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.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Video Review Gets a New Lease on Life: Selby and Behan Declaim on the Joys of Acclaim

Part One: A Hugh Selby Retrospective on the Intertwined Histories of Trial Advocacy Teaching and Technology

Remember those good old days: when all advocacy students were keen, highly motivated, and not afraid of hard work; their Herculean learning and practice efforts were supported by a generous supply of public minded lawyers who were not only good litigators but made so much money that they could disappear from their office for hours, even days; and, enthusiastic law students would line up to volunteer to run the cameras, and there was always more than enough rooms for one-on-one video review – in those days of yore video review was the game changer.  It added the visual interaction to the spoken word critique: it doubled the sensory opportunities.
Strangely, given that compact (though not micro)  audio recording was around from the start of NITA training, and that lawyers went through the Dictaphone era before the Desktop computer age, there was scant attention to saying to students, “Put yourself in a quiet place, listen and then critique that direct or that cross on your Walkman”[i].  Listening to an audio tape is so much more rewarding than reading a transcript, but who was ever told to do that?  Did only those faithful, do everything, always smiling, never complaining and now extinct secretaries listen to those tapes? Their daughters grew up to become law partners in topflight commercial transaction law firms with voice responsive software on their laptops.  Oh well, that’s progress.

That was just the start of a series of lost opportunities. The first cameras were large, needed heavy tripods, and ran big, big tapes.  Everything then got smaller, lighter, quicker and that meant that the law students vanished, the tapes and floppies and other discs too.  Courses got shorter, ‘publicly minded’ instructors gave less time because there are no billable units in sharing advocacy skill with the next generation, funds for equipment dried up, and as the equipment shrank so did the attention to video review. For a while we gave the students their recordings but they didn’t look at them, didn’t need to, because they were born to win[ii].  No point in throwing scarce resources away so scrap the idea of giving students take-aways that took time to make.

Fast forward on the ‘we'll always have growth’ evolutionary line. Prime begets subprime begets a bull in Wall Street that is decomposing not charging.  Law school enrolments flatlined then dipped downwards.  NITA downsized its teaching space and it’s course length. Seen any mainstream media paying informed attention to an advocate’s skill: only in your dreams! The tide has gone out on advocacy skilling.  All the action is in alternative dispute resolution and negotiating a plea deal – activities that take place far from the madding crowds. Fair enough, if the parties can only have second rate champions in court it makes sense to find a less risky solution, one where the mistakes are well and truly hidden.

Just as defeatism crests to deliver the knock out, enter an unassuming bit of easy to use software.  Video review rides again.  The instructor has each performance recorded and then the video reviewers can watch or listen to that performance using desktop, laptop, notebook or tablet in their office, waiting around the court house, stuck in a traffic snarl, enduring yet another ‘not on time departure’ wait at the airport.  The reviewer can type in their comment that goes straight to the performer and the instructor.  The more debonair can record a short video clip to go back to the class. The tyrannies of room space timetabling, ‘getting away from work to get to the law school’, and travel costs have been overcome.

What’s more the students can be required to write ‘on screen’ self-critiques that force active reflection of what they tried to do and what lesser result they achieved.

Now we have a visual tool that helps students to learn, and helps us to teach in an environment where we must give our adjuncts as much flexibility as we can. 

They call their software ‘Acclaim’ and that’s truth in advertising.

Part Two: Behan on Using Acclaim in the Classroom

I’ve written about Acclaim on this blog a couple of times. I used it in my summer trial advocacy class in order to conduct asynchronous video review. It worked extremely well, and all that Hugh said above is true.

But there are a few things Hugh didn’t write about, and one is the tremendous opportunity for collaborative teaching that Acclaim offers. Acclaim is organized by project. A person can post one video or multiple videos for a project. The project manager can decide how many people will have access to a project and what they’ll be able to do with the project. For instance, as a project manager, I could post a video and give several people access to watch it, but not comment on it. Or I could let people watch it and comment on it. Or I could create a project and give everyone the ability to post their own videos AND make comments AND invite other people to view the project. And so on. There is a tremendous amount of flexibility in the system.

