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April 2015 Executive Director’s Letter: Clarity of Purpose

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Lockwood_KarenIn “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” Tracy Kidder introduces us to the aspiring new doctor who grew up in a family that lives in a bus and on a ramshackle boat. The family could afford that residential style, and played and worked with a somewhat bizarre optimism. They firmly believed the reality that their lives were meaningful and normal enough. Paul Farmer goes on to use his instinct to excel by pointing it toward Haiti. The story is now paused at the election of Aristide following the fall of Papa and Baby Doc, Farmer, a PhD anthropologist and top MD grad of Harvard, has already built a center of medical help and community in the heights of Haiti’s central plateau. He and two others had founded Partners in Health to raise private funds for this effort.

I clipped this line to share with you. They talked late into the nights.

Some things were plenty black and white, they told each other — “areas of moral clarity,” which they called AMC’s. These were situations, rare in the world, where what ought to be done seemed perfectly clear. But the doing was always complicated, always difficult. They often talked about those difficulties. How Paul and Jim should balance work for PIH with going to school and getting their degrees.

I feel their pain, NITA has great AMC’s to combine.  Doing them at once seems complicated. Choices must be made. Resources must be increased. Yet our purpose must always remain clear.

It is perfectly clear to us that every client in civil and criminal arenas alike needs and deserves highly skilled advocates; the company faced by unfair competition needs a lawyer always ready to go to court; the accused need excellent defenders and fair accomplished prosecutors, the individual and family know skilled advocacy when they see it. It is obvious that an economy of skewed incentives and uneven access to capital makes a more polarized continuum between those who have and those who need help to find a civil lawyer. It is a truism that justice if enabled stabilizes new governments and nations under stress. Law students and professors need us as much as ever, in the most relevant ways. Corporate law departments have a huge voice in demanding and partnering to create better advocates.

NITA, founded on the vision of advancing excellent advocacy throughout the nation’s courts and hearing rooms, has the responsibility to flex and grow to aim clearly for our purpose. We watch carefully the systemic changes in legal education, private practice, constitutional and statutory assurances of fairness in the criminal law realm, and global political conflict and violence.

Everywhere, lawyers remain assets for the voiceless. Courage feeding fair and balanced governments. Talent for holding steady the prism of fairness through which conflict resolution systems must be seen. (Call me if examples of this truth do not immediately come to mind — Egypt, Selma, Kosovo, Ferguson, Death Row ….)

As we seek to bring NITA learning to the best productive mix of these lawyer sectors in the US and outside its borders, we constantly balance. We measure who we reach. We know all lawyers trained in our public and custom programs must will bring their best trial skills to serve their clients. They will advance their skills for a lifetime with NITA-confidence. They will have wide influence throughout their careers, and will move among practice sectors. We know those who are in public service need training now. We understand the imperative of training for criminal advocates on both sides. We seek relationships with organizations having nuanced understanding of nations engaged in reforms, because they can help NITA target, aim, and provide intensely relevant advocacy training in key global regions.

Our purpose is clear. Our choices are many. We need you, all of you and your friends. Know that our work is motivated by this clarity of purpose, focused yet broad in potential.




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

NITA Movie Review: “Why, that’s bigamy!” “Yes, and it’s big of me, too!”

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Written by guest blogger Judge McGahey

“Why, that’s bigamy!” “Yes, and it’s big of me, too!”[1]

myFavoritWife§ 18-6-201. Bigamy
(1) Any married person who, while still married, marries
or cohabits in this state with another commits bigamy,
unless as an affirmative defense it appears that at the time
of the cohabitation or subsequent marriage
(a) The accused reasonably believed the prior spouse to be dead; or
(b) The prior spouse had been continually absent for a period of five years during which time the accused did not know the prior spouse to be alive; or
(c) The accused reasonably believed that he was legally
eligible to remarry.

(2) Bigamy is a class 6 felony.

Know anyone who might fit into that definition? I’ll bet you do. That’s a still-viable, still-enforceable Colorado statute, although you’d probably have to have a pretty aggravated case before a DA would try to enforce it. Our ideas about marriage and cohabitation (living together as spouses although not legally married) have softened and mellowed over time. But those issues have always been grist for the Hollywood mill. And what came out of the Hollywood mill when bigamy was the issue was almost always a comedy.

