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Strike a Pose

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Written By NITA Author Rebecca Diaz-Bonilla

In her 2012 speech, Dr. Amy Cuddy dazzled her audience with her research on power poses and their powerful effect on the measurable confidence of a speaker.  Amy Cuddy theorizes that certain wide and open physical stances help increase adrenaline and produce a more confident speaker.  Her original Ted Talk now ranks as one of the most watched in Ted Talk history, and her fans are still buzzing.  If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out.  In her recent CBS interview, she defends the utility of power poses against her critics.

How can power poses be used in the courtroom for litigators?  Just like any best practice in oral communication, an attorney should first master the rule and then know how and when to break the rule.  Power posing is no different.

  1. Practice in your everyday environment. I rarely coach a chameleon attorney – one who appears powerless in meetings and wishy-washy on the phone, but shows up in court with a John Wayne swagger.  Physical confidence needs to be practiced until the habit is formed.  If you want to know how to appear commanding on cue in the courtroom, practice confident power posing every day.  If power poses don’t work, find another method.
  2. Find home base. In my coaching, I refer to the still position taken between gestures as “home base.”  A power pose is not home base.  Power poses should be done in the bathroom with the stall door shut.  Home base positions are for public consumption.  Everyone should find three standing and seated home base positions.  Actor’s neutral (hands resting straight down on either side) and a torso hold (hands connecting at a height between belly button and belt) are staples.  The magic third depends on your personality and body shape.  A tall imposing man may want to try a one hand in pocket home base during direct examination to make the witness feel more comfortable.  A smaller framed woman needs an elbow-wide, shoulders back podium hold to look commanding in a federal courtroom.
  3. Being confident is important, but reading the audience and adjusting accordingly is the mark of a skilled advocate.  I encourage clients to strike a balance of confidence and likability.  Go ahead and pump up with power poses before your next court appearance, but be willing and able to hide the peacock, if needed.  For example, it serves the advocate well to appear more humble when the judge is clearly on his side during an argument. Read the non-verbal cues of the audience and change your home base accordingly.
  4. The external power-pose technique helps an advocate appear more confident, but he should not neglect the interior. Some advocates are better inspired by starting inside, and letting the right emotion guide his outward appearance.  If you try power posing and it doesn’t work, do not despair.  Half of my clients need internal motivation to change outward appearances of confidence.  Remembering a huge success, thinking of a motivational speech, or anything that makes you think and feel confident can make the body react accordingly.

There are many paths to developing a confident appearance…power posing is one you should try.


Rebecca Diaz-Bonilla has also presented in NITA’s studio71 webcasts: Rise above the rest: Mastering the Top 10 Communication Skills for Lawyers Part One and Part Two as well as Authored the book: Foolproof: An Attorney’s Guide to Communication

NITA Announces Awards

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NITA Announces NITA Award Winners

Karen M. Lockwood, Executive Director, announces the National Institute for Trial Advocacy Award winners.

The National Institute for Trial Advocacy annually recognizes outstanding contributions to NITA by making three acclaimed awards.  Honoring members of NITA’s faculty, author and staff communities, the awards highlight exceptional teaching, innovation in teaching, and service to NITA through contributions other than teaching.

Members of NITA’s faculty, authors and staff, including trained NITA teachers and their appointed Program Directors, and Team Leaders, are eligible for nomination by their NITA colleagues. These creative and dedicated lawyers, many serving as volunteers, provide the rigor and originality in advocacy for which NITA is known. They fan across NITA’s public programs, custom programs, and public service programs. Their case files and books are used by practitioners and law students alike across the nation.

Nominations from the NITA community speak to the nominee’s work in one of three areas, each award year honoring the prior year of service.  Each is named after one of NITA’s pioneers who exemplified the teaching, innovation, and service that the awards honor.

The awards for 2014 work are:

Robert Keeton Award for Outstanding Service as a NITA Faculty Member (recognizing exceptional work as a NITA faculty member),

Christina M. Habas, Shareholder, Keating Wagner Polidori Free (Denver).
Honoring Judge Habas’ years of service and outstanding performance, her nominators give broad acclaim to her consistent excellence.  Tina is recognized as a gifted teacher, possessing an uncanny ability to connect with students, contagious energy and enthusiasm in her program work, and consistently high ratings from program participants. In her teaching, she emphasizes civility among attorneys and toward jurors, and strives to make lawyers more efficient and effective. In her own performances of NITA demonstrations, she personally exhibits good tone, demeanor, precision and brevity. “What really sets her apart,” it is said, is how much she cares about our profession. “She understands that being a lawyer is a privilege, and that we have a responsibility to give back.” Tina exemplifies what drives our NITA faculty everywhere — the gift of substantial talents and fire to improve the profession.

