The Legal Advocate

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Category Archives: NITA Community

Give to the NITA Foundation This Quarter

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When you give to the NITA Foundation, 100 percent of every dollar you donate is spent on the mission work that fulfills our goal of including public service lawyers in those who benefit from NITA’s training. As this quarter comes to a close in just a few weeks, we’d love to count on your support of the NITA Foundation and its important work of awarding scholarship assistance and creating programs for applicants working in careers that meet our public service attorney training objectives. This work is impossible without help from loyal donors like you.

Since 2003, the NITA Foundation has disbursed over $3.3 million in support of our programs and scholarships. There are so many ways to give—cash donations, memorial or honorary gifts, stock donations, planned giving, and even donations of your NITA teaching proceeds or NITA book royalties—and each way helps us award program scholarships to public services lawyers, provide NITA training programs in the public sector, defray travel expenses for program participants, and ensure the rule of law and access to justice in emerging democracies through our international programs. Visit to make a secure online gift and learn more about how you can help.

P.S. Last week, we told you about the new Robert VanderLaan Memorial Scholarship being funded through the NITA Foundation. The founding donors are matching donations for the first $30,000 in contributions, so now is the perfect time to make a donation and maximize its impact.

Robert VanderLaan Remembered with Scholarship Fund, Memorial in Chicago

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This winter, NITA lost a beloved member of its family, when Program Director Bob VanderLaan passed away on February 28 in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the words NITA’s Executive Director Karen Lockwood, “Bob’s tremendous energy and talent in teaching touched countless people through NITA. He taught with NITA for thirty-five years, and his immense heart, genuine charm, and energetic legal advocacy made Bob unforgettable to everyone he taught—and taught with.”

Losing Bob was a tremendous blow to the NITA community. Two of his closest NITA friends, Program Director Dan Rabinovitz and longtime faculty member Jon Barnard, have taken the lead to memorialize Bob’s legacy by creating a NITA program scholarship in Bob’s name. Dan recently spoke to The Legal Advocate about the new Robert VanderLaan Memorial Scholarship, how he and Jon will host NITA’s collegial faculty in celebrating Bob’s life at one of Bob’s favorite places in Chicago this fall, and what made Bob such an inspiration to those who knew and loved him best. 

How did you meet Bob?
In the early 1990s, during the Midwest Regional Trial Program in Chicago, several faculty members, including Bob, regularly attended performances by Chicago bluesman Son Seals. During the same period, I was an Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney and played trumpet for Son Seals. At one of those shows, Bob learned I was a prosecutor, and shortly thereafter, he spearheaded an effort to obtain a scholarship for me to attend NITA’s National Session in Boulder. During that National Session, in 1994, Bob was my team leader and we became friends.

What qualities made him unique among NITA instructors?
Bob’s infectious level of energy made him unique literally everywhere he went. When you look up the phrase “natural charmer” in the dictionary, it shows his picture. He had a seemingly magical way of critiquing a student’s performance, by delivering the appropriate criticism, while at the same time making a student excited to continue to improve. This approach was not only consistent, but it was completely natural and totally effortless.

Do you have a favorite memory of working with him?
There are so many to choose from, but I think my favorite memory of working with Bob was when he was selected to be the Program Director of the National Session, which coincided with NITA’s fortieth anniversary celebration. He was so proud to have been selected to lead that program at that special time. He threw himself into leading that event in such a meaningful, soulful way that it made each and every person associated with that program felt proud to be working with and for Bob. The same natural ability he had to make a student feel great was just as powerful a tool for relating to the faculty members who taught with him.

What did you learn from Bob?
I learned how to be a better trial lawyer, a better instructor, and a better person. And I learned the importance of being able to survive on only a few hours of sleep, when necessary.

