The Legal Advocate

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Written by guest blogger Judge McGahey

compulsionPosterIn the August, 2015 edition of the ABA Journal, there’s an excellent article titled “100 Years of Law at the Movies.” I’ve reviewed many of the movies listed, but realized I’d neglected a number of great ones.  I’m going to try and remedy that, starting with a 1959 movie about murder, insanity and the death penalty that will have real resonance for me and my fellow Coloradans who’ve recently watched with fascination the death penalty trials of James Holmes, the Aurora theater shooter.

Compulsion (20th Century Fox, 1959) tells the story of two rich, amoral Chicago law students, Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) and Artie Straus (Bradford Dillman).  Judd and Artie consider themselves superior beings, supermen who are not controlled by the laws and mores that other people have to follow.  They decide to kill someone, just to see what it feels like.  They plan their murder and commit it, abducting a random schoolboy and slaying him in gruesome fashion. Not surprisingly, their “perfect crime” isn’t and they are caught and put on trial.  Their wealthy fathers hire the well-known criminal defense attorney, Johnathan Wilk (Orson Welles) to defend them.  Wilk decides on a drastic strategy: he admits his clients committed the murder, dispenses with a jury and fights against the execution of his clients before a judge sitting alone, claiming that his clients are insane, the product of warped values exacerbated by their wealth and social position.  Wilk and prosecutor Harold Horn (E.G. Marshall[1]) then go to war for Judd and Artie’s lives.

This movie is one that is actually “based on true events.” In 1924, two rich young men from Chicago, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb kidnapped and killed a fourteen year-old boy named Bobby Franks.  They were put on trial and were defended by the great lawyer, Clarence Darrow.[2] Darrow was perceived as a champion of the downtrodden and overlooked of society, and his defense of two children of the wealthy raised eyebrows.  The Leopold and Loeb case was a national sensation, with extensive – and lurid – media coverage. The case continues to fascinate people. If you don’t believe me, type “Leopold and Loeb” into your search bar.

This movie is one well worth watching.  The trial scenes are riveting and the acting is first class; Welles, Stockwell and Dillman collectively received the Best Actor Award at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival. Compulsion is number 19 on the ABA’s 25 Greatest Legal Movies list that was published in 1959.

But have no illusions.  Compulsion is a movie with explicit agendas: it is clearly and unashamedly against the death penalty and also argues forcefully that legal definitions of “insanity” are inadequate.  But it also brilliantly creates the dilemma faced by the supporters and the opponents of both concepts.  The crime committed here is random, heinous, frightening, incomprehensible. And the murderers are utterly unsympathetic. They are obnoxious rich kids who believe themselves to be the intellectual superiors of everyone else on earth, but on the surface they look completely normal, a couple of spoiled jerks. Compulsion forces the viewer to confront how he or she feels about these issues and to think about how our society deals with them. For those of us in Colorado who just lived through a close-up view of a trial with incomprehensible murders, where sanity  or insanity was the key to the Defendant’s case, these questions are still fresh.

And still unanswered.


[1]  Marshall also played Juror #4 in 12 Angry Men.

[2]  Darrow was the model for Spencer Tracy’s character, Henry Drummond, in Inherit the Wind.

Grateful Voices of Scholarship Recipients

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“I want to thank you for granting me a scholarship to attend the NITA Deposition Training! It was invaluable. I found the program to be amazing and would highly recommend it to every attorney. The staff was friendly and the instructors were top notch. I would say that the exercises are the critical component that sets this program apart from other deposition trainings. It’s really surprising how much easier it looks when you are not the one doing a deposition.  I am definitely the type of person that learns by doing and this training gave me the opportunity to do that.  I have to admit the first two days were challenging–in a good way– but on the third day everything just clicked.

The NITA deposition training program is by far the best deposition training program I have attended because it will actually give you the “nuts and bolts” training on how to prepare to take your first deposition. The program combines theory with “hands-on” training which is critical and sets it apart from other programs.  You also receive critical feedback about your strengths as well as guidance about how to improve your weak spots. At the end of the program, you will have the tools to effectively take or defend any deposition. Thank you for this great learning opportunity.”

