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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Courage and the Student Advocate--Concluding Thoughts from NITA

"Right after our first advocacy exercise, I almost dropped the class. Standing up in front of everyone was even worse than I thought it would be. But I stayed with it, and after today's trial, I'm glad I did. It got better, and today I actually had a good time up there."

Those words are from one of my summer term trial advocacy students. We held final trials today in our class. When we started the class seven weeks ago, I could see the fear, anxiety and self-consciousness manifested in this student's body language, voice, and eyes. He was miserable, but he was also determined to become better. Through seven weeks of class, he came to every session, knowing that despite his best efforts, I would find something in his performance to critique. He absorbed the lessons, applied them, and transformed himself into a competent, confident advocate.

When we spoke after class, I remembered taking a criminal trial practice class in law school. Short of self-confidence, I never once volunteered to perform in class. In fact, I spent most of each session hoping I would not be called on. I feared embarrassment and failure. I had no desire for someone else to point out and correct my mistakes--at least not in front of anyone else. Consequently, I did not experience the growth that would have been mine if only I'd had the courage to try.

Professor Jamie Carey of Loyola Law School spoke this week to the students at the NITA Public Service Attorney Trial Skills Course. He discussed courage and told the class that they could not give effective closing arguments without it.

I agree with him, and I would extend his observation still further. It takes courage to be a student advocate. I witnessed such courage many times this week during the Public Service Attorney course. Even experienced advocates who had been to court many times displayed anxiety and nervousness as they stepped up to perform, knowing they would be critiqued in front of their peers.

The overwhelming majority rose to the challenge, set aside their fears, and gave their best efforts. By the end of the week, many of them were transformed as advocates. Attorneys who had hidden behind podiums, looked down at their legal pads, and mumbled now stood confidently in the well of the courtroom, made eye contact with their peers, and projected their voices. They learned that they were better than they had feared. Some of them were better than they ever hoped or dreamed they could be.

It is humbling to watch students embark on these voyages of self-improvement. Their courage inspires me and makes me want to try harder, stretch myself, and take more risks so I can improve as a teacher and be worthy of their efforts.

1 comment:

  1. I have to second the comments of Jamie and Chris. There is a very interesting thing that happens when you teach skills - at some point in the development of the student the teaching becomes internal. What do I mean by that? Well we either wind up helping the student deal with a facet of their personality or sense of self that is impacting the student's ability to perform or we wind up introspectively considering our own sense of self. I think Chris is doing that here and I believe that this time, as every time we as professors find ourselves called to be better than we currently are, it is time well spent.