The premier example of this is My Favorite Wife (1940), from RKO. It starred Cary Grant, Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott. Directed by Garson Kanin, it was nominated for three Oscars, although it didn’t win any. The movie was a huge hit and when you watch it, you’ll see why.

Grant plays a lawyer, Nick Arden, whose wife Ellen (Dunne) has been missing after the ship she was one disappeared. In the interim, Nick has fallen in love with Bianca (Gail Patrick.) They want to marry, so Nick goes to court and has Ellen declared legally dead. The judge enters the order, Nick and Bianca marry, and leave on their honeymoon. (You can see this one coming from a mile off, can’t you?) Ellen returns, finds out about Nick’s marriage and locates him on his honeymoon night – and before anything honeymoonish happens between Nick and Bianca. Now Nick has to figure out how to discuss the situation with Bianca, but he just keeps putting off both an explanation and the consummation of their marriage. But it’s even more complicated than that. It turns out that Ellen has been shipwrecked on a tropical island with Stephen Burkett (Scott) and while there they referred to each other as “Adam” and “Eve.” Nick, now jealous, has to find out what – if anything — happened on the island. (One reason this screwball plot worked was that Randolph Scott was one of the few stars who was regarded as being as handsome as Cary Grant.)[2] Hilarity ensues, but it all works out in the end.[3]

From a legal perspective, this sounds a lot like a question on the Bar Examination. The movie uses the legal conundrums of the situation to give some wonderful scenes with the befuddled Judge Bryson who first declares Ellen to be legally dead, then has to deal with the aftermath of her not being dead, legally or otherwise. This poor black-robed nebbish is played by Granville Bates, and he’s one of my favorite screen jurists.

I know that some of the social issues that form the plotlines of movies from the ‘30’s and ‘40’s seem more than a little archaic to modern sensibilities. But folks, funny is still funny. And My Favorite Wife is very, very funny. Find it and enjoy it!


[1] This quote is not from this month’s movie. It’s from Animal Crackers (1930), a Marx Brothers movie. I used it for several reasons: it fits the subject matter of this month’s movie; I absolutely love the Marx Brothers; and mostly because it’s funny!

[2] Scott worked in many different genres, but is most remembered as a rugged star of Westerns. He and Grant were very good friends, at one time sharing a beach house.

[3] Stuff like this can make real-life cases difficult, too. I had a hearing recently where an earlier marriage and divorce for husband came to light while testimony was being taken. The parties to the case knew all about it – but husband sort of forgot to tell his lawyer. Hilarity did not ensue.

March 2015 Executive Director’s Letter: NITA Is Unique, Once Again

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Lockwood_KarenLet’s talk about webinars.

You and I see many invitations to commercial webinars in our inbox.  Some introduce a topic you know little about.  Some give you an introduction to a person or company.  Many are fairly elementary, such as “how to use twitter as a marketing tool.” Others are orientations – like our lawyers’ old friend,  AmJur, purposed to enumerate a large number of topics within a broad field.  An example would be “educating participants about the various types and stages of whistle-blower claims” (in 90 minutes).  In general most webinars that pop into your inbox are tangentially related to something in your zone of interests.  What do you do?  Save them for after-hours to delete or sample.

They are ubiquitous.

Ours are different. Here at NITA our method is to help lawyers in direct and immediate ways, giving you a menu of choices. So too for our NITA webcasts.

  • We run live webcasts. Monthly.
  • They are audio-visual.  You watch the speaker deliver, or be interviewed – on camera in real time.
  • You also watch our speaker’s slides at the same time as you see her gesturing, smiling, exclaiming, or showing you the point.
  • Our topics are small slices of trial advocacy. They sit alongside – but are different from – the advocacy skills you practice in our in-person programs.
  • Our speakers are masters of their topic.  You will see some NITA faculty plus guest speakers who know well the thin-slice of the advocacy topic at hand.
  • And you can ask the speaker questions in real time.

If you miss a live webcast, you will find it recorded (free these days) and ready for you to view online, on demand, just as it was broadcast live. (Sorry you can’t ask the speaker questions unless you go live.)

These are not elementary or orienting types of teaching. Like all NITA offerings, we create them as another way to learn.  Some examples? You can focus for the hour on a detailed lecture and practitioner’s advice about Rule 30(b)(6) depositions, presented by the authors of our NITA’s master book on the subject – The Effective Deposition.  You can engage in a field of expertise through our studio interview of one of the nation’s foremost forensic psychiatrists, thinking through your work with such experts in consulting and trial settings.

