The Legal Advocate

A blog brought to you by the national institute for trial advocacy

Category Archives: Uncategorized

NITA Celebrates Pro Bono Recognition Week

Posted On By

written by NITA Board Member Barbara Bergman

proBonoWeek2014National Pro Bono Recognition week is October 19-25.  As a result, this is a fitting time to reflect on NITA’s historic and continued commitment to pro bono and public service work.  From its founding, NITA’s Board of Trustees and its staff have embraced public service as part of its mission. The first NITA programs included many lawyers who were either legal service attorneys or who actively represented pro bono clients. NITA continues to train those lawyers at its public and public service programs.

The Board of Trustees has chosen to make training attorneys and advocates who work with specific underserved communities a priority—including, but not limited to, areas such as legal aid, child advocacy, criminal law, tribal courts, and cases involving domestic violence.  We do this through scholarships to public programs, NITA-funded public service programs, and working with local organizations to provide programs for those attorneys who serve these communities.

So far, in 2014, scholarships have been awarded to 94 attorneys in NITA public programs totaling over $100,000, enabling them to attend various NITA programs throughout the country. In addition, in 2014, over 500 participants were trained in NITA’s more specialized public service programs.  Those programs included three child advocacy programs training 66 attorneys; two programs training 40 attorneys who do disability rights work; three legal services programs training 100 attorneys, two domestic violence programs training 56 attorneys, one death penalty program training 48 attorneys, a civil rights program training 32 attorneys, and three programs in conjunction with bar associations training an additional 56 attorneys.  NITA has also sponsored teacher training programs for legal service and child advocacy attorneys, which were designed to enable those attorneys to return to their offices and train the attorneys with whom they worked to be more effective advocates.  Finally, NITA is participating in advocacy training programs in Serbia, Singapore, Ireland, Kenya, and Japan.  Overall, 150 individuals attended nine international programs.

Not only is NITA committed to training attorneys who give selflessly of their time and talents representing clients who are indigent, but in addition members of the NITA Board and staff continue to do pro bono work by volunteering for many service projects, including serving on boards, speaking and teaching, and working with service organizations.

During this Pro Bono Recognition Week, it is important to acknowledge the tremendous unmet need for legal services both in this country and internationally. It is equally important  to recognize the dedication to pro bono work demonstrated by NITA’s staff, faculty, and Board.

October 2014 Executive Director’s Letter: NITA Talent – Our Faculty Are Honored In Their Fields

Posted On By

Lockwood_KarenProud of our faculty’s talents, in teaching as well as in the law, I share with you these accolades for members of NITA’s Faculty. Our faculty are leaders. They are thinkers. They are restless – the world should be better! They walk the talk – they work to extend knowledge and advocate for real justice. They pass it on – they teach NITA, making others into more skilled trial lawyers. They achieve – honors, results, justice. These folks exemplify NITA – we are true-blue through and through.

  • Pamela Bresnahan (NITA Board member, Chair Nominating Committee, faculty member). Pam was elected to the ABA Board of Governors to serve as an At Large Member for a three year term beginning in August 2014. The Board of Governors is the body that decides ABA policy and governs when the House of Delegates is not in session. Pam has served on top leadership committees and commissions of the ABA for years, and is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. She is a partner at Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP in Washington, DC. Read More
  • Thomas F. Geraghty (NITA Board member, Chair Publications Committee, faculty member). Tom received the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The award honors Tom for his professional accomplishments and dedication to justice. Tom is associate dean for clinical education and director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic. He has been a member of the Northwestern Law community – and of NITA — for more than 40 years. Read More
  • Michael A. Kelly (NITA Board member, past Program Director Teacher Training). Mike was selected as Trial Lawyer of the Year by CAL-ABOTA, the American Board of Trial Advocates’ award honoring California lawyers. The award requirements are for the person to be an excellent advocate, have a distinguished career, have a superb reputation of civility, ethics and fair play, and have one or more outstanding trial results. Read More
  • Louise A. LaMothe (Emeritus Trustee, NITA Board, Past Chair, frequent faculty member). Louise is now Judge LaMothe, installed as United States Magistrate Judge for the Central District of California (Santa Barbara Division). She is past Chair, ABA Section of Litigation, served twice as a 9th Circuit Judicial Conference representative, and in other leadership roles. She is a Fellow and Board member of the College of Commercial Arbitrators, and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. She practiced at Irell & Manella, LLP, and is distinguished as the first woman partner at Bird Marella. Read More
  • Marcia Levy (Program Director of NITA’s New York Deposition Program, public service and custom programs). On November 10, 2014, Marcia will become only the second Executive Director of Pro Bono Partnership. Founded in 1997, Pro Bono Partnership provides business and transactional legal services to nonprofit organizations serving the disadvantaged or enhancing the quality of life in neighborhoods in New York tri-state area, with affiliates in Atlanta and Cincinnati. Ms. Levy currently is Professor at Cardozo School of Law, and previously practiced with Sullivan & Cromwell. Read More
  • Leo M. Romero (NITA Board member & Past Chair; fmr Program Director NITA Southwest Deposition Skills). Leo is the 2014 Spirit of Excellence Award Honoree, bestowed by the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession annually to a very select group of law leaders who lead in diversity as well. His address underscores the importance of UNM, and of Leo’s work from law school forward, to elevating the numbers and impact of diverse members of the bar. Read More
  • Leo is a “two-fer” this year. Past Dean of the University of New Mexico Law School, the law school also honored him at a soiree naming a major new classroom, the ”Leo M. Romero Classroom.” Read More
  • Andrew Schepard (Program Director, custom programs; NITA Author). A Professor at Hofstra University Law School, Andy was honored when Hofstra bestowed the title of Max Schmertz Distinguished Professor of Law. Andrew Schepard is a 1972 graduate of Harvard Law School, where he served as articles editor of the Harvard Law Review, and served as a law clerk to then-Chief Judge James L. Oakes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Read More

