This article was re-posted with permission from Chris Behan and the Advocacy Teaching Blog
Suparna Malempati is the Director of Advocacy Programs at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School. From time to time, she guest blogs for us. In this blog, she shares her recent experience teaching in a NITA program. I wholeheartedly endorse all she has to say about teaching with NITA, and I recommend the experience for anyone who loves trial advocacy, teaching, learning, and having fun with a great group of people.
The end of an enriching work trip is often bittersweet. On the one hand, you are glad to be home to familiar surroundings and the routine of daily life. On the other hand, you miss the intellectual challenge of being in the company of highly accomplished professionals. I certainly felt that way after four days of teaching with NITA at the Rocky Mountain Basic Trial Program.
I had wanted to teach with NITA for years. I am not entirely sure how I finally ended up on the roster, but I am grateful to Mark Caldwell for allowing me the opportunity. The program was extremely organized and well run.
I was asked by a few people whether it met my expectations. But before I arrived in Boulder, I truly was not focused on what the experience would be like for me. I was primarily concerned with my own preparation. I reviewed all my notes from the NITA teacher training, I re-read Steven Lubet’s book, I watched all the NITA webcasts, and of course, I read the problem. I wanted to make a good impression and I wanted to impart something useful on the participants. And I hope I did.
The program was designed to provide maximum time for participants to be on their feet executing skills, while allowing for continuous faculty feedback. The pace of each day was constant, with very little down time. Students received oral feedback from at least two faculty members, individual feedback on their videos, and one-on-one time with a faculty member to repeat the skill. Organization of all the moving parts was tremendous and effective.
What impressed me as well was the camaraderie among the faculty and the sincerity with which they all approached their task. Our common goal was to impart useful advice, skills, and tips to new lawyers to help them improve their trial techniques. Each and every faculty member brought a unique perspective, but shared the desire that the students grow from their participation in the program. The students were also sincere and eager to learn. The combination of exceptional faculty and earnest students made the experience phenomenal.
Moreover, I learned a great deal from my colleagues. Trial lawyers do not mind when other trial lawyers use their material—we permissibly steal from each other. I am renewed and excited to continue teaching trial skills and advocacy. And if it is not completely obvious, I thought the program was fantastic.
In my monthly letters this year, I have reflected on substantive topics of interest. In February: what does it feel like to be a NITA alum, not thinking only of the courtroom, but rather thinking of your image — in your city or region or practice, among your peers or role models, to your junior admirers? In January: what does “experiential learning” mean, and does it best fit after actual practice experience? And in December, I posed these and other topics that provide the essential inspirations of NITA.
Today, I report rather than reflect. Springing from my December points of inspiration, here are a few of our accomplishments during the first quarter of 2014.
- Our founders. At our 2014 Annual Program Directors’ meeting in January, each PD was asked to narrate the first time they had a conversation about NITA. Their individual answers wove a web of dedication and community. Each had been personally recognized and handed on to NITA by a faculty member or founder, from which they grew into the NITA community. As more stories were added, the reverence in the room grew like a vision. The accomplishment? — A consolidated push to engage our entire network in searching for and handing forward the talent and potential talent that lives around us in all of our states. We need your to help find these lawyers who need to know NITA. Call your program director with your referrals. Call NITA too. They deserve to have you hand them the vision and benefit of NITA. We have energized the network: you are a vital part of it.
- Our faculty. As new program directors gradually succeed to those who are ready to pass that torch, we welcome their dedication, talent, and new ideas. The NITA way of grooming the best trial skills faculty in the nation is to take what we have – the best – and keep it tip-top through both mutual efforts to improve individual teaching “in the moment,” and targeted efforts to add a few new faculty members each year. Emerging from this rigor of maintaining excellent teaching, sharing lecture and leadership roles, and coaching each other, future program directors emerge and will eventually lead the program with continuity and excellence. The accomplishment? — A concrete focus on recognizing that NITA in its next 40 years must and will continue to provide the best faculty in the field, faculty that are sharp, experienced, up-to-date, and innovative. NITA – bigger than each of us, made up of all of us.
- Public service: As I mentioned in December, times change, and we change with it. Times in the economy have generated troubled times in serving justice where there are few means. Our founders’ vision of improving justice through the art of advocacy means that all of the advocates need to be brought to the table – those who represent paying clients and also those who represent clients without means or access to justice. Those who prosecute and those who defend. Everyone who stands up to oppose the other in our advocacy system of justice. The accomplishment? – We are growing The NITA Foundation by increasing its capacity to fund not only scholarships but also public service programs aimed at the lawyers who represent the underserved. We want to – we need to — find more ways to extend our work to these underserved lawyers. In 2014 you will see us test your capacity to help us reach donors:
- Focusing on specific programs like the Child Advocacy program at Hofstra in late spring as moments when we must fund from our public service program funds and replenish those funds.
- Welcoming gifts to the Annual Fund, which allow us flexibility to target an additional scholarship or additional support needed to run a public service program.
- Special events! We are working on an exciting new type of event in a major city in October, an event that is both entertaining and essential to serving justice the NITA way. Watch for news of this; join our supporters of justice when we reach out to you.
As a zero-based budget organization, we cannot live beyond our means. Our public service budget for 2014 is 17% higher than the donations received in 2013 – already a challenge. More to the point, we must set our 2015 budget another 50% higher than that. We will do so if you show us now that we can budget for that higher capacity next year. Our public service depends on it, in this economy.
