written by guest blogger, Judge Robert McGahey
Some of us are old enough to remember when President’s Day didn’t exist. Instead, we got two national holidays in February: Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12 and Washington’s Birthday on February 22. That recollection gave me the exact right movie for this month’s review: John Ford’s 1939 classic Young Mr. Lincoln, starring Henry Fonda (wearing a prosthetic nose you should ignore). While the Oscar-nominated story is highly fictionalized, its focus on justice, as exemplified by Lincoln, makes it well worth your time.
Early in the movie, we see the young Abe Lincoln running a store, none too successfully. He takes some books in trade, books that include Blackstone’s Commentaries on the English Common Law. He is immediately smitten with the idea of being a lawyer. We see him delving into those books and his recognition of what lies at the heart of the law: “By jing, that’s all there is to it. Right and wrong.”
The young Abe falls deeply in love, but tragedy strikes. He eventually decides to follow the path of becoming a lawyer. In those days, that didn’t require a formally legal education, and Lincoln was soon practicing law in Springfield, the capitol of Illinois. We see him in an hilarious (but effective) “negotiation,” witness his humor and the trust put in him by his fellow citizens.
And then, through a series of events, he is called on to represent two brothers accused of the murder of a deputy sheriff. How he goes about this is the core of the film and what makes it wondrous for those of us connected with the law. Lincoln uses humor, perception, and reason to plead his case, all the while aware of the potential dangers to his two clients and their loved ones, particularly their mother, played by Alice Brady. I won’t give away what happens, but Lincoln’s final cross-examination of the main eyewitness to the murder is a treat.
The movie is interesting as one of the few that actually shows voir dire. And watch for a lynch mob scene that would be referenced years later in To Kill a Mockingbird, perhaps as a way of tying Atticus Finch to Abe Lincoln.
The film ends on a note that some may find corny, but that I’ve always found inspiring. Included in the cast are many of the famous “John Ford Stock Company”: Ward Bond, Donald Meek, Russell Simpson, and John Ford’s brother, Francis. There is Ford’s usual tight direction. (Ford was so concerned that the studio would edit the movie in a way he wouldn’t approve of that he destroyed all the takes he didn’t like just to prevent that.)
And, of course, it features Fonda’s brilliant portrayal of Lincoln. Fonda was reluctant to take the part, out of respect for Lincoln and his fear that he couldn’t do the sixteenth president justice. I think you’ll agree that he succeeded admirably. While there have been many portrayals of Lincoln, I think Fonda’s is still the best. I watch it thinking, “That’s what Lincoln looked like and sounded like.”
You’ll enjoy Young Mr. Lincoln for what it says about Lincoln, about the law, and about the justice we can find in courtrooms—and you don’t even need a holiday to see it.
 Many (including I) regard 1939 as the single greatest year in the history of American film. Released that year, among others, were Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Of Mice and Men, and Wuthering Heights. Ford directed three films that year, all classics: Young Mr. Lincoln, Drums Along the Mohawk, and the quintessential western, Stagecoach, the movie that made John Wayne a star.
A 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.
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
written by guest blogger and NITA Program Director Theo Liebmann. Theo Liebmann is the Clinical Professor & Director of Clinical Programs at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University.
The Whole Child Program came to Hofstra in 2004 under the leadership of NITA stalwarts Angela Vigil, Mike Dale, and Andy Schepard. Andy recruited expert faculty from around the country, and we have always mixed in NITA veterans like Angela, Mike, Sandra Johnson, and Ben Rubinowitz with newer stars like JC Lore and Zelda Harris, as well as local Legal Aid standouts like Brian Lamb, Carolyn Kalos, and Carolyn Silvers. The mission of this crew has always been to use NITA techniques to improve the skills of public service lawyers who represent vulnerable children and parents in overcrowded family courts—a client population in desperate need of high quality representation. Based on a case file developed by Angela, Tom Geraghty. and Diane Geraghty, the Program made some important choices right from the beginning that, in hindsight, were on the cutting edge:
While the participants have at times groaned a bit under the Program’s intensive workload, they deeply appreciate the training they are given and the effort and dedication that goes into it. Here are a few sample quotes to leave you with and no better way to say Happy Birthday to this program!
I signed up for this class to try to overcome my “shyness” and lack of confidence. The whole experience surpassed any and all expectations I had. I not only walked away with greater confidence in my abilities, but I was fortunate enough to meet so many wonderful people who care as passionately as I do about children and the law.
I signed up to really hone in on the nuances of my practice as well as correct some bad habits that have fallen into place. I feel confident and energized after finishing the program. I can’t wait to use some of the things I learned.
I knew that I had bad habits but was unsure on how to resolve these habits. My scripts now are getting sharper, more precise and less room for a respondent to take charge of the questioning. My closing statements are more structured.
People told me that I would work hard and learn a lot from any NITA course. They were right! This specific course, Training the Lawyer to Represent the Whole Family, is much needed in the field. I believe that as more practitioners take this course, the quality of practice in the field will increase and so will the outcomes for children and families in juvenile delinquency and child protective proceedings. Keep up the great work!
You may have heard the NITA Foundation is trying to raise $12,821.60 by March 31, 2014, to fund this vital New York child advocacy program through the NITA Foundation Public Service Program Fund. NITA cannot provide this and other public service programs without donor support, so please give today by visiting www.nita.org/Donate.
written by guest blogger Caren Ulrich Stacy
The lack of women lawyers in the upper ranks at law firms has been a problem for decades, and it’s only getting worse.
Although there is typically a 50/50 gender split at the entry level, only sixteen percent of partners are women. And, to further exacerbate the pipeline issue, this year marks the fourth consecutive annual decline in the number of mid-/senior-level female associates in large law firms.
No one seems to debate that this is an important issue that warrants attention. But it also seems that no one knows exactly what to do about it. So, we talk about it. We brainstorm. We come up with ideas and then dissect them to the point that nothing ever gets done because the solution is not easily achievable.
Four major law firms—Baker Botts, Sidley, Cooley, and Hogan Lovells—are finally moving past the “talk” stage into serious action. To replenish the leaky pipeline, they are banding together to pilot a new initiative called the OnRamp Fellowship.
The Fellowship is a re-entry platform for women lawyers who have taken a break from practicing for one reason or another. These returning women broaden their skills, experience, and legal contacts through one-year, paid fellowships at top law firms through complex legal work and training provided by legal career development experts and CLE vendors. There are fellowship opportunities this year in fifteen cities across the United States, including Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
The goal is to increase gender diversity in law firms.
But, for this initiative to succeed, the word must get out to women lawyers who want to return. You can help by telling two people and asking them to tell two people. Post an announcement about the OnRamp Fellowship on LinkedIn and Twitter. “Share” this blog post with your colleagues. Direct anyone who is interested to http://www.OnRampFellowship.com.
A little “action” on your part will go a long way in helping us to increase gender diversity in the profession.
The luncheon is a key event in the ABA’s annual mid-year meeting. It creates waves far beyond even the very influential Commission, and is attended by most ABA leaders and many mid-year meeting attendees. Honorees are persons of national visibility, chosen from nominees as “lawyers who excel in their professional settings; who personify excellence on the national, state, or local level; and who have demonstrated a commitment to racial and ethnic diversity in the legal profession.” (See link below for the award brochure.) Leo certainly is all of that and more!
As our Immediate Past Chair of the NITA Board, Leo makes us justifiably proud as he achieves this honor. For all of your activities, Leo, in and for the profession, we are particularly grateful for your service—and we know continuing service—to NITA. Congratulations!
Click here for more information regrading this annual ABA event.