The National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA) joined forces with Arkansas Administrative Office of the Courts this year for a public service trial skills program. The program occurred June 14-16 and was held in Little Rock, Arkansas. This three-day intensive training of 46 public service attorneys was led by Program Director, Michael Johnson, who has taught over 100 NITA programs – custom, public, and public service.
This was the second year in a row NITA has worked with The Arkansas Administrative Offices of the Courts in order to put on a public service trial skills program for the advocates. Johnson served as Program Director both years and has had a great experience. “Over the one and a half years that we have worked with the advocates in Arkansas who toil in dependency/neglect proceedings, we have provided training for, and, hopefully enhanced the advocacy skills of more than 140 attorneys. The work these advocates undertake regarding children and families is so fundamentally critical to society. I cannot put it any better than one of the world’s truly inspirational leaders said it: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa. It is very rewarding as an advocacy teacher to work with these dedicated professionals.”
In true NITA fashion – each skill was presented in a “learning-by-doing” methodology where participants were able to learn the skill, practice, and receive immediate feedback/critique. One participant stated, “This was the best and most practical CLE I’ve ever participated in. I had not had training in anything that was covered at the NITA training and it was all very valuable information.”
From January through April, I featured one staff department in each monthly post. This month rounds out those features. – and then draws back to see the assembled staff, putting grateful and humble words on the remarkable engine that these individuals become as we work together for you.
The NITA people featured this month are the ones who support all of the others you have met to date. The Business Services and Administration groups support every person in Programs, Publications, Sales & Marketing, and Finance. We also feature Claire Tompkins, who arrived after we featured her group in January.
There’s that pesky word, “Administration.” Don’t be fooled. These two groups are coaches, advocates, and communicators who contribute to the tone for our staff’s tremendous spirit of collaboration and quality. Said another way, these folks will make copies, answer a quick question, jump up to help with the sound system, or entertain and calm concerns, for all of our staff members and faculty. They lead by intelligence and strategic insight. They also lead with humility by modeling teamwork in their own behaviors. I salute these folks for all three of those reasons. Thanks to them and to all the staff, we remain focused on our corporate goals at the same time that our work is distributed among us. Everyone can lead; good ideas arise from every quarter; and we have each other’s backs — all regardless of rank.
This makes NITA “Central” a strong center of gravity for NITA’s nationwide teaching, bespoke published and broadcast content, and spontaneous creativity. You do it; we give you tools and back you up.
Please meet them below, in their own words.
Business support can be described as a jack of all trades. Being the first face people see at our headquarters, as well as the first voice they hear over the phone, I am able to subconsciously adapt to the subject, and thus I represent NITA on many different levels.
NITA is always growing and adapting to new technology, so it’s exciting to see how our methods drawn from or founders still mesh with new ideas. I love being able to connect with lawyers and to see firsthand how our programs make a difference in so many lives.
Associate Executive Director, Operations
I keep the trains moving, operationally on a day-to-day basis and also strategically look at short-term and long-term goals and objectives of the organization. We have a well-oiled machine. Of course we still have hiccups. I’m here to brainstorm and help problem-solve issues, create and implement ideas to be efficient and effective, and inspire our staff to push beyond what they think we are capable of. I’m a big promoter of taking risks and learning from them.
Advocacy! Helping lawyers become better advocates helps create better systems. Seeing our attendees grow in confidence over the course of program is phenomenal. Watching our staff raise the bar all the time with quality and innovation is fulfilling. The relationships and collaboration in our community are what makes us family. I enjoyed my interview on these values of NITA for “Asked and Answered”. I hope you will read it!
Lead Business Support
My focus at NITA is customer service, specifically internal customer service. In short, I help make it easier for the staff to do their work. I ensure NITA’s business and workflow needs are translated to our outside web and database designers so that we can develop useful tools. I spend most of my time developing and testing these tools, creating efficiencies within our systems and training and assisting staff. I also oversee our external customer service efforts and policies.
NITA’s exemplary staff and dedicated faculty collaborate to achieve NITA’s mission to promote justice through the highest quality training and materials. I love my job because I get to find ways for NITA to be better, faster and more efficient as we strive to achieve our goals. Our future lies in our ability to stay agile and sustain growth while remaining loyal to our mission and community.
I see three distinct facets to my work with NITA.
1) Strategic Partner: Aligning HR business objectives with the overall NITA mission and the strategic business plan.
2) Employee Advocate: Building employee ownership of the organization by fostering organizational culture and climate.
3) Change Champion: Emphasizing the NITA mission, vision, core values, goals, and action plans.