Whatever topic you choose from our menu of prior NITA webcasts, you will engage specifically, deeply, and clearly.

Oh yes, we do end each NITA webcast with a reminder of how our live programs help you.  In our live programs, YOU are doing the speaking, gesturing, smiling, and showing as if to the judge or jury.  Guided, critiqued, taught, reinforced. You grow.

Don’t let this knowledge escape your attention.

  • Live NITA webcasts? Watch your email or check the upcoming schedule online.
  • Miss a NITA webcasts that you would like?  View it on demand, recorded live, audio-visual, slides, and all.

Visit NITA’s studio71 library now.




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

NITA Movie Review: Husband and Wife,  D.A. and Defense Lawyer, Feminism and “The Unwritten Law”

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Written by guest blogger Judge McGahey

adamsRibDoris Attinger follows her husband Warren and catches him with another woman. She pulls a gun out of her purse and—with her eyes closed—blazes away.  Warren is hit in the shoulder, and Doris eventually is charged with attempted murder. Adam Bonner, an assistant D.A., is assigned to prosecute the case, and Adam’s wife Amanda decides to defend Doris.[1] That’s the basic outline of the 1949 MGM comedy, Adam’s Rib, a film that in several ways was way ahead of its time.

Spencer Tracy stars as Adam and Katherine Hepburn stars as Amanda, with the great Judy Holliday as Doris. George Cukor directed, and Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin wrote the Oscar-nominated script. It’s regarded by many (including me) as the best of the six films Hepburn and Tracy made together.

One of the underlying issues in the case is the so-called “unwritten law” that supposedly allowed men who caught their wives with another man to use deadly force without any legal consequence.[2] Early on in the movie, Amanda and Adam have a spirited discussion about this “law,” with Amanda arguing forcefully that it should apply to women just the same as it would to men. Adam doesn’t seem concerned about this; after all, Doris confessed! And when the case comes to trial, Adam chooses to treat the case as one that is essentially an open and shut case of attempted murder. Not so Amanda. Early on, in voir dire, she makes it clear to the jury that her defense of Doris will center around equality for women when placed in the same situations as men. And Amanda proceeds to try the case on exactly that point. (While I know this may sound a bit preachy and even dull, believe me, it isn’t at all. Just wait for the lady weightlifter.)

As the case progresses and Adam and Amanda begin to really spar in court, their marriage starts to suffer. As Adam packs to move out of their apartment, he gives an impassioned speech on how he thinks Amanda is disrespecting the law and what the law means and should mean.[3] (Mark Caldwell and I have used this scene as the final clip in some of our ethics presentations.) After that, Amanda and Adam’s slimy neighbor (David Wayne) makes a play for Amanda and Adam catches him at it. He pulls out a gun and points it at the couple, causing Amanda to burst out that “no one has a right to do that.” Watch what happens next. And if you’re at all worried about the outcome, don’t be. This is Hollywood, it’s 1949, and love and marriage triumph over all.

Amanda Bonner was something new to movies: an effective, skillful woman trial lawyer.  While women lawyers are hardly an oddity today, they certainly were in 1949. While we live in a world where more than half of all entering law students are women, that was not the world of Amanda and Adam Bonner. Amanda is a prototypical feminist and one we can all admire, both as a person and as a lawyer. Bergman and Asimov said it best in their book, Reel Justice: “. . . Amanda Bonner remains the most positive female lawyer role model of all time.”

Of course, there’s one more interesting subtext here. As you may know, Tracy and Hepburn were real-life lovers for nearly thirty years, but kept their relationship a secret. Even though Tracy was estranged from his wife as far back as the ’30s, he wouldn’t divorce her because they were both Roman Catholics. Tracy and Hepburn were as devoted to each other as a couple could be—but they tried to keep their love private, so private that Hepburn didn’t even go to Tracy’s funeral. But as you watch them on screen, you’ll easily see that in their scenes as a couple in love, they weren’t acting.

I hope you’ll search out Adam’s Rib and watch it. Some of it will seem dated, but some of it is as on point as anything released this year. And you have Tracy and Hepburn, which is pretty much all you need for a really great movie!


[1] Yes, it’s a conflict of interest. But it’s a movie!

[2] While this idea may seem quaint, or even ludicrous, to modern sensibilities, it was actually codified by statue in Texas, New Mexico, and Utah in times past.

