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August 2015 Executive Director’s Letter: Women Trial Lawyers – Brilliance Is Shining

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Because we are NITA, and because we enroll nearly comparable numbers of men and women across our live programs for trial skills and depositions, we know several things:

  • Lawyers who learn, practice, and perform at trial excel in advocacy without distinction among gender.
  • Lawyers care about using the best advocates, paying attention to the diversity of the advocates who appear at trial. And women are ready. They bring their commitment, a competitive spirit, and the drive to master their courtroom impact into our programs.
  • Women in First Chair at trial are vastly underrepresented. This need not be.

Marshalling the strength of this half of trial bar remains an unfulfilled imperative. Brilliance shines. But competition for first chair favors the incumbents. Bringing the balance, variety, talent, and credibility of a woman trial lawyer to the jury and judge requires that each of us stop. We read and learn where the career obstacles are. We coach the woman and champion for her, to overcome the obstacles. For the women you know, right there in your practice, do it personally. Whatever your gender.

1974. The vice-president for sales of a very large public company learns I am embarking on law school. “A woman! What do you want to do,” he says at the picnic. “Be a litigator? That is nearly impossible for a woman – grinding, long hours, tough world.” I believe him to be urging me by misdirection to follow that plan. If not, it doesn’t matter: I take the red alert to heart. (And from it, am indeed spurred on.)

1982. The three women partners at our DC firm of 90 lawyers gather the 15 women associates (we are a progressive firm) in the building lobby for lunch out. The elevators bring cab after cab of partners down, elbowing their way through our small throng. Glancing up to wonder about this crowd, this expression crosses their lips – or their faces. “Oh! Ooooohhh.” (Point made.)

1994. We six women partners in a prominent boutique firm of 90 lawyers gather our 25 women associates for a chat in the gorgeous windowed conference room: 250⁰ river views, and beers in a bucket. “Let’s think about how we can get together regularly, support each other and champion each other.” There is little interest. Why? They do not see a reason. Rather, the risk of labelling themselves as unique amid their male associates warns them off. (“Oh. Oooooohhh.” Our turn, different angle.)

2005. Across the country, the broad culture around women in law remains silent, symptomatic of the 1995 days. The playful urges, the purposeful championing of women – it has gone away, perhaps thought unnecessary, likely unpopular. And, thus, certainly risky.

So, in 2006, we at the WBA in DC convened 220 lawyers to talk engage in finding solutions. For 16 hours over 4 monthly sessions, managing partners and bar leaders eagerly exchanged the frustrations and the ideas around elevating the talent and success of women lawyers. The WBA’s published report covered Women in Law Firms (Creating Pathways to Success, May 2006). Silence ended. Continuing reports covered Women of Color (Creating Pathways to Success for All Women, May 2008), and Women Corporate Counsel (Navigating the Corporate Matrix, May 2010)

Focusing on women trial lawyers, is it better now? An important new research report was just released by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. First Chairs at Trial – More Women Need Seats at the Table (ABA Commission on Women, June 2015).

This report, an empirical study of cases filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, displays the substantial disparity of women as lead counsel as against women in the profession. It depicts types of cases in which women are more present, and less. Best practices are laid out for law firms, clients, judges, law schools, and women lawyers themselves.

In 2005, DRI also convened a task force to address women at trial. [A Career in the Courtroom: A Different Model of Success of Women Who Try Cases (DRI Women’s Committee, trial lawyer study (Defense Research Institute Task Force on Women Who Try Cases, 2005)]

These reports – and others like them from the Utah Women’s Bar and elsewhere, integrate the puzzles of the practice environment, the pressures that women face, the systems and structures of the practice, and the importance of fixing the imbalance of women in trials. Those are the starting points for understanding the factors at play, rather than relying on personal opinion. I commend them for reading.

And I advocate that we all pursue excellent trials by opening the access to first chair for the best trial lawyers – without leaving behind the women, lawyers of color, and lawyers in other groups that deal with culturally maintained stereotypes. Indeed, bringing forward that talent requires positive action.




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


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Written by guest blogger Judge McGahey
As I’ve stated on numerous occasions, I’m an Anglophile of huge proportions. For this month’s movies, I’ve picked three British films that have divorce as a driving element of the plot.

posterBillOfDivorcementWe’ll start with 1932’s A Bill of Divorcement[1]. This is the second movie based on a British play of the same name. The play was inspired by a law passed in England in the ‘20’s that allowed a woman to divorce her husband if he were found insane. In this movie, Billie Burke plays Meg Fairfield and Katherine Hepburn stars as her daughter, Kit. Meg has obtained a divorce from her psychotic husband, Hilary, with the assistance of Gray (Paul Cavanaugh) the man she now intends to marry. Kit, too, is engaged to be married, to concert pianist Sydney (David Manners[2].) This happy quartet is thrown completely out of kilter by the shocking Christmas Eve arrival of Hilary, played by the ineffable John Barrymore[3] Hilary has escaped from the asylum, and thinking he’s cured, expects to resume married life with Meg. How his desire plays out affects not just Meg, Gray and Hilary, but Kit and Sydney as well.