In short, we have a strong performance in the first quarter. We have a bigger-than-ever financial need for public service work. And we have built and are already walking concrete paths to expand our enrollments through your networking, continue grooming the best trial advocacy faculties in the nation, and support justice broadly by reaching all lawyers.
Karen M. Lockwood, Esq.
President & Executive Director
National Institute for Trial Advocacy
A lawyer at a large firm in Chicago snapped his attention from drafting at his desk to a vague spot on the wall opposite. His mind raced around that same loop: his trial—the first one he would first chair—was only two months off. No, he had not neglected his trial prep. His team was ready with proposed trial exhibits, the graphics for the economic expert were in final design, the handful of dispositive motions to narrow the issues would be argued in a month. His team was poised to then submit written motions in limine. The office preparation matched the timeline.
He looked up because, for the third time, he could not control his respiration rate as he contemplated delivering the opening. He could not get a bead on the approach to cross for three witnesses. And he just knew he would lag in confidence as he stood in the well of the courtroom. He had little direct trial experience—his advocacy work had been in motion hearings, trial-type administrative hearings, and as second chair taking a trial witness or two as assigned. And he felt rusty. “Well,” he said, “there has to be a first time.”
NITA alums share the assurance that they already met their “first time.” They confronted and conquered these same fears earlier, along with other NITA learners, when a client’s matter was not at risk, and when plenty of seasoned trial faculty were attentive with critiques, coaching, and support focused on each person. Whatever the new trial challenges they will meet, they will never again suffer the lead-foot, memory-erasing loss of confidence about guiding the trial and performing their advocacy.
What Else Alums Share
NITA Alums share more, too. When they look across the courtroom, they recognize other lawyers to be advocates who also learned trial skills at NITA.
More than this, they share a fondness for the memory of that NITA week even ten years later. They know that a colleague who took the NITA trial program five years earlier feels the same way. After whatever program, whenever performed, the alum understands its transformative power. And the alum knows that the other NITA alum across the courtroom feel the same way.
Now to my “special” point. NITA alums want to tell about their experience. They want to pass the secret on and invite someone they think is special to do NITA.
And so I conclude with my news: NITA Program Directors in programs around the country gather annually to plan and share their insights. This year, they are reaching out within their regions, and asking you to reach out too, to lawyers who should attend NITA now.
- Spreading the word means taking someone by the hand who is ready for this transformation, and asking them to sign up. You mean a lot to that person, and your NITA connection is special.
- Spreading the word means taking what you want to tell about your experience and actually sharing it.
- Spreading the word means making connections with other alums and remembering about your NITA experiences.
Sure, the Program Director in your area is the person who led the entire program as “dean,” as top coach, as master demonstrator, as chief cheerleader—as organizing advocate for your learning. But your faculty feels as strongly. And your colleagues in the program do. More than that—you know others who have done NITA but you have never introduced the conversation. Ask them! Find them! And when you find people who have not had the NITA experience, tell them about yours and the difference it made.
NITA alum share something special. I am asking you to share it when you speak with others. Invite them in. The stronger they are, the more they gain from NITA. We welcome all—the most inclusive “tribe” in America.
Karen M. Lockwood, Esq.
President & Executive Director
National Institute for Trial Advocacy
2012 began NITA’s journey towards its next 40 years. The continued theme this year was innovation throughout our learn-by-doing programs, publications, and studio71. The end of 2012 has brought some exciting transitions to the NITA community. We say farewell and thank you to our beloved Executive Director, John Baker, and are excited to welcome Karen Lockwood as our new leader. She brings a new level of excitement and eagerness to NITA.
This year in Programs NITA ran 22 public service programs, 121 custom programs and 60 public programs. Technology and innovative advancements continue to reign through our in-person programming with adding in video lectures to be viewed prior to the programs, advanced drills technique, improved online program platform and training in new skills. Spanning the three sectors of programs and the dedication of our faculty, NITA has trained nearly 5,000 attorneys during this calendar year. You should all be proud of this number.
The NITA Foundation continues to sponsor a number of legal service attorneys and need-based attorneys to attend our public programs. The Foundation awarded 71 public service enrollment spots and 88 need-based scholarships. Thank you for everyone’s generous donations that make this possible.
The Publications team has published nearly 20 books. Of those books, six were new case file titles and four were new or updated additions to the Malone’s Little Books series. Since October, NITA has released 20 e-books, which are now available on Amazon and iTunes. We are also working on an enhanced e-book of The Effective Deposition which will include video, and should be released in January. Over the next year we plan to convert the rest of NITA’s backlist titles, as well as new titles as they are published, to the e-book format.
In its first full year studio71 really took off. We were able to hold, and fill, six online deposition programs and we have nine on the calendar for 2013. These programs truly are one-of-a-kind, as was shown when they were named the winner of the ACLEA’s Best Award for Programming in 2012. This fall marked NITA’s first live webcast which will kick start us going into 2013, when we will have at least one live, online event each month. In addition to the online learning-by-doing programs, live webcasts, and growing on-demand content library, studio71 also houses the content library for program directors to review and select content to be used in their programs. Thanks to everyone who has lent their expertise to this growing content library. We would not be able to make these innovative leaps without your contributions.
We cannot thank you enough for all you do for our organization. Your volunteer teaching efforts make a large impact on our mission to reach the legal community all across the world.