You’ve established NITA’s Robert VanderLaan Memorial Scholarship as a lasting tribute. How did it come about?
Almost immediately after Bob’s passing, [fellow NITA faculty member] Jon Barnard and I began brainstorming about organizing something that would honor Bob in a way that preserved his memory and spirit. This tribute is part of the way we are coping with the tremendous sadness we both feel. We wanted to do something that struck the same balance between work and play that dominated Bob’s life. And so we decided to raise funds for a scholarship in his name, so that for a very long time, each year at least one student gets to participate in a program Bob regularly taught. So that’s the work part. But Bob was also someone who loved to have fun—in many ways. One of those ways was to gather with friends, raise a glass or two, and tell and listen to great stories. So the second part of our tribute is an event where those who also enjoyed doing that with Bob can do that together.

What’s the best way to make a donation to the fund?
Making an online donation is fast and easy when you click this link: donate and from the “Select Fund/Amount” section, use the dropdown menu and select The Robert VanderLaan Memorial Scholarship Fund option. I want to mention that the founding donors of this scholarship fund have pledged to match the first $30,000 in donations that NITA receives—in effect, we will double your contribution if you donate now. Each year, this scholarship will provide tuition, travel, and lodging for one attendee to attend a program at which Bob taught.

Describe the plans for the memorial you and Jon Barnard are hosting in Chicago on November 11.
We are going to gather at one of Bob’s favorite Chicago places—Mike Ditka’s restaurant—and we are going to eat, drink, be merry and tell a bunch of Bob VanderLaan stories. Over that weekend, the Bears play the Packers in Chicago. We hope that element will elevate the energy at Ditka’s that evening. But I should add that if people plan on attending, they should let us know in advance, so we can make sure we have a big enough room, by emailing me at

How would you like Bob to be remembered?
I hope Bob is remembered as the smart, warm, funny, tough, talented, dedicated, and experienced human being that he was. I hope he is remembered as someone who through teaching for NITA for over thirty-five years helped literally hundreds, if not thousands, of young lawyers become better trial lawyers. And finally, I hope he is remembered as someone who day in and day out was fun to be around.

NITA would like to invite you to join Dan Rabinovitz, Jon Barnard, and Bob’s family and friends at Ditka’s on Saturday, November 11, 2017, to remember and celebrate Bob’s life. RSVP directly to Dan to make reservations and receive further details on the memorial. Please make your travel plans early, as we expect the Bears‒Packers Midwest rivalry will make hotel rooms and Airbnb rentals in Chicago scarce as game weekend draws near.

NITA Faculty Facilitate International Training Session at Nova

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written by NITA guest blogger Mike Dale

The Nova Southeastern University College of Law recently held its second annual Faculty Training Workshop as part of the law school-sponsored International Consortium for Global Legal Education. Four NITA faculty members presented a one-day training on the “NITA critique” as a method of teaching in the “learning-by-doing” context. Law school professors from Europe, the Caribbean, and Central and South America were in attendance. Nova law school faculty Jayme Cassidy, Michael Dale, and Kate Webber-Nunez and Florida lawyer Jim Zloch spent the day instructing on the NITA teaching methodology so that the professors from other countries might use the technique upon their return to their law schools. All four of the NITA faculty had themselves gone through NITA’s teacher training program. The participant international law school professors observed six Nova law students conducting direct and cross-examination using the Nita Liquor Commission v. Cut-Rate Liquor and Jones case file, then practiced critiquing the law students, and then were critiqued themselves by the four NITA faculty members.

Mike Dale is a frequent contributor to The Legal Advocate, directing the research and writing activities of his student assistants throughout the academic year at Nova. Learn more about Mike here.

Stephanie Ledesma Receives Appointment at Thurgood Marshall

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Longtime NITA faculty member Stephanie Smith Ledesma has been appointed as the Associate Dean of Experiential Learning at Thurgood Marshall School of Law (TMSL). In her new role as the Associate Dean of Experiential Learning at TMSL, Professor Ledesma will restructure, help define, and expand the Experiential Learning Department at the law school while increasing the initiatives and offerings in the area of experience-based education. Currently, the law school offers a variety of clinical experiences, over 100 externship opportunities, trial simulation taken by hundreds of students each year, and the NITA Client Interviewing program, a weekend module specifically for law schools that was co-designed by Ledesma and other NITA faculty, including Mark Caldwell, Mike Dale, and Marsha Levy.

