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Category Archives: NITA Notes

June 2016 Executive Director’s Letter

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

NITA Movie Review: Give ‘Em the Old Razzle Dazzle

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Written by guest blogger Judge McGahey

chicagoSince the Tonys were just recently awarded, I decided that this month I would review an Oscar-winning musical comedy about the law and lawyers, based on a not-very-well-received Broadway musical. Chicago won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2002 and on screen it’s a singing and dancing extravaganza. But because of its phenomenally cynical view of the law and lawyers, I find it more than a little depressing, too.

The film centers on three characters: Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger), Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta Jones) and their flamboyant lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere.) Roxie and Velma are aspiring entertainers, both are accused of murder, both are facing the death penalty – and both are guilty. It’s Flynn’s job to make sure that neither woman is convicted and he how does it makes up the core of the movie. Flynn uses flagrant pre-trial publicity, bombast, show biz tactics, sex, manufactured evidence and outright perjury dazzle.” All of this is done in a highly colorful, visually striking and richly entertaining way.

In addition to the three principal actors, the movie features a stellar supporting cast including Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly and Christine Baranski. Rob Marshall directed and the screenplay was by Bill Condon. Chicago’s direct ancestor was that Broadway play of the same name, but it also includes in its family tree two earlier Hollywood movies, Chicago (1927) and Roxie Hart (1942), which starred Ginger Rogers (but wasn’t a musical.) That 1927 film was based on a story by a Chicago crime reporter about two real murders that she’d covered.

Chicago was well-received by both audiences and critics. As noted, it won Best Picture in 2002. Zeta-Jones won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, and there were also Oscars awarded for Best Art Direction, Costume Design, Film Editing and Sound Mixing. On top of that, Zellweger was nominated for Best Actress, Queen Latifah was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Reilly was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Marshall was nominated for Best Director, and there were additional nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Song, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. The movie made a pot-load of money worldwide for Miramax.

But for all the enjoyment I get watching Chicago, I still can’t help but feel uncomfortable about its take on the law and lawyers. Chicago plays to the worst aspects of the public’s distrust of lawyers and the legal system. There is no doubt that both Roxie and Velma are guilty and there is also no doubt that Flynn knows it. He will stoop to anything to win and it’s clear that winning is all that matters to him. A courtroom victory depends only on the entertainment value the lawyer and client can provide to the jury, portrayed as a bunch of idiots interested only in looking at Roxie’s legs.

At the start of her trial, Flynn explains all this to Roxie in the song that gave this review its title:

Give ’em the old Razzle Dazzle
Razzle dazzle ’em
Give ’em a show that’s so splendiferous
Row after row will grow vociferous
Give ’em the old flim flam flummox
Fool and fracture ’em
How can they hear the truth above the roar?

Make sure to watch Chicago. I’m sure you’ll love it like I do. But as we laugh and sing along with Chicago, we need to remember that our goal as trial lawyers must always be to make sure everyone hears the truth above the roar.

NITA’s Public Service Training at Southern University Law Center

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Written by guest blogger and NITA SULC Public Service Program Director Jude D. Bourque

The recipes for all great gumbos have a few common steps. Gather the right variety of ingredients, pick your preference of proteins-seafood, sausage, chicken, prep the cooking, throw in your favorite spices, take time to let the gumbo simmer, gather fun people to enjoy the feast, serve it with a smile, and enjoy.

In May, Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge hosted a NITA Public Service Trial Skills Program for Legal Service attorneys in Louisiana. The new SULC Chancellor John Pierre working with NITA secured a program that taught 32 public service attorney and 16 SULC law students a dynamic trial skills program.

The NITA faculty included the Masters of NITA teaching: the legendary Peter Hoffman, the award winning Elizabeth “Beth” Sher, the dynamic Professor Stephanie Ledesma and Professor Jayme Cassidy, and the inspirational Debra Seaton-Chinaka. For the Professionalism/Ethics session, Judith Roberts inspired the group in an interview session about her journey to Hope Manor. The SULC Trial Advocacy professors and local attorneys including Greg Landry, Patricia Jones, and Karl Bernard, assisted in the teaching. The program emphasized the “learning by doing” philosophy by scheduling multiple sessions for each trial skill. NITA’s library of online lectures supplemented the creative and dynamic live instructions and demonstrations from the NITA faculty. The participants were performing almost the entire time to maximize their learning.

