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.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Why Advocacy Education Matters

I'm including a link (available here) to a current news story about a young advocate whose trial performance was so inept that the judge declared a mistrial.

As John Baker, president of NITA, said in a recent post (available here)--advocates need training now more than ever. The burden is increasingly shifting from law firms and government agencies to law schools. When you read the article I've linked, scroll down to the bottom of the article and glance through the comments. Setting aside the predictable vitriol against this young man, many comments focus on . . . you guessed it, the quality of the legal education he received. I have no idea whether or not this young advocate took trial advocacy in law school, but from the description of his opening statement, my guess is that he did not--or if he did, he chose to ignore whatever he was taught.


  1. I haven't done a survey, but I doubt that many US law schools include trial advocacy as part of their required course of study for the JD degree. In most schools it is an elective and it may be one that is limited in enrollment. Not so at my school. Trial Advocacy and Evidence are required courses in our curriculum, but not because we believe every JD graduate will be a trial lawyer. Rather, we see the advocacy training as developing, enhancing, and reinforcing the analytical and critical thinking skills our doctrinal faculty works so hard to develop. The trial advocacy curriculum presents students with problems to solve and requires them to figure out how the substantive law, procedural rules, and advocacy skills can be brought together to solve that problem. It requires the same sort of thinking and analysis we try to develop in our traditional doctrinal courses. Furthermore, the advocacy curriculum puts students on their feet in front of an audience and requires them to think, speak, and react in appropriate and persuasives ways, talents that all lawyers need regardless of whether they try cases. In this regard, it also reinforces the principle that preparation has a lot to do with the quality of the performance. Finally, it gives those students who are primarily interested in transactional practice a glimpse of how their work product is tested in the crucible of our advesarial dispute resolution system. In the final analysis, we think advocacy training is essential to developing the skills, talents, and abilities that every lawyer needs, regardless of the specific area of practice. The fact that so many law schools in the US do not see the connection between advocacy training in law school and the sort of things lawyers do in their daily work is an indication of the disconnect between the practicing bar and a large segment of the legal academy. By the same token, I think it important that our students understand that advocacy training is not just about trying a lawsuit but is also developing the same sort of skills, talents, and abilities we stress in the doctrinal courses.

    Woody Woodruff
    Campbell University School of Law

  2. Amen to all of the sentiments expressed in Professor Woodruff's comment. I think it's wonderful that his institution views trial advocacy and doctrinal courses as symbiotic rather than dichotomous.

    In my own experience, I have noted that students are able to contextualize their doctrinal teaching much better in the framework of a well-written case file. Advocacy students often experience improved grades in their other classes as the law comes alive to them.

    Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if all of us in legal education could learn to work together--whatever our disciplines, scholarly interests or preferred teaching packages might be--for the good of students, and, in a broader context, for the good of the profession?