divorceOfLadyXWe’ll next turn to The Divorce of Lady X, from 1938. This comedy of mistaken identities has a seriously all-star British cast: Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon, and Ralph Richardson. Olivier plays an uptight lawyer, who because of an exception London fog and a shortage of rooms, ends up a chastely sharing his hotel room with Oberon for a night. Fascinated by the lady, the lawyer tries to connect with her. When she avoids him, he convinces himself that the lady must be married. The lawyer then is hired by Richardson’s blustery husband to represent him in a divorce – and you know who the lawyer decides the wife must be. Don’t worry, it all works out in the end[4].

morgan!We’ll finish with Morgan! from 1966. A true artifact of the “swinging 60’s,” this film stars David Warner as a man trying to keep his ex-wife (Vanessa Redgrave) from remarrying. The film is full of references to English class differences: Morgan is an artist, the son of working-class parents, while his ex is seriously upper crust. Morgan’s efforts become more and more bizarre, and he eventually goes completely bonkers, ending up in the loony bin. But in the end, he’s actually the winner in his quest to reunite with his ex-wife – maybe. The film is a great deal of fun, notable for showing us Morgan’s internal fantasy life, which includes references to King Kong.

I know everyone doesn’t share my devotion to things English, but trust me, you’ll enjoy all of these movies!


[1] Slight cheat here: this movie is set in England, but was made in the United States.

[2] Most famous for playing Jonathon Harker in 1931’s Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi.

[3] A brilliant actor, known as the “the Great Profile.” He’s Drew Barrymore’s grandfather.

[4] Lady X is proof that the “rom-com” is not a new invention.

Catch Up On NITA’s studio71 Most Recent Webcasts

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Stein_RobertHow I Learned To Love The Non-Responsive Witness, And You Can Too

Presented by: Robert Stein, The Stein Law Firm, PLLC

What happens when a witness becomes non-responsive to your questions on cross-examination, downright hostile to you, or exhibits an ability to trick the examiner by asking questions of him or her? Most lawyers are filled with panic on the thought of everything “not going according to plan”. Others see this as a golden opportunity to enhance your case and defeat the witness’s credibility. Tools and techniques for enjoying the moment will be discussed, and demonstrated.

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Fine-tuned communication skills separate the good from the great. This webcast gives lawyers the opportunity to hear practical advice on the art of small talking, messaging techniques, extemporaneous preparation, and the vocal deliveries that produce results for lawyers. This is the second part of this communication skills webcast. Part one is available on-demand.

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Family Court Advocacy Problems – and How to Fix Them

Sometimes both lawyers and judges forget that Family Court proceedings are still trials and that the same principles of advocacy, goals of persuasion and rules of evidence apply in Family Court as in any other court. Join our panel of two experienced family court judges and a family court practitioner for a presentation on what problems they see on a regular basis and how to fix those problems or avoid them altogether.

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May 2015 Executive Director’s Letter: Trustees Spring Meeting

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Lockwood_KarenLast Thursday, NITA’s Board of Trustees gathered for its Spring Meeting. Did you know that our twenty-one active Trustees draw from across the country, and work in many of the judicial circuits? They include non-lawyers and lawyers, you may know some of them yourself.

Over the next few months, the Trustees will be developing our next strategic areas of focus. I can promise you that the result will be strategic priorities that leverage our strengths, that increase the magnetic force of NITA’s core and its field of influence, and that draw learners and teachers alike toward our center: NITA’s essential learn-by-doing programs are where advocates master advocacy.

In this past weekend’s meeting, the Board participated in a thrilling review of NITA’s energized and growing operations. They are as excited as we are –and as you are — by our constantly innovating. Thanks to your participation, we also see ever-expanding communications within our network of NITA learners and faculty through NITA’s blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Keep it up!

What is most important of all? Word-of-mouth. More, actually. Hand grasping hand. Taking another lawyer by the hand is the sine qua non of coaching: the coach must lead other lawyers to enter their NITA program experience, as their champion. Our Trustees work hard to bring NITA’s unique learning-by-doing method to an ever broader audience.

I hope you too will find five people this month to lead to NITA. Tell each that this is their time to dive into their big NITA course.

In fact, tell them that NITA is hot. That NITA is the place where they claim and come to “own” their particular advocacy talents. With the most focused and influential coaches they will ever have.

Our Board comprises strong leaders in their respective fields – judicial, law practice, law school, and experts in related fields. Active in national legal organizations, they are leaders who challenge each other, who have fun together, and who are passionate about NITA. Through great meetings, this talent coalesces, giving NITA their broad perspective, high energy, and insight.

Write below your appreciation for the insight of our Trustees. Whether or not you know them, tell them how grateful you are for their hard work and enthusiasm.

And stay close to us!




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


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Written by guest blogger Judge McGahey


In recent reviews, I’ve mentioned that Hollywood uses domestic relations issues not just as subjects for drama, but also for comedy.  This month we’ll look at three movies about divorce that took the comedy concept one step further – they’re all musical comedies in which divorce plays a central part.