I believe in NITA’s mission and what we do to help the adversarial system work better so that ultimately, justice is served. I get enormous satisfaction by helping to attract, retain, and develop our employees into great “owners” and leaders.
Director, Business Services
As Director of Business Services, I oversee our IT, Customer Service, Office and the NITA Education Center. I pride myself on being a hands-on working manager, giving our faculty and staff all the tools they need to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.
I see NITA in a period of transition related to incorporating technology, and inserting on-demand Studio 71 lectures/demos into our programs to supplement the invaluable live presentations. It involves using courtroom presentation technology to give our participants all the tools necessary to tell the full story of their cases and provide the most effective learning environment. I also see NITA continuing to evolve with smaller specialized programming either by location or specialty. In addition, now and extending into in the future, I see world-class faculty that mentor our participants into great, competent, skilled advocates for their clients and organizations. I see NITA evolve as publisher from printed textbooks/case files to E-publications and on-demand printing. Knowing that I help facilitate this on a daily basis and am involved in the evolution of our brand and product is an honor.
Program Administrative Assistant
My role is to help the Program Specialists with whatever they might need so that their programs run smoothly. My specialties are applying for Continuing Legal Education and doing the post-program CLE processing, drafting emails for the faculty and participants, and deciphering the faculty members’ reimbursements. The Programs Department is a tight-knit group and I love being a part of a team where we work hard but can also be friends.
I started at NITA just about 4 months ago and I knew from the moment I interviewed I was going to love it here. I asked the NITA staff who interviewed me what they liked best about working here and they all said essentially the same thing, “it’s a great place because everyone cares about what we do and with that common goal we work as a cohesive team.” It is fantastic to be part of a non-profit where people get excited about what we are doing and what we could do in the future. I think we will keep creating interesting programs in new places with new topics to engage attorneys across the country. By increasing our participants we will be able to offer more public service programs and provide Continuing Legal Education to attorneys who may not be able to afford it otherwise.
In one breath, this post extends my deepest thanks to every single member of our staff — each important, each valued. Valued by each other, and valued by our NITA network. Thank you..
Please lift your phone and say hello to our folks. You and they together make NITA what we are as we gaze together, forward, into our next 50 years.
Karen M. Lockwood, Esq.
President and Executive Director
National Institute for Trial Advocacy
Written by guest blogger Judge McGahey
I’ve been invited to share some thoughts about the use of courtroom technology. Let me start with a caveat: I didn’t use much of what is now considered “courtroom technology” when I was in practice, primarily because much of it didn’t exist. But I’ve watched a lot of trials as a judge, and I’ve seen courtroom technology used effectively or misused disastrously; I think that gives me some perspective that could be helpful. Put another way, from the technical side, I have no idea how courtroom technology “works.” But from the advocacy side, I absolutely have some ideas on how it “works.”
Question #1: Can You Make It Work? – Do you understand anything about how the technology operates? Do you know how to make the technology work in the courtroom? Have you investigated which of the multitude of presentation programs is most compatible with your practice? Have you looked into which program is easiest for you, as an individual, to actually use? Can you push the right switch, button, toggle, clicker, whatever, to actually make the exhibit appear where you want it to appear? Would you be better off with someone else in charge of the pushing? And even if you’ve answered these questions, have you actually practiced with the technology so that your use of it is seamless and smooth?
Question #2: Will It Work (In the Courtroom)? – You’ve picked your program and know what button to push. But now you need to figure out whether what you want to do will work in the courtroom where you need it to work. Every courtroom has its own peculiarities. Here in Denver, I preside in a courtroom located in an historic building that was built in 1932. But the acoustics are poor, the sound system is quirky, the sight lines aren’t great and the electrical wiring is old and slapdash. Heck, it’s hard just to find a wall socket that’s easy to access. If you’re going to use technology in my courtroom, you better set it up and make sure that it works, that everyone can hear what’s being said (if you have sound), and that the jurors (or the judge) can clearly see what’s on display. We’ll let you or your tech folks come over to the courtroom ahead of time and set up before trial starts; I don’t know a judge who won’t accommodate a request like this, if at all possible. And please remember to bring along what you need to make your setup function; I’ve had trials held up because someone didn’t have a long enough extensions cord or extra batteries.
