It’s important for a trial lawyer to strive for constant improvement of communication skills. It’s also good to break out of the comfort zone, by hearing how judges and lawyers from outside Philadelphia approach trial work. I was fortunate this past August to spend ten intense days in Boulder, Colorado, as a scholarship participant in the 2013 NITA national session. Under the watchful eyes (and merciless criticism) of seasoned faculty members, we took two complicated cases to trial, preparing opening statements, direct and cross-examinations of witnesses, and closing arguments. NITAs’ core philosophy is “learning by doing,” and it was invaluable to see myself on video, gaining skills with witness examination, judicial persuasion and handling exhibits which will help my clients succeed at trial.
Boulder is a beautiful city, surrounded by mountains and blessed with an ideal climate, but I did not get to see much of it beyond the bus route from my room on the other side of town. Class and workshop sessions started at 8 am, and lasted until 6:30 at night. After a short dinner break, preparing for the next day’s events often kept me busy until well past 10. The purpose-driven program was a welcome break from the routine pace of an office, where firing off another e-mail to a litigation opponent so often passes for productive work.
After the first set of trials ended on Saturday night, we were back in the classroom early the next morning, spending Sunday identifying the most promising themes for a new case study which we would take to a jury trial the following Thursday. As our workload increased, the days accelerated, and I was busy until minutes before trial, preparing a detailed direct examination of a corporate CEO, a cross-examination of the other side’s “star witness,” and my closing argument for the jury. In a case that had generally bad facts for the defendant, my trial partner and I were able to win over half of the jury, which would have meant a defense verdict in an actual courtroom. Before I knew it, the trial was over, and our jury members (drawn from the surrounding community) were providing their own, honest critiques of what they had heard and seen during the daylong presentations. The following morning, with only four hours for hiking, my wife and I clambered up one of the more challenging trails on the Flatirons (the mountains which form the western boundary of Boulder), and then hurriedly packed our bags for the return trip to Philadelphia.
The months that followed NITA showed the value of the National Session. I won two jury defense verdicts this past Fall, in cases that my colleagues concluded were “unwinnable.” While my writing often gets compliments from Judges, and sometimes even opponents, NITA also confirmed that I can help people the most by taking their case to trial. My next jury trial starts on January 21, 2014.