-Magdalena Reyes Bordeaux
Supervising Senior Staff Attorney for Public Counsel
2015 Scholarship Attendee of the NITA Deposition Skills:  Los Angeles

“I was fortunate to receive an across the board acquittal last Friday, in a rape case involving a juvenile complaining witness. This was my highest stakes case yet, and probably the best for me in terms of technique and direct exams.  The skills and methods we worked on in DC stayed with me – I look back fondly to rehearsing the closing argument while walking across Capitol Hill with my trial bag!

What a gift to spend a week surrounded by people who are committed to bringing trial skills to the next level. My classmates and faculty at the NITA DC Advanced Advocates became good friends and trusted guides so quickly.  From one day to the next, sometimes from one hour to the next, we were making huge strides as trial lawyers.

The level was truly advanced, and in a spirit of friendly competition, we exceeded our own expectations. By day 3, nobody was using notes anymore, and the nervous tics of trial work had subsided. By the last day of trials, I was convinced that my team could take on virtually any case, anywhere, using the skills we learned in DC. We turned off the email, shut down the devices, and learned about trial excellence by doing it.

I have such gratitude for the ability to attend, which would otherwise have been impossible given the demands of a busy solo practice. Each time I have put away daily office routines in favor of learning to be great at what I do, NITA has never let me down.

I look forward to the next opportunity to be surrounded by lawyers committed to excellence, and to helping others reach the same level. Thanks for the dedication to the program, and I look forward to attending a future NITA class.”

-Richard H. Maurer

Attorney at Law
2015 Scholarship Attendee of DC Advanced Advocates

June 2015 Executive Director’s Letter: NITA Spreads Its Wings to Kansas City and Builds Out in Dallas

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Lockwood_KarenWe are proud to introduce in 2015 two brand new programs.

The Inaugural program, Depositions – Kansas City, is kicking off on August 13-15, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri.   Our new Program Directors there are Charles E. Atwell, J. (retired) and Hon. William Ossman.  Look for more information on this program here.

Then in November, you will find Persuasive Power in the Courtroom offered in Dallas. The Program Director is David Mann, and you can sign up now to attend on September 10-11, 2015. Look for more information on this program here.

You have been to a NITA advocacy skills program, right? If your answer is “yes,” you know the following truths:

  • NITA grooms your trial and deposition skills in its renowned “public programs.”
  • Nothing matches learning the NITA way.
  • “Being there” has no substitute. In person, you learn and practice advocacy skills that fit well on you – they become a part of you.
  • Any lawyer, at any age, in any type of practice, can select the city where NITA operates one of its regional public programs.

If your answer is “no,” then you must look forward to the experience of your career: development of your advocacy skills with NITA.

  • Public programs appeal to a wide range of lawyers, offer open registration to any lawyer, and thus have several hallmark advantages:
  • You will learn with lawyers you have never met before
  • You may be able to learn with lawyers who have been – or will be – your adversaries in the courtroom. Your professional collegiality will benefit.
  • You will study with faculty whom you do not know – and therefore will have complete freedom to stretch past your courage, to experiment in ways you would not on a client matter, and thus to deepen your mastery as an advocate.

Now we are in Kansas City. Come learn with us there!

By adding Persuasive Advocacy communication skills to our Dallas line-up, you can now earn your entire NITA Advocate Designation there!

Spread the word: new this year – Kansas City Depo. Dallas Persuasive Advocacy. NITA.




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

July 2013 Executive Director’s Letter: Depositions Are In At NITA

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Karen M. Lockwood

Karen M. Lockwood

With all this talk about depositions this month on NITA’s blog, The Legal Advocate, it’s easy to be inspired to brush up on nuanced skills, new techniques, and vast changes in technology for depositions. There is that changing world of technology choices, which Dick Leighton writes about. There is the separate skill bank needed to succeed in a “distance deposition,” as Larry Silver discusses. And the detail behind the admonitions – which are critical and only sound simple, as Shahrad Milanfar makes clear with his cheat sheet.