(NITA faculty, please send us other honors and awards you know of – we would like to congratulate you and your colleagues too.)

By gathering these examples of our faculty’s leadership, I ask that you extend NITA’s outstretched hand to others with such top legal talent, inviting them into the NITA community across the nation. Our community grows through lawyers who care. It is an act of friendship to turn to a most talented colleague and say, “You would be great at teaching too. NITA is the one.”

Then call me.

NITA teaching. Recognition as a leader. The two go hand in hand.




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

Hon. Christopher McNeil: Administrative Law Judge, U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration

Posted On By

Reposted with permission from The Federal Lawyer and written by NITA Legal Editor Marsi Buckmelter. The Hon. Christopher McNeil is the author of Administrative Agency Litigation which is available in print, Kindle eBook, and Apple eBook editions.


Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said that, “[t]he life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” Most judges, it seems, would agree that experience matters when one accepts the responsibilities associated with adjudication. Judge Christopher McNeil, an administrative law judge (ALJ) with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is a case in point. For 27 years, Judge McNeil has had the opportunity to apply an unusual range of experience in determining the outcome of cases. Unlike many of his state and federal adjudicative peers, however, the one feature linking all of these cases is that he’s done so while squarely entrenched in the executive branch of government and in the employment of the very agencies whose interests are on the table.

Working as an adjudicator for governmental agencies carries with it a degree of risk not present when serving as a judge in the judicial branch. The independent judicial branch jurist knows there are constitutional protections to ensure that impartial and independent analyses form the basis for any decision rendered by the jurist. Those protections take the form of clear walls separating the judicial branch from the executive branch. Judge McNeil, however, has learned that those walls are not so well defined when the adjudicator is part of the executive branch. While his decisions need be impartial, they draw their authority from the agencies he serves. As a result, it’s not accurate to describe those decisions as being independent, at least not in the sense we’re used to seeing from judicial branch judges. The risk present in executive branch adjudications is that the agency will overreach and compel an outcome based not on the facts and law present, but on policies it is promoting. Judge McNeil understands this risk and has made a career of understanding how procedural safeguards work to guarantee that every party appearing before him gets a fair hearing before an impartial adjudicator.

As a first-year practicing attorney in Junction City, Kan., Judge McNeil served as deputy public defender for the Eighth Judicial District. During his two-year tenure starting in 1981, he became acquainted with the Fourth Amendment, both in theory and in practice. Appearing as sole counsel in more than 700 felony cases, he tried more than 200 bench and jury trials focusing primarily on aggravated battery, sexual assault, and drug sale felony prosecutions. Asked how this helped him develop his professional outlook, Judge McNeil explains that these cases rose and fell on how rigorously the judge enforced constitutional protections—most notably, the Fourth Amendment limitation on the government’s ability to conduct warrantless searches under exigent or putatively exigent circumstances.

In 1988, the judge and his family moved to Columbus, Ohio. His wife of 30 years, Prof. L. Camille Hébert, had recently accepted an appointment to teach employment law at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University. While Prof. Hébert began her steady rise through the academic ranks at Moritz and the couple had their third child, Judge McNeil began what would become an eight-year term of service as a prosecutor with the Business and Government Regulation Section of the Office of the Ohio Attorney General. In that role, he appeared on a daily basis in front of judicial branch adjudicators while providing legal counsel to a broad spectrum of governmental agency clients.