The best gumbos stick to the tried and true basics. Access to Justice. Promise fulfilled. Learning by doing. Award winning team assembled. Masters of NITA teachers. Cutting edge videos. Energy, skills, talent. A few side trips for seafood gumbo, grilled oysters, fried catfish, crawfish etouffee, pralines, boudin balls, and grilled fresh fish. Feeding the souls of our legal community.

NITA Movie Review: What Is Truth?

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Written by guest blogger Judge McGahey

rashomonIt’s been said that trials are part of a truth-seeking process. And certainly those of us involved in trial advocacy like to think that the process works and that the truth comes out in the end. But every one of us is well aware that sometimes juries and judges reach decisions that we don’t understand or that we even know are flat-out wrong. When that happens, we may ask ourselves Pontius Pilate’s question: “What is truth?” For this month’s review, I’ve chosen a film that explores that question in ground-breaking ways, a film whose name has become synonomous with the difficulty of establishing the truth. The film is Rashomon (1950), simply one of the greatest movies ever made – and a movie that every trial lawyer must watch.

As Rashomon opens, a Woodcutter and a Priest are taking shelter from the rain. They are joined by a character called the Commoner. The Woodcutter and the Priest begin talking about the recent trial of a bandit where both testified as witnesses. The bandit (brilliantly portrayed by the great Toshiro Mifune) has been accused of accosting a samurai and his wife who are traveling through the woods and of killing the samurai and sexually assaulting the wife. In flashbacks, we first see and hear the bandit’s version of the story. Then we hear the wife’s story. Then we hear the samurai’s story, through the intervention of a medium. Each story has similar elements, but each story is radically different from the others, presenting a mystery as to which – if any — is true. And as we are wrestling with these three distinct and contradictory versions of the truth, we find out that the Woodcutter has yet a fourth version, which he chose not to tell at the trial because he didn’t want to get involved. The resolution of the film is a small message of hope in the face of such confusion and cynicism.

Rashomon was directed by, Akira Kurosawa, one of the greatest directors in the history of film. Kurosawa was a genuine genius and his brilliance is obvious throughout the movie in such things as the use of light, the pacing, the use of only three simple sets. Kurosawa had his actors and crew live together during filming. Despite their pleas, he refused to tell the actors which version of the events was “actually” the truth, since determining “actual” truth was not his point.

Rashomon was a breakthrough movie for Kurosawa, the first to bring him serious recognition outside of Japan. It unexpectedly won the Golden Lion (top prize) at the Venice Film Festival in 1951 and an honorary Oscar in 1952, before there was a category for Best Foreign Film. Over the years, it has become recognized as the classic that it is and has spawned numerous other films and television programs that are either homages or direct copies, including episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Homicide: Life on the Street – and the truly awful The Outrage (1964), which stars Paul Newman as a Mexican bandit. The phrase “Rashomon effect” has entered the English language to describe the difficulty of ascertaining objective truth based on subjective evidence.

The “truth-seeking” aspect of Rashomon is one of the reasons that the film is a must for trial lawyers. But for those of us who work in the NITA world, it’s also important for what it says about the power of storytelling. In the past several years, there’s been an emphasis on storytelling and how it affects our presentation at trials. It’s a rare NITA program that doesn’t include some discussion of the importance and power of telling an effective story. Rashomon speaks to this aspect of trial advocacy, too, since it may be the greatest single example of how subjective stories, powerfully told, can influence what is perceived to be true.

Do not be deterred by the fact that Rashomon is subtitled. You’ll be immersed in its brilliance so quickly that that won’t matter a bit. And it’s a movie which rewards multiple viewings; I’ve probably watched it close to 50 times. As a trial lawyer and teacher of advocacy, every time I watch Rashomon, I’m struck by a line from the Commoner as he tries to comprehend what he’s been told: “Just think. Which of these stories do you believe?”

That’s what every trial lawyer is asking every jury to tell us – and is yet another reflection of the agony of Pilate’s question.

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

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


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 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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