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Sunday, January 23, 2011

A new way to teach motions and objections

I have been teaching an advanced criminal trial advocacy group this semester and I’ve taken a different approach with teaching objections and motions that I wanted to share with you.  I must disclose up front that I discovered how well it worked by accident, but I am sufficiently impressed by it that I intend to use it again in the future. 

Most of us have struggled with how to effectively teach objections and motions.  We have the time to teach them in trial advocacy courses, but it often becomes the thing we gloss over in favor of more fundamental skills.  While I routinely teach students the performance aspects of objecting or arguing motions I have personally found it more difficult to teach the art of effectively objecting and making motions.  It seems to have a lot to do with connecting so many different strands into a cohesive whole.
In this particular class one of my most important goals was to show my students the important connection between objections, motions and presenting the most persuasive case possible.  I wanted them to be able to adjust on the fly during an actual trial.  They needed to be able to shape the case through the use of the law, sometime in the actual moment when it came up.  So what to do?

I started the class by assigning a case problem.  I had all of the students analyze the case, using the techniques that I normally teach.  I am sure that many of you do the same thing. I told them to:
·         Develop timelines
o   For the overall case
o   For individual witnesses
·         Chronologies
·         Identify the law
·         Identify the facts
·         Apply the law and the facts together
·         Choose a theme
·         Think about potential motions and objections

I told them they should analyze the case twice – once as the defense and once as the prosecution and then compare them.

During our next class we talked through their case analysis.  I let the students drive the discussion, going wherever they wanted it to go.  I would occasionally ask questions, but I left the direction of what to talk about up to them.  I then had them prepare an opening statement and closing argument for both sides.  The next class they delivered those statements and I critiqued them.  I assigned each student to represent either one side or the other and told them that during the next class they were to cross examine all of the witnesses they expected to be called by opposing counsel.  It was during that class session that things got interesting.

The class period began like most cross examination exercises do, but as I began to critique the crosses the students started asking excellent questions that were tied to different branches of case analysis.  Some questions addressed fact analysis, others addressed what had to be proved, and quite few were looking into which moral theme might create the most persuasive presentation.  Suddenly our simple cross examination class was transformed into a collaborative process where the students were using the elements that we had learned during case analysis in a real world setting.

Sensing that something different was going on I let it ride, suddenly we were using cross examination to verify our case analysis.  As we continued down that path we began to identify objections to evidence and motions we needed to research and potentially file. 

I came away from class thinking that I have been teaching objections and motions in the wrong way.  I am going to look at using advocacy presentation skills to drive case analysis with the goal of further developing appropriate objections and potential motions as they relate to case analysis and persuasive presentations.  You might think of it as imbedded case analysis – we’ll see how it goes.


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