|Obligatory faculty photograph at the August 11-14 2015 Trial Skills for Legal Services Attorneys Course.|
Because of funding limitations, NITA could not offer the course for the past four years. This year, however, the NITA Board of Trustees was able to fund the program. Pent-up demand for the course was so high that it completely filled within two days of opening. The Board funded a second offering of the course that will take place in September. I'm glad the Board brought this course back. NITA does a lot of good throughout the country, but it is at its best when it finds a way to help those attorneys who would not otherwise be able to afford the instruction.
So, I'm in supervision training in my office -- the public defender's office in Boston -- and the topic is in-service, routine trial skills training. In answer to the question, "Why focus on trial skills?", the training director said, "Because I know I have had clients who, despite being told that the decision whether to plea or try a case is theirs alone, despite having a viable defense, have pled guilty because they could see the fear in my eyes."
I found that incredibly moving. When we build lawyers' confidence in their ability to try a case, they convey that confidence to their clients. It gives their clients more options. That is an issue of equal justice for poor clients.
Thought you all would appreciate.
It can't be said any better than that.
Repetition Works. Mark has been experimenting with allotted performance times in his courses, and one of his recent innovations is building sufficient time in each performance block for repeat performances. In nearly every session of this course, there was enough time for each student to perform twice. Often, the second performance would come after critique and video review. Sometimes, the repeat performance would occur with different instructors from the ones who gave the original critique. This is in contrast to the typical advocacy course in which the student performs, receives a critique, but then does not perform that skill again during the course. I would highly recommend finding a way for repeat performances. Perhaps Mark will write more on this for us in the future, but what I observed is that the quality of student performances improved dramatically, not only for each individual skill, but in the aggregate, throughout the week. I believe that the opportunity to correct a performance and apply the critique points and advice within a short time after the original performance helps improve the learning process considerably.
Flipping the Classroom Creates Additional Performance Time. For this course, most of the substantive instruction came from professionally produced instruction videos that were posted to NITA's Studio 71. The students were assigned to watch these before attending the course and were reminded every night of which videos to watch that would give them the substantive instruction necessary for the next day's assignments. This frees time for live performances, critiques, video reviews, and repeat performances. It requires greater advance effort from the student, but the payoff is well worth the effort. The value of learning-by-doing programs, after all, comes not from the live lectures and faculty demonstrations, but rather from students practicing their skills in a live environment with expert critiques and commentary to help them improve.
If you get the chance to teach in or attend one of NITA's public service courses, I highly recommend it.