While at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Judge McNeil became responsible for training his peers as they prosecuted cases for the Ohio Department of Public Safety. In this capacity, he began to appreciate the subtle (and some not so subtle) differences that exist between litigation in civil and criminal courts and administrative litigation. Trying cases without the benefit (or the burden) of formal discovery, he also found, was liberating and exciting. Teaching first-year litigators the skills needed to navigate in agency hearings was one of the highlights of his term of service in Columbus.

As an Ohio assistant attorney general, he was involved in a broad spectrum of cases including license revocation hearings, public safety enforcement actions, and hearings to determine the sufficiency of notices associated with government regulatory actions. One case of national importance required him to write the lead brief in proceedings before the U.S. Supreme Court—on the question of whether funds held by judges and other public-sector employees participating in deferred compensation plans were beyond the reach of creditors in bankruptcy. He also learned to sharpen his skills as a translator of legalese, providing guidance—in understandable terms—with respect to the ethical and fiduciary responsibilities owed to state investment and retirement boards.

Throughout the eight years he served as an agency litigator, Judge McNeil studied the way agency hearings are adjudicated. He learned something many typically don’t learn in law school: that our adjudicators are not specially trained jurists, but that they, instead, attain their place in the legal system by self-direction and hard work.

When an opportunity to teach legal reasoning became available in the summer of 1994, Judge McNeil left the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and began teaching at Capital University Law School in Columbus. He then also hung out a shingle offering to serve as an impartial hearing examiner under Ohio’s Administrative Procedure Act. By 1996, he was hearing cases for the state’s Department of Job and Family Services as well as its Dental Board. By 1998, he was also hearing cases from the state’s Department of Public Safety, Department of Education, Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, and the Ohio Board of Nursing.

During the next 10 years, Judge McNeil presided over more than 3,000 contested agency hearings from a multitude of state agencies. In so doing, he was careful to balance both the responding party’s interest in having a fair opportunity to be heard before an impartial tribunal against the government’s interest in prompt adjudication of claims pending before the state agency. He worked hard to ensure that each responding party had a fair day in court, notwithstanding that the “court” was the agency itself.

From 2001 to 2003, Judge McNeil served as a liaison between the American Bar Association and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). As an NHTSA executive branch judicial fellow, Judge McNeil helped NHTSA employees understand the role that executive branch adjudicators play in enforcing highway safety laws. During this time, NHTSA worked in collaboration with the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev., to develop training programs for ALJs and hearing examiners whose dockets included drunk driving and other highway safety-related offenses. As an NHTSA fellow, Judge McNeil developed courses for the judicial college and traveled throughout the country discussing the role that executive branch adjudication plays in keeping our highways safe.

Given his substantial experience in writing about the law, the National Judicial College invited Judge McNeil to serve as editor and contributing author to its clinical evidentiary text, The National Judicial College Deskbook on Evidence for Administrative Law Judges, published in 2005. This, in turn, was followed in 2011 by the publication of Judge McNeil’s agency litigation primer, Administrative Agency Litigation.

Working in collaboration with the University of Nevada–Reno (UNR), the National Judicial College developed master’s and doctoral programs in judicial studies, accredited through UNR. Judge McNeil enrolled in the doctoral program and, by 2008, was the first executive branch adjudicator in the nation to earn a doctorate in judicial studies. Eight of the papers he presented as part of his post-graduate work were published in peer-reviewed law journals and serve as a lasting legacy of his scholarship in the area of due process and fairness in agency hearings.

While earning his doctorate, Judge McNeil considered applying to become a federal ALJ. The registry was closed for many years, as incumbent ALJs protested the practice of the Office of Personnel Management in using veteran status when evaluating applicants for ALJ service. When those issues were resolved and the ALJ registry reopened, Judge McNeil was one of the initial 1,200 or so applicants. By 2009, the applications were evaluated and positions offered to about 250 candidates, including Judge McNeil. His first assignment as a federal ALJ was in the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review for the Social Security Administration in Cincinnati, Ohio. Three years later, he accepted an appointment to serve as one of three ALJs appointed to the Department of Justice and its agency, the DEA. He continues in this role today.

