Spring every month to the mountain of data on our transactions, whether it is your on-line credit card enrollment, or the myriad small-dollar purchases to supply every program with venue, supplies, nourishment, publications, or another type of our many transactions. They help us to stick to our budget, providing great compilations and estimates and forecasts. They think deeply and do forecasts and analyses. And like us all, they love the significance of NITA’s work including public service programs.

I am proud to say how seamlessly our finance professionals work with and support all of our staff. We could not do what we do so well without their ingenuity, insight, insistence on prompt and correct information . . . and their hearty laughs and great teamwork.

Please meet them below, in their own words.

Kay Dragon

Associate ED for Finance
I have one large role, and that is to support people in their efforts at NITA.  The fun is in how this differs, depending on the situation.

My goal is to help the individuals in our Finance team do their jobs well, whether it’s getting faculty paid on time, staff paid and benefits tracked, authors paid their royalties, reports completed accurately on time for various needs, or all the many little details our accountants handle effortlessly.

My goal is also to provide support to help all NITA do their jobs well.

My goal as well is to help our governing board do their jobs well.

The fun in how these goals pull on my desire to contribute. Creativity comes in, especially when working with other NITA teams, like marketing.  Or communication skills come to play when trying to convey complex issues to our board volunteers so they can make decisions with the confidence that they understand the key facts and issues at hand.  Teaching comes in when working across departments to help them understand things that will help them in their work but are not in their area of expertise.  I love supporting our committed staff by doing what I can to continue our tradition of excellent benefits.  There is never a dull moment, and never a lack of opportunities to add value.

Bridget Hamilton

Accounts Receivable, Payroll Specialist, Accounting Assistant
I am responsible for Payroll and Accounts Receivable.  I contribute to NITA’s success by ensuring that our employees are paid accurately and on time!  I also prepare, verify and process most of the invoices that are sent to our customers.  I’m learning more every day and hope to help out our team even more in the future!

I see NITA as a place where I can grow in the future, and the core values that NITA holds are very important to me.  This is a unique industry and one that I have enjoyed learning about.  I appreciate the opportunities that I am being given in my department and I hope to be at NITA for a long time to come.

Carrie Newell

Accounts Payable Specialist, Accounting Assistant
As NITA’s AP Specialist, my addition to NITA’s success is making sure that all of the wonderful faculty and vendors – who dedicate their time and talent to help make our programs a success — get their invoices paid correctly. I do many other things too, to assist NITA such as keeping our state non-profit registrations current.

What makes NITA important to me is that the people I affect will continue to be a part of NITA, and that is really important because of the work that NITA does to help justice.

Laura Rogers

I’m the Controller for NITA’s amazing Finance Department.  I’m accountable for the accounting operations of NITA, to include the production of periodic financial reports, maintaining accurate accounting records in an efficient manner, resolving complex issues when they arise; and providing internal control and cross-training.  I’m very lucky to be working with three amazing and extremely competent women, Kay, Carrie and Bridget.

When I came to NITA 1½ years ago, I could clearly sense that all the employees, program directors, teachers, and board members have the common bond of NITA’s mission.  NITA is not a self-advocacy environment, it’s an environment to assist mentor and promote others in their successes.

The future of NITA from my eyes is sustainable growth in servicing our mission while leading the industry with the highest quality legal skills education available. This future will be supported by mutually beneficial partnerships and a never-ending quest to improve overall legal advocacy across this country and abroad.

Please say “thanks” the next time you talk to our Finance team members. I am proud of them.

And thank YOU.





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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