If there's an advocacy topic you want to see discussed, or about which you wish to contribute, contact one of the blog administrators - see the list on the right side of this page. Lonely thinking changes nothing, sharing your thoughts may start a trend.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Synergy, Energy & Creativity: A Dispatch from NITA City

This week is the Program for Legal Services Attorneys at NITA headquarters in Louisville, Colorado. Sixty-eight public service attorneys from across the country are enrolled in the course. Throughout the week, a total of about 30 faculty members, assembled by the inimitable Mark Caldwell, will help teach these students. The NITA Foundation provides full scholarships for all students, and all of the faculty donate their time to this program.

The program is no walk in the park for participants or faculty. Everyone is participating in lectures, demonstrations, performances and critiques from about 8 am to 5:30 pm every day. As anyone who has ever observed and critiqued an advocacy class knows, it can be grueling to pay close attention to every word and gesture, come up with critique points, and make recommendations for improvement.

And yet all of the faculty will leave this course rejuvenated. This is because Mark tends to collect people who love trial work and have a great deal of fun teaching it. Mark's faculty includes judges, practicing lawyers, retired lawyers, and a few law school professors. Each person brings a unique perspective and teaching style to the course.

More importantly, everyone here has spent a lot of time thinking about the best ways to help adult learners improve their skills. They have developed their own drills, techniques and exercises to teach every conceivable trial skill, as well as a repertoire of "fixes" to solve both common and rare advocacy problems.

Every performance session is a learning experience, not only for the students, but also--and perhaps, especially--for the instructors. Frequently, we are assigned to team teach with instructors we've never met before. We quickly work out symbiotic teaching arrangements, always focusing on how we can best help the students to improve. From my perspective, the chance to see new approaches that I can later use in my own classes back at SIU is invaluable.

The great teaching traditions of the bar are real, and courses like this are a fantastic opportunity to participate in a truly rewarding educational experience.

1 comment:

  1. the program that Chris describes,just like this blog, provides the opportunity for advocacy teachers - whatever their background and experience - to get second opinions, give something a try, and find the unexpected. An example: Bill Ossman who teaches in Kansas is explaining objections. He has put a list of the most common objections up on the Board and he's discussing examples with the students.Watching the discussion I'm struck by how his list mirrors the common problems that new advocates have in 'formulating' good questions. Am insight moment: I can now teach objections not just as looking for what's wrong with your opponent, but also as a checklist for self evaluation of one's own questions. For example, 'Is this question relevant?', 'Have I just made a compound question in my mind?', 'Oops, if I say that my witness will be speculating'. 'Am I seeking this hearsay for context or truth?'.
    Application: Next time I'm teaching direct I'll be giving my students a sheet with the common objections listed, but under the heading 'Good questions tips'. I'll be asking the students to critique their own and their colleague's performances using this list as a guide.
    SO..by the time we get to objections they'll already be practised in the concepts and the application.