As an ALJ for the DEA, Judge McNeil travels throughout the country to consider arguments raised on behalf of parties involved in the proposed revocation of DEA certificates of registration. These hearings frequently include testimony regarding allegations that doctors and pharmacies have breached their responsibilities when dispensing controlled substances—most notably, oxycodone. As a result, Judge McNeil has the opportunity to use the skills he’s acquired while litigating agency claims at the state level, and the chance to put into practice the theories he studied while pursuing his doctorate degree.

“One of the things that strikes me about our judicial system,” Judge McNeil states, “is the lack of a formal judicial training and selection process. At the state and federal level, we have no clear course of study that’s made available to aspiring judges. The National Judicial College gets credit for its curriculum and for its efforts to get funding for judicial training, but it seems we’ve not paid much attention to ensuring that all lawyers who aspire to be judges get the training they need before making the leap to service as adjudicators.” Judge McNeil recently reflected on the path he pursued on his way to serving as a federal ALJ. “Experience is, as Justice Holmes noted, everything to an adjudicator. I’ve probably learned more from listening to good litigators ply their trade than I learned from any course I’ve taken. I’ve been fortunate in that regard. When I take the bench and am presented with focused and well-thought-out arguments, there’s nothing better for me as a professional. Certainly my work at the DEA has expanded my understanding of the law, and for that I’m extremely grateful.”

Welcome the Newest NITA Advocates

Posted On By

NITA is proud to announce the most recent recipients of the Advocate Designation. This designation is awarded to a person who has taken a well-rounded set of courses, proving they are serious about trial advocacy.

advocates_header copy


  • Christianne Edlund | Mullin Russ Kilejian PC
  • Jean Niven | Merlin Law Group PA
  • Dorothy Guy | Social Security Administration
  • Kathleen Petty | Social Security Administration
  • Zachary Kitts | K & G Law Group
  • William Sias | County Counsel
  • Raul Olamendi Smith | San Diego Gas & Electric Co

If you have any questions on how you can receive the NITA Advocate or NITA Master Advocate Designation, please review the information on our Advocate Designations page, or email

Depositions Part 5: Dealing with Jerks: What Goes Around Comes Around

Posted On By

Drummond_MarkWritten by Mark A Drummond, Litigation News Associate Editor

This article is reposted from Litigation News with permission of the publisher and author.

Name-calling is unprofessional, I know. But to quote Mark Twain, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” “Jerk” is the right word, but by “jerk” I mean those (thankfully) few attorneys for whom getting under their adversary’s skin seems more important than the result they achieve for their client. You should also know that “jerk” is my word. No one quoted in this article ever used that word to describe an opponent.

So let us begin, and let us begin with you. A proverb found in Luke says, “Physician, heal thyself.” Counsel, heal thyself. Your attitude and how you approach this issue is everything.

You signed up for this duty. No one put a gun to your head and forced you to pick trial work. If you wanted peace and quiet, you should be drafting wills for a living. I know you would like it if everyone were as reasonable as you, but once you accept the fact that you have picked an area of law that possibly contains the greatest concentration of jerks, you’ll be in a much better frame of mind. Jerks come with the territory. Confrontation is like oxygen to some attorneys. Live with it.

Next, let’s turn to the jerk. To the pure jerk, the fight is more important than the result he achieves for his client. As they say in Texas, “He’s all hat, no cattle.”

I believe that, as a general rule, jerks are not as successful as those attorneys who keep their eye on the prize. Watch any successful trial lawyer and you will see single-minded focus on the end result. Very little time is wasted in side battles with opposing counsel simply for the sake of the side battle.

One final note on this topic: Beware the billable hour. If the attorney is getting paid by the hour, he or she gets paid just as much money for time expended being a jerk, or spending time dealing with a jerk, as he or she does on hours spent seeking a good result. Those attorneys who are paid based upon the result rather than the hour tend to have the single-minded focus of which I speak. For them, fighting with counsel on tangential matters simply does not pay.

General Rules for Dealing with Jerks

Now that we’ve addressed your general mindset, let’s turn to some experts for the specifics. Weighing in on this subject will be two co-chairs for the Section’s Ethics and Professionalism Committee—Gregory R. Hanthorn, Atlanta, and Craig C. Martin, Chicago, along with Anne Marie Seibel, Birmingham, AL, co-chair of The Woman Advocate Committee, and Laura H. Kennedy, Phoenix, co-chair of The Young Advocates Committee.

“I have an alternating series of do’s and don’ts,” suggests Hanthorn. “First, don’t respond in kind. Bad behavior from someone else does not obligate me to behave unprofessionally.”

“Don’t rise to the bait,” agrees Seibel. “I once was complimented by a senior partner on how I handled a very agitated and very bitter witness on cross by keeping a very even tone and being professional. I think this [is] similar. They’re doing it to get a reaction out of you, and to continue to be calm, cool and collected is a way of showing that they can’t get under your skin.”