[3] Remember that Tracy makes an impassioned speech on what the law means at the climax of Judgment at Nuremberg.


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Written by guest blogger Judge McGahey

Because February is Oscar month and because I’m back in a domestic courtroom, this month’s review will spotlight three Oscar-winning films that feature family court- type situations. (It does not include Kramer v. Kramer.  I still have to decide if I want to review that one.)

thePhiladelphiaStoryWe’ll start with The Philadelphia Story, from 1940. It’s perhaps the apex of a sort of subgenre popular in the ’30s and ’40s that revolved around the idea of remarriage as a springboard for romance.[1] Directed by George Cukor, this movie has a cast that truly deserves the label “all-star”:  Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart, and Ruth Hussey. The movie revolves around Tracy Lord (Hepburn), a divorced woman getting ready to remarry.  Her former husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant), shows up, planning to stop the wedding; he’s helped by Tracy’s mother and younger sister. James Stewart and Hussey play reporters from a People-type magazine, who (though something akin to blackmail) are permitted to write a story about the upcoming wedding. As one might expect, much confusion and comedy ensue.  (And believe me, this is a way oversimplified summary of the plot!)

The Philadelphia Story is highly acclaimed, with reason.  It’s number 44 on AFI’s 100 Years One Hundred Movies list and in 1995 was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. The movie was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Director. It won two: James Stewart for Best Actor[2] and Donald Ogden Stewart (no relation) for Best Screenplay. I really can’t recommend this movie enough: it’s a wonderful example of what happens when great actors have great lines to deliver and a great director to guide them.[3]

paperMoonThe struggles of single parenting (multiplied by about a million) are at heart of Paper Moon (1973.) It stars Ryan O’Neal and his real-life daughter, Tatum O’Neal, as itinerant con artists selling Bibles to bereaved widows in rural Kansas during the Depression. Tatum O’Neal won the Oscar for Best Actress at the age of ten, thus becoming the youngest actor ever to win a competitive Oscar. Peter Bogdanovich directed.

Ryan O’Neal plays Moses Pray, who at the beginning of the film is working his scam alone.  He meets Addie at her mother’s funeral and discovers that Addie might be his daughter.  Moses, somewhat against his will, agrees to deliver Addie to her aunt. On the way, they meet up with a scatterbrained hooker played by Madeleine Kahn and a bootlegger and his nasty brother, who just happens to be a sheriff, both played by John Hillerman of Magnum, P.I. fame. Watching Moses and Addie interact—and bond—is what the movie is all about.  The ending will warm your heart—and make you laugh out loud.

mrsDoubtfireThe last movie we’ll consider won only one Oscar, for Best Makeup. But although it’s a comedy, it highlights the agonies that often surround custody and visitation—or as many states (including mine) now call them, allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time.

The movie is 1993’s Mrs. Doubtfire, starring the recently lost and much-lamented Robin Williams as Daniel Hilliard, an irresponsible actor whose ex-wife is initially given custody because at the time of the divorce he has neither a job nor a home. Daniel is  so desperate to spend more time with his children that he disguises himself as an elderly Scotswoman and becomes his children’s nanny and confidant, without his children or his ex-wife (Sally Field) figuring out the deception, at least initially.  As he interacts with his children as Mrs. Doubtfire, he grows as a person and as a father and his children learn how to handle their parents’ divorce. He also becomes his ex’s best friend and confidant. Of course, Daniel’s disguise is eventually discovered and the judge, bothered by Daniel’s actions (what a surprise!), gives him only supervised parenting time. If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t spoil the ending.  Rest assured, however, that it’s happy—and even a little uplifting.

Hope everyone enjoyed this year’s Oscars and that your favorite film/actor/actress/song came out a winner!


[1] I won’t list any others here; I can use those movies as the theme for another review!

[2] Stewart always felt this Oscar was a “make-good” for his not winning in 1939 for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. When you look at the other 1940 nominees, he may have had a point.  They included Henry Fonda for The Grapes of Wrath, Charlie Chaplin for The Great Dictator, and Raymond Massey for Abe Lincoln in Illinois. Stewart said he voted for Fonda. I would have, too.

[3] One caveat: there’s a scene at the very beginning of this movie that we would now recognize as domestic violence. Even though we understand that now, I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of the audience didn’t see it that way in 1940.

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 Goal is 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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