Question #3: Does It Work (As Part of Your Case) – All of your best intentions about courtroom technology are pointless unless what you do with it makes your case more credible. A flashy or clever exhibit still has to have impact as an instrument of persuasion; it can’t just be an exercise in nifty graphics. I’ve seen lawyers do really clever and creative things using technology that left the jurors cold. I’ve also seen simple, black and white power point slides used in a closing argument to convince jurors to award a plaintiff more than the lawyer asked for, or to help convict someone of first-degree murder. Think hard about the most effective way to present your case. Are any of your exhibits dodgy so that the judge might not let them in? Does the judge expect you to show your presentation to opposing counsel before you use it? Will your jury be tech savvy or inclined to skepticism about a case using technology? Does your presentation match up with what you’re asking the jury to do? Does the technology overwhelm your argument? Does what you present reflect your client’s case or your ego?
I realize that what I’ve written is very basic. But even experienced lawyers get distracted by shiny objects like really neat presentation software and then forget about the basics that make a courtroom presentation successful. Never forget that your goal as a trial lawyer is a successful outcome for your client, not just impressing a jury with technical wizardry.
I’ll see you in court.
This month, NITA’s faculty will be talking about motions. Last week we heard from the Honorable Christina Habas. She gave us the advice on how to Offer Alternatives to the Court. Next, we heard from NITA faculty Andrew Schepard, the Max Schmertz Distinguished Professor of Law for Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University. Professor Schepard discussed five guidelines for answering hard questions at oral argument on motions. Up now is Judge McGahey with with three simple rules to follow when filing motions. And still to come later this month are other NITA faculty and their best practices when filing motions in NITA’s April content series.
Since I’m a trial court judge, my focus in these blog posts will be on motions practice from that perspective. This post is about three simple rules that I outline at the beginning of my presentations on motions practice. These rules apply to both the written motions that you file and (if you’re lucky enough to get it) any oral argument on those motions.
Rule Number 1: The Ball Should Always Move Forward. I’ve never understood why so many lawyers want to spend so much time complaining about all the awful things their opponent has done in this case. Please don’t spend time whining about how mistreated you’ve been! Unless the issue involves very specific (and very egregious) conduct, complaining about it doesn’t help me make a decision. And it really doesn’t help me if the fight is about what one lawyer has done to another lawyer. This case is about your client; it’s not (as we were told as adolescents) about you. Tell me what I me what I need to fix and why; take your ego out of this, please.
Rule Number 2: Know Your Audience. I’ll be expanding on this in future posts, but here I’ll just remind you to have some idea who the judge is on your case. What’s her reputation for dealing with the kind of motion you’re filing? Does he more often rule on the pleadings or does he allow oral argument? If she or he allows argument, what’s likely to help you get that if you need it? How quickly can you expect a ruling? Will it be written or oral? Are you asking for something well-supported by case law or are you trying to make new law? Make sure you understand what the judge’s docket is like: crowded? mixed criminal and civil, or civil and domestic, or…..? If you practice in a jurisdiction where one judge handle the motions and another handles the trial, how does that affect you?
Rule Number 3: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help. This flows out of Rule Number 2, and is particularly aimed at younger lawyers. Motions practice is frequently one of the ways we cut our lawyer teeth, both in the stuff we write and when we get to stand up in court and talk. There’s nothing wrong with asking someone with more experience for their advice. Certainly a partner who gave you an assignment is likely to have distinct ideas on what should happen; my partner and mentor, the late Bill DeMoulin, always told us: “The only dumb question you can ask is the question you ask too late.” But remember you can get help from other folks, too. Ask your legal assistant if what you’ve written makes sense, if it sounds snarky, if it comes off as high-handed. If your significant other or friends will tolerate it, practice your delivery with them. Those close to you know you better than anyone else and are more likely to catch distracting gestures or unpersuasive language. Once again, don’t let your ego overcome your common sense. As Jerry Facher (played by Robert Duvall) said in A Civil Action: “Now the single greatest liability a lawyer can have is pride. Pride… Pride has lost more cases than lousy evidence, idiot witnesses and a hanging judge all put together. There is absolutely no place in a courtroom for pride.”
I’ll see you in court…….
Introducing “Excited Utterance,” The Legal Advocate’s semi-regular roundup of legal news and views you might have missed.
What an aviation lawyer who once sued an airline that overbooked his seat has to say about the rights of passengers who get bumped (or dragged) off their flight. (CNN)
Extrajudicial drudgery looms large in “Junior Justice” Neil Gorsuch’s immediate future. (Washington Post)
Turns out Twitter’s more than just a scratching post for itchy fingers in the dead of night. Using it to deliver a spoliation letter is now an option—sunrise, sunset, and anytime in between. (Above the Law)
Think lawyering makes you safe from obsolescence in the robot revolution? Guess again. (The Atlantic)
Are you fluent in emoji? Insurance lawyer Randy Maniloff devised this clever challenge to teach his young daughter about landmark SCOTUS cases via emoji. How many case names do you recognize? (Coverage Opinions)