“Do consider dropping your own volume as your adversary raises his or hers,” continues Hanthorn. “It’s amazing how often having to slow down to listen leads to softer, slower speech by all involved.”

Jerks are sometimes simply performing under the (usually mistaken) belief that this behavior impresses clients. If the clients are also jerks, that may be true, but getting the jerk one-on-one, without the client, may help. You may find that you can make far more headway with an adversary if you meet him or her in private, at a neutral place, where he or she cannot play to an audience.

Jerks in Depositions

Depositions are prime opportunities for jerks to perform—at least those jerks who are oblivious to how they are coming across to judges or juries. “My sense is to follow the Golden Rule and treat them the way you would want to be treated,” says Martin. “Second, I find that a well-prepared client is much more able to deal with a difficult lawyer taking a deposition than is the lawyer defending the deposition. For example, there are some lawyers who like to show clients documents that have nothing to do with the case. It is much more effective if the client can say they have never seen that document before and hands it back to the lawyer rather than the defender making objections all over the record about how the witness has never seen the document before.”

“As far as your preparation to deal with someone acting like a jerk, you need to be more prepared than they are,” counsels Kennedy. “I would add you need to be more prepared than you think you need to be, because this puts you in a better position to either ignore them or gives you the confidence to fight back. When you are that well prepared, you can deal with them without worrying about your case, and it allows you to concentrate on substance of the case and what you need to do for your client.”

Know Thy Enemy

You’ll be doing yourself and your client a favor by finding out as much as you can about opposing counsel and how they operate. Once you know the cases they have worked on, you can call friends and colleagues to find out whether they are true professionals. Handling jerks is much easier for you and your client if you know in advance what to expect.

If you find out early that the person on the other side may not be the consummate professional, you may want to try and reach some preliminary agreements before things heat up. In The Last Thirty Days Before Trial, former member of the Section’s Trial Advisory Board Stephen D. Susman, Houston has crafted a checklist of 15 pretrial agreements that can be used at the beginning of the case to eliminate controversies and save costs on both sides.

Restraint in Writing

Let’s turn to written communication. Emails often have a deleterious effect on professional courtesy. People will say things in emails that they would never say to a person face to face. “Sometimes it is worth picking up the telephone and actually cutting through whatever the issues are,” counsels Martin. “If that doesn’t work and I am working with a large team, I have told a difficult adversary that they will have a single point of contact at our firm and it’s not going to be me. I then assign someone on our team who has the time and capacity and tenacity to deal with that person.”

“With regard to emails, don’t fire back an emotional response,” suggests Hanthorn. “Take time to confirm facts and include facts. Do assume your emails and letters will eventually become exhibits to a motion. Don’t accept what I label ‘book or record of the month emails’ where they say unless they receive a response they assume you agree. Do ask them to please not send you any more communications that imply no response is agreement.”

It’s What You Do When No One Is Watching

Character has been defined as what we do when we think that no one is watching. Always, always, always assume that a judge or a jury will eventually see how you both behaved either by way of emails, letters, transcripts, or even more devastating, a video deposition. There is no downside to taking the high road. Remember, if you wrestle with a pig, all that happens is you get muddy and the pig enjoys it.

Many jerks start fights just to see how you will respond and whether you will respond in kind. They hate silence, and they hate it when you don’t lower yourself to their level. Don’t interrupt them, let them exhaust their bile and, trust me, the judge or, better yet, the jury will have the last word on their behavior. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the jurors’ reactions when counsel, who was downright unctuous in jury selection, shows their true colors in a videotaped deposition. Unless the judge allows editing worthy of a Hollywood movie, it is hard to edit out all the bad behavior.

Finally, I believe the single quality that separates people from other creatures is their ability to remember the past and learn from it—and their ability to see into the future for a period of more than five seconds. In the practice of law, this means that every person an attorney encounters is either a potential client or a possible referral for a potential client, even if he or she is on the other side of the case.

But when it comes to perspective, jerks tend to be myopic. “We’ve had cases where we took the deposition of a corporate officer at a decision-making level where opposing counsel was difficult to deal with,” recalls Hanthorn. “Then, within a few months after the matter was resolved, we were approached and ultimately engaged by that same corporation.”

As I tell people in court, if you want to be biblical about it, as you sow so shall you reap. If you want to be scientific about it, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you want to be colloquial, what goes around, comes around.

Resources: The Last Thirty Days Before Trial

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.
Feature Products

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: