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Friday, August 6, 2010

Saying Goodbye to the All-Object Rule

One of the hallowed traditions of advocacy teaching is the "all object" rule, in which all class members are encouraged to object during another student's advocacy performance. The idea is that with everyone paying attention and objecting, no evidentiary errors will go unnoticed during an advocacy performance. The rule is honored more in the breach than the observance. In my experience, it is a rare occasion indeed when someone besides the instructor objects during class.

I believe the "all object" rule breaks down because of human nature. When everyone is responsible, no one takes responsibility. Some students don't object because they think someone else will do it. Others don't object, even if they think they should, because they don't want to stand out from the crowd. (There are, of course, students who don't object because they don't know any better, but that is a different issue altogether.)

At a recent NITA course, I learned from my fellow faculty members that many others have made similar observations and have long since abandoned the practice. In one session, we assigned pairs of opposing counsel to be responsible for objections. This worked well, although I did note in a couple of cases that a dominant advocate would take over the task and shut out a less assertive partner.

I think it's high time for the rule to disappear. I got rid of it in my summer advocacy course this year. Instead, as I discussed in an earlier post, I assigned students to play the role of opposing counsel and to be responsible for objections. I graded them on their performance, and part of my critique points addressed the validity and timing of the objections they made, as well as the objections they should have made but did not.

In our final trials, this decision seems to have been validated. This particular group of students did a better job of objecting and responding to objections than I've seen in past classes. I intend to use the same assignment system in my next trial advocacy class to see whether the positive results continue.


  1. I have to agree with Chris. this is one of those NITA rules that wS designed for a CLE experience and just does not work in a classroom environment. It doesn't realty wok in the CLE environment either, but at least there you have client concerns that make it's use less"objectionable."

  2. This comment is from Mark Caldwell at NITA:

    "I also wanted to comment on your most recent posting about "Goodbye to the All Object Rule." I somewhat disagree with your thoughts. You are absolutely correct that the current system does not always work well. I believe the underlying causes are different. I believe participants are either so focused on their upcoming presentation they tune out the performances of others or they are so relieved about being done they are not focused on the travails of others. They only marginally come out of their trance when an instructor speaks.

    I prefer a slightly different method. I still use the all object rule - as there are groups where objecting does actually occur. However, I put someone in the "on deck circle." That person is next to perform but they are also charged with the responsibility of making objections. I critique them on their objections. I also follow the Colorado rule where a judge may sustain an objection on a different grounds. This modified version works better than the general "All Object Rule."

    I also think objections are a more sophisticated part of the process. Early on in a program/course participants are focusing on the elemental skills of question format, organization, clear language, etc. The over arching issues of evidence are beyond their thinking during this period. It is only after they are comfortable with basic points of the skill that they are able to add evidence to their thinking. Compare this to juggling. It is very difficult to juggle three balls. You can only add a fourth ball to the process after you have mastered throwing and catching three. Add the fourth ball too soon and everything comes crashing down."

    Mark Caldwell
    Director of Specialty Programs
    National Institute for Trial Advocacy

  3. I object...