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Thursday, May 21, 2015

2015 EATS Retrospective

This morning, I said goodbye to a group of old and new advocacy teaching friends on the patio of the Rum Runner bar on St. Pete beach at 3:30 am, slept a few fitful hours, woke up, packed, and left Gulfport and Stetson behind me for another year. I'm tired--as a middle-aged man, late nights exact a harsher toll than they did when I was younger--but I can sleep on the plane or when I get back to Illinois. The conversations, companionship, and camaraderie were well worth the price of temporary sleep deprivation.

In his concluding remarks to the 2015 Educating Advocates/Teaching Skills Conference, Charlie Rose talked about how the conference had recharged his depleted set of mental and emotional batteries. I am reasonably confident his sentiments were shared by most attendees, but I am 100% certain that he spoke for me. The phenomenon occurs every year at the conference as we listen to gifted teachers and advocates share the science and art of teaching others what it means to be an advocate.

Every year that I attend this conference, I leave with new ideas for the classes I teach and the programs I run. I implement many of these ideas throughout the year. I keep some and discard others. The exposure to and experimentation with other teaching methods and advocacy ideas have made me a better person, a stronger advocate, and a more effective teacher. 

In no particular order, here are some things from EATS this year that had a particular impact on me:

1. The Importance of Teaching Students Proper Use of Personal Theme Songs in Trial Preparation. This came not from a formal presentation at the conference, but from a conversation with Alice Craig from the University of Kansas. She is going to blog about it, and I don't want to steal her thunder, except to say this: even though I have always relied on particular songs to help me focus, prepare for, and get into the right mindset for trial, it never occurred to me to pass this on to my students as part of their trial preparation. Alice does this with her classes. I can't wait to read about it.

2. Dave Erickson's Lifetime Achievement Award Speech. I've attended nearly every one of the Lifetime Achievement Award dinners and heard the speeches. All of them have been excellent, as one might expect from people receiving a lifetime achievement award for excellence in advocacy teaching. But Dave's was inspirational, on many levels. He emphasized the importance of hard work, a commitment to excellence, and thorough preparation--all hallmarks of his personal life and the approach his teams bring to mock trial competitions. He paid homage to the people responsible for the past, present, and future of mock trial competitions. He talked about how proud he was to be a member of the legal profession. In his inimitable way, he shared the story of how George Washington's physicians bled him with leaches while he was at Valley Forge to try to restore him to health, and he told us next time a doctor disparages the legal profession, we should help the doctor with a dose of perspective: "Remember, while your predecessors were sucking the lifeblood out of George Washington with leeches, mine were writing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution." No one could say it better.

3. Panel on Gender Bias and Trial Advocacy. It's there, but we don't like to think about it, and even worse, many of us don't know how to address it or deal with it. We had a phenomenal panel discussion from Liz Boals (American), Alice Craig (Kansas), and Sara Jacobson (Temple) about how to identify and address the problems. The audience was lively and interactive, to put it mildly. I'd like to see someone from this panel or the audience write more about its significance to what we do as advocacy teachers and law school professors. 

4. Storytelling and Psychodrama. I attended two breakout sessions with Charlie Rose and Rafe Foreman on storytelling and psychodrama. Both are closely related to each other, and both are at the heart of what we do as trial lawyers and teach as trial professors. Charlie introduced us to storytelling circles, and I spent a moving and intimate morning with about 10 other people, sitting in a circle and sharing stories of family, hope, sorrow, and joy. The catalyst was an inanimate object--in this case, a chalice-type silver bowl--that we passed around the room, with the holder of the bowl free to tell a story inspired in some way by previous stories, or to pass the bowl on to the next person. Rafe taught an introduction to psychodrama and sociodrama, whetting my appetite to learn more. I'm going to try to make it to a formal psychodrama training course this year.

5. Joshua Karton and Gillian More. Joshua is the High Priest and Shaman of advocacy teachers, and he worked his magic on a new group of teachers again this year. Gillian, to whom I deferentially refer as Gillian, Queen of Scots, braced us with her tough-minded, no-nonsense approach to advocacy teaching, but she also showed us what it meant to try new things and become vulnerable. On a selfish note, I get to teach with both of them in Oxford in July. The two months between now and then will not pass quickly enough for me.

6. Law Professor as Hero and Advocate. Steve Easton of Wyoming took us through the classic hero's journey when he gave an impassioned and inspiring pitch, encouraging law professors--despite the personal, financial, and professional price--to take on pro bono cases for our own good and that of our students, clients, and the profession. When I grow up, I want to be like Steve.

7. And All the Rest. I've left things out, but by doing so, I do not mean to slight or diminish any part of the conference. It was all good. To those who attended and got something different from it than I've written about: please write about it, send it to me, and I'll post it to the blog. To those who couldn't come, I hope it works out next year. To those who've never considered coming: we'd love it if you'd join us.

--Chris Behan

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