Bloggers Dick and Larry are NITA Program Directors for two of our live deposition programs – Dick in DC on July 31-August 2, with an add-on day of expert depositions on August 3. Larry leads our California Coast deposition in the LA area on July 25-27. Under the federal system’s 7-hour limit on time with a witness, the prize goes to the lawyer who puts a premium on economy of vocabulary, and who puts the work into a tightly developed plan to achieve her goals.

NITA’s deposition programs provide a lot to learn, to be reminded of, and to practice with peer reviews. In fact, we have 18 deposition programs for you through the rest of 2013.

  • Summer – what a great time to choose a 3-day, combine it with a short stay in the vicinity, and call it a productive get-away. July and August offer 5 depositions programs from coast to coast (DC, LA, Seattle, and on-line).
  • Back-To-School — if you like to polish skills in the fall as your docket shapes up, September and October offer 6 programs (Berkeley, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, and on-line).
  • Fall — And if you budget your time now through year’s end, November and December offer 7 programs (New York, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Boulder, and on-line)

In planning your schedule, you may wish to talk with us. Call us at (303)953-6829 or reach out to Jane Dougherty at We are always thrilled to hear from you, and happy to talk through your planning questions.

Indeed, you can use the deposition program as one of the line-up of key skills needed to earn your certificate as NITA Master Advocate.

In my trial practice, before starting tricky or unusual depositions, I often referred to my chosen library of NITA reference books, which I kept close at hand. Although 30 years of trial practice provided extensive comfort in taking good depositions, I remembered to pull new ideas from the NITA reference books to refresh my imagination, suggest an approach for a difficult witness, reinforce such discipline as setting up but not springing grounds for impeachment at trial, and more. Having them at hand was like having just walked out of a NITA program faculty room, where disciplined technique and fresh ideas are carefully taught and freely exchanged.

NITA’s deposition reference books are distinguished from the typical “practice guide” for this reason – the disciplined technique and the inspired suggestions bring the faculty into your office. Our collection includes: 30(b)(6) Rules: Talking to an Organization (Malone) (new small handbook format); Deposition Rules: Essential Handbook of Who, What, When, Where, Why and How (Malone) (new small handbook); Deposition Evidence: Objections, Instructions Not To Answer, and Responses (Bocchino, Sonenshein); and related books like Exhibit Rules (Malone & Zwier), and our latest Laying Foundations and Meeting Objections (e-book, print coming late July) (Siemer). The full treatise, The Effective Deposition, 4th Edition (Malone, Hoffman, Bocchino) is not to be missed. It comes in print, ebook, and most recently the enhanced ebook featuring 30 videos of instruction by the authors and demonstrations.

As primers for your program reservation, or as on-demand opportunities to grab lunch over a video, log onto studio71. There you will find NITA’s growing collection of short, NITA-specialized quick tips for the trial lawyer. These are highly specialized, small-subject discussions on various topics. They include some of the videos from the enhanced ebook The Effective Deposition 4th, eight videos on discrete deposition topics, and a wonderful webinar by Dave Malone and Peter Hoffman on deep and important aspects of a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition.

I welcome you to NITA through these exciting options for deepening your deposition skills. However you enter our NITA world, you will find an entrée that suits your schedule now, and will broaden your access to the leading Program Directors and finest faculty. They team with you, as a colleague, to help you strengthen your skills in what we know is the never-ending growth of fine trial lawyers.
NITA is a community. It is a welcoming network. There are many places where you can contribute, and we invite you to bring others with you.



Karen M. Lockwood

Executive Director

Advocacy History

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Written by: Mark S. Caldwell, JD
National Institute of Trial Advocacy
Public Program Development & Resource Director

Daniel McHugh, NITA’s Director of Sales and Marketing, and I were in the NITA kitchen chatting about the blog. We went back and forth about ideas for future articles, debating what may generate the most interest. Daniel suggested a month’s worth of postings about the history of the law. My response was I did not know who would write those articles and who would care to read them. We talked about other topics and developed some interesting ideas for the summer. Just the same, the topic of legal history kept returning to me. I recalled a presentation by NITA teacher Tina Habas that quoted Clarence Darrow and his advice on jury selection. Darrow’s suggestions sounded so biased and different from current thinking. This distinction gave me the idea that a single article that pointed out the major changes in advocacy philosophy might be interesting.


