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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Administering a Trial Advocacy Program: Adjunct Coordination

This post was written by Thomas Stewart, the director of trial advocacy programs at St. Louis University School of Law.

There are three things to remember about teaching;
know your stuff; know whom you are are stuffing;
and then stuff them elegantly.

Lola May

We are all familiar with the need to impart sound critiquing methodology to our advocacy adjuncts, but I wounder how many of us realize the need our adjuncts (and thereby our students) have for adjunct training in the substantive areas of trial practice. We all try to hire gifted advocates who have sound trial skills and who we hope will be effective teachers for our students; and while our adjuncts have mastered the art of advocacy in their role as trial lawyers, many lack the the teaching methodology, understanding, and terminology to deconstruct sound trial practice into digestible chunks for our students.

At Saint Louis University School of law, our Trial Advocacy I program has three basic component parts; 1) a two hour "Large Group" lecture (of approximately 72-80 students) where I am responsible for giving the practical skill approach overview in the various aspects of trial work ( voir dire, opening, direct, cross, ect); 2). the "Small Group" or clinical section which is limited to eight or fewer students and taught by an Adjunct Professor (typically a trial lawyer or Judge who used to be a successful trial lawyer before taking the bench); 3) the finial trial where teams of two students trial a case to conclusion in the format of a trial competition but to a live jury.

While this format has its advantages, one disadvantage is the potential for mixed messaging between the approach taught in the Large Group Lecture, and the one taken by the adjunct during the critique/assessment in the small group. For years we would attribute these discrepancies to style, arguing that as each lawyer has his/her own style then it was only natural for the students to be told diametrically different ways to approach a given task at trial.

While style can account for differences at the margin, all good trial lawyers should be able to agree on the fundamental approaches to Opening Statement (theme, theory, storytelling, use of language of visualization ect.); direct (open ended questions, narrative story questions, how to lay foundation for exhibits and move their admission, offers of proof), cross exam (leading questions, steps for impeachment,) and closing (theme, theory, use of instructions, referencing a joint experience of trial ect.)

Our effort to combat this mixed messaging phenomenon culminated in our first ever half day Advocacy Instructor Training Seminar, where, in addition to discussing critiquing methodology, we focused on ironing out any differences we had in our substantive approaches to advocacy. I approached this seminar in a collaborative manner telling the twenty plus instructors who gave up a part of their weekend; " I am going to tell you the approach I am taking with the students to the various aspects of trial. If you disagree with the fundamental approach speak up, and we will arrive at a group consensus. When we leave here today, we will all know what we are all going to teach, and how we are going to teach it." I emphasized to the instructors that I was not trying to micromanage their small group sections, and I fully expected them to add to the fundamental approaches with which we were arming our students. It just that I didn't want our fundamental approaches to contradict each other.

More than one instructor has told me after out training seminar that they knew the substance of the approaches we we talking about but lacked the language and ability to teach what they knew. This giving voice to the adjuncts knowledge and experience helps them begin the journey from trial practitioner to teacher/coach.

We now have the added benefit that our Advanced Trial Practices instructors will know what and how the Trial Advocacy students have been taught, our Trial Team Coaches will be able to build upon a consistent approach to learning the art of advocacy.

Cordially, Tom Stewart

1 comment:

  1. Tom's approach to training adjuncts and getting everyone in the same page is, I think, absolutely critical to running a sound advocacy program. Few things are as distressing to law students as hearing mixed messages on advocacy skills. This is particularly true when they are receiving a grade in the course.

    As Tom points out, it isn't enough to sweep up all differences under the heading of "style." It's important that everyone understand the approach for the course and agree to teach the same concepts and support each other.

    A few years ago, one of my colleagues had a pair of adjuncts who openly undermined her teaching approach in the classroom. Since all of our classes at the law school are taped, it was an easy matter to prove that this was indeed taking place, and the dean fired the adjuncts.

    It would be far better to avoid this sort of thing by holding a Tom-Stewart-style conference and getting everything ironed out at the beginning of the semester. If we're all in it together, pulling in the same direction, the course will be much better.

    This is not to say that all advocacy instructors in a course must be clones of each other. To the contrary, students benefit from different style and personality approaches. For that matter, so do instructors. I love watching colleagues teach and learning how to improve my own performance as an instructor.