|Trial Trends, Autumn 2005
|New Lawyers Committee, By, Jonathan Cok, Chair
The first annual MTLA Trial Academy was an outstanding success. Myself and the other 15 students spent three days with some of the best trial attorneys in the state. On behalf of the New Lawyers Committee and the students from the Trial Academy I would like to thank Doug Wold and Jim Manley for organizing this event, and most importantly their wives, Linda Wold and Julia Manley, for the work they did preparing and serving the food. Also, thanks to Judge Kim Christopher, Judge Katherine Curtis, Judge Michael Prezeau, Judge Chuck Wall, Monte Beck, Joe Bottomly, Randy Bishop, Elizabeth Best, Mike Cok, Cliff Edwards, Tom Lewis, Syd McKenna, and Zander Blewett for taking time out of their busy schedules to come teach this class. As a new lawyer, being able to spend time and build relationships with these top trial lawyers is invaluable.
The opportunities for new lawyers to get courtroom experience in civil cases are few and far between. More and more cases settle before trial and new lawyers are finding it more difficult to develop their courtroom skills. The Trial Academy was designed to make up for this. It gives new lawyers a chance to go through a mock trial from start to finish in front of real judges and a real jury. Additionally, it gave us the opportunity to see how different lawyers approach each component of trial. Throughout the Academy the faculty members shared with us their insights on each component of trial, and then we were able to watch them in action as they gave demonstrations of the different components of trial.
The Academy began on Wednesday evening with the students arguing for the plaintiff's and against the defendant's motions in limine. In order to keep the experience as realistic as possible the faculty took on the role of defense counsel. After hearing arguments the judges made their rulings and the students retired to prepare for the next day.
Day two of the Academy involved doing voir dire, an opening statement, and a direct examination of a witness. Sticking with the theme of keeping this experience as realistic as possible a live jury was brought in. The jurors were hired through a temp agency and represented a wide variety of ages, jobs, backgrounds, and values. As in any trial, students had received the juror questionnaires several weeks prior to the trial and knew only the basic information about each juror before beginning vior dire. The Academy concluded the following day with the students each performing a cross examination of a witness and a closing argument.
Having a live jury was the most unique aspect of the Academy. After both vior dire and opening statement the jury was given the first opportunity to give the student feedback. The jurors told us what they liked, what they did not like, what they would have liked to have heard, and how they felt about the case we were presenting. Hearing this from the people who have the final say in whether you win or lose your case was a great learning experience.
In addition to hearing from the jury, the faculty members gave the students their thoughts on the presentations. They pointed out the strengths and weakness of our presentation and helped us understand what we need to work on and why. While at times this may have not been the most pleasant experience, the improvements of each student from day one to day three were clearly evident.
This Academy is designed to only be the beginning of the relationship between the students and mentors. The design of the school was to bring about a long term mentoring relationships between the students and the faculty. The goal is to make students feel comfortable calling or meeting with the faculty members in order share ideas and pleadings, get advice, and discuss problems with cases.
The Trial Academy is just one of many benefits for new lawyers who join MTLA. We hope to make the Academy an annual event and I strongly recommend that all new lawyers participate in this challenging and educational experience. Having an experienced mentor you feel comfortable calling to discuss case problems and strategies makes the practice of law easier and more enjoyable.