Of her promotion, Professor Ledesma said, “I look forward to working with colleagues at TMSL, students, and NITA partners to help build upon and expand the powerful attributes of ‘learning by doing,’ for the benefit of every law student that chooses TMSL as their training ground.”

Professor Ledesma has served as a faculty member, a team leader, and a program director, teaching at NITA public service trial skills and deposition programs and custom trial skills and deposition programs around the country. In 2016, she was one of six faculty members that donated more than 100 hours of her time toward NITA volunteer efforts.

“As a servant-leader, I think one of the most important responsibilities that I have to the legal community, and those whom the legal community serves, is to teach what I have been taught and to share with others as others have shared with and mentored me. I was inspired by NITA faculty and their service to others. These NITA faculty not only became my friends, but my mentors. In fact, these mentors are the reason that I sought an academic position in the legal academy to begin with,” Professor Ledesma remarked to The Legal Advocate.

“I was further inspired by NITA’s ‘learn by doing approach to teaching attorneys how to raise the bar of legal practice and make excellence their goal. By bringing the tried and true NITA pedagogy and methodology to the legal classroom, I believe that I not only fulfill my duty to the legal profession, but I am helping feed future generations of lawyers and attorneys that will continue to have a positive impact on legal representation and advocacy in every corner of the world,” said Professor Ledesma.

NITA wishes to extend its congratulations to Professor Ledesma for her promotion and thank her for her continuing service to the legal community through her work with NITA.

For more information about the Client Interviewing program for law schools that Stephanie and her NITA colleagues designed, please email Michelle Windsor.

Trinidad Press Release

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written by NITA guest blogger Doris Cheng

On August 11, 2017, NITA completed its fifth advanced trial advocacy skills training in the Caribbean with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) as part of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). One of the goals of CBSI is to increase public safety and security through improving the rule of law. NITA has been considered the expert in international advocacy training and a proud partner with NCSC in the CBSI efforts.

This recent NITA advocacy skills program provided training to the Port of Spain Prosecutor’s Office led by the Director of Public Prosecution Roger Gaspar. NITA Program Director Doris Cheng, L.C. Wright, Cynthia Goode Works, Hon. Matthew Williams, and Kimberly Moore conducted a three day program focusing on lay and expert witness examinations, opening statement and closing arguments in a complex murder case. The case materials were challenging and parallel the types of cases that Caribbean prosecutors regularly encounter. This is the first of two advocacy skills programs for the Office of Public Prosecution in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

L.C. Wright, Justice Gillian Lucky, JoAnne Richardson (NCSC), Doris Cheng Cynthia Goode Works, Hon. Matthew Williams, and Kimberly Moore in front of the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain.

Before the program started, NITA faculty had the opportunity to visit the trial courts and observe bail hearings conducted by local Justice Gillian Lucky, who was enthusiastic about the use of different trial techniques and audio-visual demonstrations. Program Director Doris Cheng commented, “We had an inspiring exchange of modern day trial skills techniques with high skilled prosecutors. The persuasive techniques that NITA has been teaching since 1971 continue to be relevant in all adversarial justice systems.” At the end of the program, DPP Roger Gaspar, who also teaches trial advocacy at the law school, expressed his pleasure with training provided by NITA and NCSC. The exercises brought out the verve and vigor of the prosecutors, who enjoyed testing their arguments against one another. A number of the prosecutors exclaimed their excitement about learning different approaches to witness examinations.

NITA’s learning-by-doing style has been incredibly successful in the Caribbean. The first NITA training in the Caribbean was held in Antigua in July of 2015. Prosecutors from Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, and St. Vincent & Grenadines attended the three-day workshops. After the program, the judges remarked that the advocates’ courtroom presentations were much improved with the training. NCSC next invited NITA to reprise the program for the prosecutors in Jamaica and then in the Bahamas.

NITA returns to Port of Spain, Trinidad to work with the remaining thirty prosecutors in September, which will mark NITA’s third trip to Port of Spain. In addition to training the prosecutors, NITA delivered advocacy training to the Legal Aid defense attorneys earlier this year in January.

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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