 Robert Oliphant Award for Outstanding Service to NITA (recognizing service to NITA in ways other than teaching, such as program administration, authorship, business support, and volunteer service, each of which enhances NITA’s Mission),

Dominic Gianna, Shareholder, Aaron & Gianna (New Orleans)
Donald H. Green (posthumously), Partner, Pepper Hamilton & Sheetz (DC)

Dom Gianna is praised for the energy he has sustained in his NITA teaching and program leadership for over thirty years. He brings spirit and enthusiasm both to program participants, and urges other lawyers to enroll in NITA programs. Describing him as a “devoted ambassador” for NITA, the nominations tell of his sustained enthusiasm from his earliest days of NITA teaching.  Actively fundraising, and conscious also of the needs of law graduates, he expands the universe of NITA’s impact. Detailed preparation for his programs are said to reflect this enthusiasm.  For example, he has delved deeply into the neuroscience lessons on learning, attitudes, and the belief-decision link.  He has brought this perspective to his NITA programs and shared it in appearances on NITA’s studio71. This award honors Dom’s outreach, insight into learning, enthusiasm in program, contributions to Program Director strategies, and constant reference to NITA wherever he goes,

Don Green, whom we recognize posthumously, has always been adored by his NITA faculty, for his quality, his firm yet smiling challenge to do better, and his results.. One of the original promoters and directors of NITA programs in Washington, DC over 30 years ago, Don inaugurated the DC Deposition program and led it with co-director Dick Leighton through 2014. Don was a giant of commitment and determination. He was kind and witty, strong and clear-headed. He practiced the art of NITA critiques with discipline, insight, creativity and brevity.  He quickly recognized opportunities to coach the group — participants or faculty alike — using his direct conciseness and quick intellect. Even after retiring from the active practice of law, Don continued his NITA leadership, humbly and proudly, energetically and brilliantly. Many of the 130+ NITA faculty members in the DC programs credit Don Green with their NITA teaching skill, enthusiasm, and dedication. He embodied The NITA Ethic, and is honored for his tremendous impact on an entire and very large regional legal community.

Prentice Marshall Faculty Award for the Development of Innovative Teaching Methods with NITA (recognizing creativity in program development or teaching methodology).

Matthew W. Williams, Judge, King County District Court (Seattle)
A part of Judge Williams’ NITA attention always aims toward new questions:  how better to approach the subject, the student, and the skill in each year’s program. In January 2015, Matt shared with NITA program directors the means to teach “distance deposition” skills as a part of the Deposition Skills Program. He had placed program participants before a computer screen and having them depose a co-participant “witness” live, via video link, with critiques unique to questioning a witness in a remote deposition.  In other ways too, Matt exemplifies NITA’s focus on not only planning programs early and carefully, but also starting from the impulse to ask “what next; what else.”  He can recall other tweaks large and small, but usually creative and new. This award honoring his 2014 work distinguishes the ability to create solutions that expand more realistic, more on-time, more effective classroom experiences. But even more than solutions, the award praises the urge of great NITA instructors to restlessly ask “what more can I offer.”

The NITA family is filled with exceptional people who regularly do exceptional things. We recognize these four special people for all they have done for NITA through the years.  We know they will continue to contribute, always in energetic and imaginative ways.         

Please join us in thanking them, and extend your congratulations.   

 Contact:  Karen M. Lockwood, Executive Director,, 303-953-6801             


High Court Rules on Juveniles Convicted of Homicide in Montgomery v. Louisiana

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levick_marshaOn January 25, 2016, the United States Supreme Court issued its much anticipated decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, ruling that its 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama, which banned mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of homicide, must be applied retroactively.

In Miller, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that “children are not simply miniature adults.” Her statement echoed Justice Kennedy’s observation in Graham v. Florida—which banned life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses—that criminal laws that failed to account for the unique attributes of youth were flawed under current constitutional analysis. Following Miller, lower courts split on the ruling’s retroactivity, with a majority applying it retroactively but several courts declining to do so.

That debate has now been settled. In the wake of Montgomery, as many as 2,000 individuals sentenced to mandatory life without parole for homicides they committed when they were under the age of eighteen will get a second look—either through a re-sentencing hearing or parole eligibility. This includes individuals who were sentenced as far back as the 1950s in some states.