HistoryLawBlogPost1I started my research by reading the article Darrow wrote for Esquire Magazine in May 1936. (You can find it here ) Here is a sample of Darrow’s advice on selecting jurors:


An Irishman is called into the box for examination. There is no reason for asking about his religion; he is Irish; that is enough. We may not agree with his religion, but it matters not, his feelings go deeper than any religion. You should be aware that he is emotional, kindly and sympathetic. If he is chosen as a juror, his imagination will place him in the dock; really, he is trying himself. 

Darrow goes on to suggest: no Presbyterians – your client is most likely guilty;  no Scandinavians—they are always sure to convict; no Mediterraneans—too hot-blooded and emotional; no wealthy people—too carefree with money; no poor people—too tightfisted with money; and no women.  Such generalities and banal stereotyping are enough to make any of today’s trial lawyers cringe.

Initially, it appeared I was on to what could be an interesting comparison of past and present techniques and strategy decisions. As I dug deeper I found references to the fact that Darrow may actually have been writing with his tongue firmly in his cheek.  Anne Reed, a trial attorney and jury consultant based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, believes the essay is supposed to be comical and there is some wisdom in Darrow’s words – “a subtlety of observation there that we could all do better at” picking up on, she said. “But it’s marred by the slapping of the label across each observation.” []

Even if Darrow was poking fun he included some wisdom that continues to apply when selecting a jury.

Explanations must not be too fantastic or ridiculous. It does no harm to admit the difficulty of the situation, to acknowledge that this circumstance or that seems against him. Many facts point to guilt, but in another light these facts may appear harmless.

Finding my first attempt to be flawed I decided to go back further in time to see if trial scholars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries had differing opinions than our contemporaries. I found several treatises to test my theory—only to find solid advice on a range of topics.

In his work A Treatise on American Advocacy, Central Law Journal Company (2nd Ed. 1913), Alexander H. Robbins talks about case theory at page 38:

The theory thus constructed lies at the foundation of the advocate’s case. His pleadingHistoryLawBlogPost2 outlines his theory; his evidence fills it in and gives it shape; and the principles of law which he cites must support the result which his theory has produced.

A party cannot make indefinite and uncertain allegations in his pleadings and then enter a trial aimlessly, permitting the evidence to carry him where it will, and finally insist on one or the other of the different phases of his case which seem to him at that time most desirable.

As we teach case analysis we, likewise, tell participants to determine the legal elements to be proved, match them with supporting and detracting facts, select the most persuasive witness to deliver the facts, and see if there are exhibits that provide additional confirmation. Woe to the participant who has no case story or who offers multiple explanations.

When we teach cross-examination we offer guidance that questions should be short—no longer than seven words—should contain a single fact, and offer no conclusions. We should save  argument on the answers for closing. Compare our advice to Robbins’ on page 171:

He should get little answers to little questions, and he will then find as a rule that answers are strung together like a row of beads within the man; and if he draw gently, so as not to break the thread, they will come with the utmost ease and without causing the patient the slightest pain. In fact, till he hears the advocate sum up his evidence, he will have no idea of what he has been delivered.

We teach young trial lawyers to prepare the witness. It is our job to help them succeed as they testify. We want to put the witness at ease. Start with simple questions so the witness becomes accustomed to testifying. Then we hear, “State your name and spell it for the record” as the first words in a direct examination. Our fix is to suggest beginning the examination by asking the witness to introduce themselves to the judge and jury.

On page 24, William L. Murfree writes in his revisions to Richard Harris’ Hints on Advocacy: In Civil and Criminal Courts, William H. Stevenson Publishers (1881):

He knows, too, that every word he says will probably be disputed, if not flatly contradicted. He has never had his word disputed before perhaps but now it is very likely to be suggested that he is committing rank perjury. This is pretty nearly the state of mind of many a witness, when for the first time he enters the box to be examined. In the first place then, he is in the worst possible frame of mind to be examined—he is agitated, confused, and bewildered. Now put, to examine him, an agitated, confused and bewildered young advocate, and you have got the worst of all elements together for the production of what is wanted, namely, evidence. First of all the man is asked his name, as if he were going to say his catechism, and much confusion there is often about that, the witness feeling sometimes that he is blamed by the judge for not having a more agreeable one, or for having a name at all.