The_Gay_Divorcee_movie_posterWe’ll start with The Gay Divorcee,[1] a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie from 1934.[2] The movie is fun to watch, although obviously dated.  Its central theme flows out of old-style divorce law.  Many of us remember the days before no-fault divorce, when the party seeking the divorce had to have “grounds” to get one. The most common ground was “infidelity” or “adultery.”  Even parties who were willing to divorce amicably had to have grounds, which led to phony set-ups with hired “co-respondents.”  One party or the other was “discovered” with another man or woman, photographs were taken and the judge had the grounds necessary to grant a divorce.  There was very often no real hanky-panky going on, just a sham so an unhappy couple could move on with their lives.

That’s the starting point for The Gay Divorcee.  Rogers plays Mimi Glossop, who’s been separated from her husband Cyril for years.  She goes to England at the suggestion of her aunt (Alice Brady) and the aunt’s incompetent lawyer (Everett Edward Horton.) The lawyer has set it up for Mimi to be caught in a hotel room with one of those professional co-respondents. Unfortunately, the lawyer forgets to hire the necessary private detectives with the necessary camera.

Astaire plays Guy Holden, an American dancer (shocker!) who’s a friend of the lawyer.  He’d met Mimi before and of course fell madly in love with her.  He ends up at the same hotel, Mimi mistakes him for the hired co-respondent, Mimi’s estranged husband show up, the lawyer’s butler (Eric Blore) engages in shenanigans, Fred and Ginger dance and sing, and everything comes out fine at the end.

The Gay Divorcee was based on a Broadway play called the The Gay Divorce.  Hollywood’s censor, the Hayes Office, made the film’s producers change the name, apparently because while the people going through a divorce could individually enjoy themselves, there was nothing humorous or fun about the process.  The Broadway show had music by Cole Porter, all of which was replaced in the movie by other music, with the exception of the classic “Night and Day.”One of those new songs, “The Continental” won an Oscar for Best Original Song, and was used in a twenty-minute dance sequence at the end of the movie. The movie itself was nominated for Best Picture, but lost (deservedly) to It Happened One Night, starring Clark Gable (sans undershirt) and Claudette Colbert.

kissMeKateNext we’ll turn to 1953’s Kiss Me Kate, produced by MGM and starring Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson as a pair of divorced Broadway stars, Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi. Fred wants Lilli back, but she isn’t anywhere near to that, at least initially.  Fred gets her to co-star with him in a Broadway musical version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, where their individual personalities fir the roles of Patricio and Katherine.  (Believe me, this works out MUCH better than it sounds!)  This film is a big-time color movie musical, with terrific songs by Cole Porter and large scale production numbers that were the hallmark of MGM musicals of the time. This movie was, too, was based on a Broadway musical of the same name, making it a movie musical based on a Broadway musical about the production of a Boradway musical.  Got that?

There are four really good reasons to watch this movie.  The first is Cole Porter’s music, with its clever lyrics, snappy wordplay and more than occasional double meanings.  Some of those were cleaned up for the movie, but others weren’t.  Second, you get to watch the best female tap dancer in the movies, Ann Miller, do her stuff.[3] She has several featured dances, and will blow you away with the speed and execution of what she does.  Watch her go from floor to table to room divider and back in “Too Darn Hot.” Third, you get to watch two great character actors, Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore, portray two gangsters who get involved with the cast of the play in the center of the movie. They perform an hilarious number, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” one of the songs that was considerably cleaned up between Boradway and Hollywood; it’s still funny. You also get to see that many of the actors of that era could hoof like pros.  Finally, this movie is one of the earliest big-studio films shot in 3-D.  Most prints now don’t reflect that, but you can always tell when a 3-D effect was in play: someone is throwing something directly at the audience (a mug, a scarf, a banana, confetti) or cracking a whip, or pointing, etc.

highSocietyFinally, I present for your consideration 1956’s High Society, with a truly All-star Cast including Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly and Louis Armstrong.  (And Cole Porter wrote the music for this movie, too!) I won’t summarize the plot for you, because you know it already: this is a MGM Technicolor musical version of The Philadelphia Story, which I reviewed several months back.  It isn’t nearly as good, but it’s still worth watching, to hear Crosby and Sinatra sing Porter’s music, to hear Armstrong play and to watch Kelly in her only musical role and in her last movie before she became Princess Grace of Monaco.  The highlight of the movie is the first and only Crosby/Sinatra collaboration, in a song called “Well, Did You Evah!” in which each singer makes obvious references to the singing style of the other that the audience would have immediately caught.  It’s great fun watching them go back and forth – and hearing two of the great voices in the history of American popular music combine.

You can find all of these movies in various formats, particularly on TCM.  The Gay Divorcee and High Society can be rented on Amazon.  If you like singing and dancing, you’ll love these movies.  Even if that’s not your first movie watching priority, give these three a try.  You’ll enjoy them, I promise!


[1] The title meant something different in 1934 than it would today.

[2] I am a huge Fred Astaire fan.  I think he’s Hollywood’s premier dancer, hands down. I will be happy to debate this with fans of Gene Kelly over a beverage.

[3] Miller could give even Astaire a run for his money.

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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