Since 2005, the Supreme Court has now issued five opinions that firmly establish that young offenders occupy a special place under the Constitution—particularly the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. From the death penalty to life without parole in non-homicide cases to mandatory life without parole in homicide cases, the Court has moved decisively to limit the application of our harshest sentencing practices to children who are prosecuted and convicted in the adult criminal justice system.

Montgomery sits firmly in that pantheon. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy forcefully underscored the restrictions the court had placed on life-without-parole sentences for juveniles in Miller, limiting them to the rare and uncommon instances where the youth is “permanently incorrigible” or “irredeemably corrupt.” This is an exceptionally high bar. Adolescence is defined by its transient nature—a dynamic rather than fixed period of human development that precedes adulthood and maturation. Research teaches that most children will naturally desist from criminal offending in their early to mid-twenties.  Adherence to Miller’s mandate should preclude life without parole sentences for all but a tiny fraction of this population of juvenile offenders. This is the challenge that all stakeholders in the justice system must meet going forward.


Our thanks to Marsha Levick, Deputy Director and Chief Counsel of the Juvenile Law Center (JLC) in Philadelphia, for contributing this post to The Legal Advocate. Ms. Levick, a nationally recognized expert in juvenile law, co-founded the JLC in 1975. She is a passionate advocate for women’s and children’s rights, having authored or co-authored numerous appellate and amicus briefs in state and federal appeals courts throughout the country, including many before the Supreme Court of the United States. Ms. Levick may be reached at

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

NITA Welcomes Its Class of 2016 Next Generation Faculty

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The three Next Generation Faculty (NGF) Class of 2015 has been chosen from a dozen candidates.  This year’s outstanding class of young, up-and-coming NITA faculty members consists of:

cassidy_jaymeJayme Cassidy

Ms. Cassidy is the Director of the Shepard Broad College of Law’s Veterans Law Clinic, and staff attorney.

Prior to joining NSU she was the supervising attorney for the EACH (Economic Advocacy and Community Health) and VALOR (Veteran Advocates Legal Outreach & Representation) Projects at Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida, Inc. Ms. Cassidy created and implemented the VALOR Project which is a medical legal partnership with the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Ms. Cassidy is experienced in complex civil and criminal litigation and has a solid background in state and federal practice. She has served in the public sector as a Chief Assistant for the Broward County Public Defender and as an Assistant Attorney General.

Ms. Cassidy received her J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law where she was a member of the Legislative Law Journal. She is a former Litigation Counsel for Carnival Cruise Lines, and practiced law in New York and New Jersey with Garberini & Scher and Bower & Gardner.

Andrew Haden

Mr. Haden has worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California in the General Crimes Section since 2010. Since 2013, he has served as the Project Safe Neighborhoods Coordinator for the Southern District of California, a nationwide program designed to reduce gun and gang crime. Prior to joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he served for two years as a law clerk to the Honorable Thomas J. Whelan of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. He received his J.D. from the University of San Diego, in 2008. Mr. Haden received his B.A. from Stanford University, in 2000. Upon graduation from Stanford, Mr. Haden was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Navy. Mr. Haden served in the Navy for five years, which included two overseas deployments.

young_jasonJason R. Young

Mr. Young practices in the area of insurance defense litigation with Pearl Schneider LLC. He has extensive experience in all aspects of litigation including discovery, motions practice, depositions, mediations, arbitrations, and jury trials, throughout Colorado.

Prior to joining Pearl Schneider LLC, Mr. Young served as trial counsel with Hunter & Associates in Denver. As captive litigation counsel for Farmers Insurance, Mr. Young litigated cases ranging in value from thousands of dollars to over one million dollars. He successfully completed eleven jury trials in three years.

Before focusing on civil litigation, Mr. Young spent his first eight years in practice as a Deputy State Public Defender in Adams and Denver Counties. He practiced predominately in District Court handling an extensive caseload, comprised entirely of felony cases, in various stages of litigation. He served as lead counsel, and completed over forty jury trials, on a wide range of criminal cases including homicides, not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity pleas, sexual assaults, crimes of violence, and economic crimes.

Mr. Young’s entire career has been spent litigating cases, both civil and criminal, in the courtroom. Mr. Young has completed over fifty jury trials throughout Colorado.

As members of the NGF Class of 2016, Ms. Cassidy, Mr. Haden and Mr. Young will be trained and invited to teach at the geographically diverse NITA trial and deposition programs between January 1 and December 31, 2016, to gain more experience to NITA learning-by-doing teaching.

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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