The concept of “head notes” or foundational statements that direct the witness to a specific topic often seems a foreign concept to advocacy students. We counsel participants that these statements help guide and control the witness while helping the fact finder track important concepts. Is this a new concept to advocacy? In his 1889 two volume treatise The Law of Trials in Civil and Criminal Matters (T.H. Flood and Company 1889), Seymour D. Thompson suggests using leading questions to draw a witness to a topic.

Nor is it always available error that introductory questions, designed to draw the mind of the witness to the scene or fact of the controversy, are put in such a manner as to assume the existence of a fact. Thus, in a criminal trial it was held that a witness might be asked whether “he had examined the place designated by H. as the place where he was shot,”—the object being merely to introduce further questions. [emphasis added]

Thompson goes further to explain, on page 322, what would be “leading the witness” on direct examination:

A leading question is one which may be answered by Yes or No, or which suggests the desired answer. It is a question which puts the answer into the mouth of the witness. All questions put to a witness, which assume the existence of facts material to the issue which have not been proved, are said to fall within the definition of leading questions. But a question which merely directs the attention of the witness to the fact in controversy, about which his testimony is desired, is not leading. [emphasis added]

Even communications theory is not a new concept for trial lawyers. In 1893, Professor William C. Robinson published Forensic Oratory: A Manual for Advocates (Little Brown and Company 1893).

As we teach Opening Statement we encourage participants to begin with a statement that “grabs the attention” of the fact finder and makes them want to hear more of the case story.  Many considered this a major change from the traditional “civics lecture” opening where the lawyer let the jury know that what she said was not evidence—and in doing so immediately put them to sleep. Here is what Professor Robinson counsels:

Second only to the necessity of adapting the evidence to the comprehension of the jury, is that of offering the evidence in such a manner that it will move their minds and dispositions unceasingly toward the judgment which the advocate desires. In accomplishing this purpose, it should be his first endeavor to secure attention and excite good will toward his client and his cause, either by the character of the opening evidence itself, or by the witness through whom such evidence is given.

How often have you seen a direct examination go bad because the examiner is afraid of what the witness may say? We counsel participants they must trust their own witnesses until they have reason to take more control. We advise not to suggest answers. Read what Professor Robinson recommends:

The thoughtless and impetuous advocate defeats the purposes of evidence in an equally effectual manner. He is convinced that nothing can be well done unless he does it, that no witness can relate a fact unless aided by his inquiries, and that no story can be completed unless he secures the insertion of each minute particular in its proper place, whenever that place in the narration is attained. He constantly interrupts the witnesses to emphasize some special point, or to call attention to some fact which he assumes the witness has forgotten. He asks misleading questions by which the witness is perplexed, and when the answer is not prompt and pertinent rebukes him in a manner that puts to flight all his remaining recollections. If an answer is of doubtful import, instead of making a different inquiry which may produce a more complete reply, he repeats the doubtful answer to the witness and demands an explanation, —a demand with which the witness, having forgotten what he did say or having spoken without full consideration of his words, is naturally unable to comply.

Certainly, not every pronouncement in these aforementioned books is correct. Times have changed the nature of trial practice – inserting codified versions of evidence and procedural rules, giving new statutory interpretations, etc. The books also may offer advice that no longer fits in current society. For example, Seymour Thompson tells us that it is not reversible error in refusing to compel a female witness testifying upon an indelicate subject to couch her answers in indecent language, although, if so expressed, her answers would be more direct, though, not necessarily more intelligible (at page 320). Likewise, the prose once used in providing guiding fledgling lawyers is a bit stilted by today’s standards. Just the same, it is still sound.

Perhaps what this all proves is—there are few new ideas about trying cases; we simply recycle.

For those of you itching to read these historic texts you may find them at:

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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