Hugh was kind enough to try an experiment with my students this summer. I created projects for some of our graded trial exercises and also for the final trial. I invited Hugh to the project and gave him full access. From Australia, he viewed the videos and critiqued the students from afar. Hugh offers different insights and viewpoints about trial advocacy than I do. More importantly, he didn’t know this particular group of students, and so his critiques were not colored (as mine were) by an internal assessment of how far the student had advanced from the beginning of the class. The first time he commented, in other words, he was able to make remarks about an advocacy performance unfettered by the constraints of a personal relationship with the student and unburdened by knowledge of the student’s own “back story.”

I found the experiment invaluable. Think about how wonderful it would be if you could invite a trusted colleague from somewhere else to help you evaluate a student’s performance? To say things you might not know how to say yourself? To help solve problems and issues outside your own personal critiquing skill set? Well, we tried it this summer on a small-scale basis, and it worked wonderfully. (I will confess, though, that I forgot to tell the students in advance they were doing this, and the first question I got the next class period was, "Who the hell is Hugh Selby?" I just assumed everyone knew . . . .)

Another aspect of Acclaim that Hugh didn’t mention is its archival and assessment utility. A few days after my final trials this summer, I travelled to visit family members in a another city. When I had some free time, I sat down with my computer, accessed my Acclaim projects, and started to review video of the final trials. One of my students gave a particularly good opening statement, and it seemed to me as I watched it that she had improved tremendously from her performance in the diagnostic trial (using a different case file) a few weeks earlier. To verify my hunch, I clicked open the diagnostic trial project and watched her opening statement. The difference, at least to me, was profound.

I asked my sister, who is not a lawyer, to watch both opening statements and tell me what she thought. After watching them, she shared my assessment about the improvement. I asked her what specifically was better about the second performance, and, unprompted, she listed a number of things that the student had worked on during the semester: eye contact, confidence, body language, use of present tense to tell a story, use of interesting facts to help drive the story, a good organizational framework. 

All of it was recorded for me to measure and assess the change, and also for the student to review herself. In fact, as part of the final trial analysis memo I have the students write, I made this mandatory: the students had to watch their Acclaim performances and compare the diagnostic to the final trial. And I can log on to Acclaim and verify that they have complied with my instructions.

Of course, these things could theoretically be done with videotapes, DVDs, SD cards, or the like, but the reality is that people rarely do it; it’s too much trouble. I’m reminded of an advocacy course I helped teach a few years ago in which the students—in the DVD era—were directed to bring VHS tapes to class to record their performances for later review. The camera broke down in one of my sessions, and as I was trying to find a tech person to come fix it, one of the students said, “Don’t worry about it, Professor Behan. None of us are watching the videos anyway. No one has VHS players anymore.”

If you use Acclaim and take advantage of the tools it offers, no one will ever make a statement like that about one of your classes again!

[i] Actually there may have been some instructors, even renowned ones, who did that all the time, but maybe they didn’t write it down, or maybe they did but nobody noticed.  Becoming a part of official histories depends on luck and self-promotion.

[ii]Other performance skills exponents like surgeons, dentists, dancers, theatre actors, musicians, sportspeople practise, and practise some more.  Lawyers are the only profession where most think that the performance skills (as distinct from learning the rules) are either innate or can be acquired in a few days.  Strangely quite a few of those blinkered lawyers spend a lot of money with golf and tennis pros. We must be teaching them the wrong way.  Who is to blame?

Hugh Selby and Chris Behan © July, 2013


  1. Chris, Hugh,

    I'm humbled by your words above, thank you! Looking forward to working together this upcoming semester and beyond!

    -Aksel from Acclaim

  2. You have shared a great insight on the topic. It is really a wonderful experience to go through the article. I was searching this kind of information everywhere. Very happy to find this stuff here! Thanks for sharing! Keep sharing!
    college paper writing service help