Students, Lawyers Hone Trial Advocacy Skills During Weeklong Course

David Perez

Third-year law student David Perez questions a witness during a mock trial at the Trial Advocacy College at the University of Virginia School of Law.

January 12, 2012

More than 100 lawyers from across the country and 35 University of Virginia law students convened at the Law School this week to brush up on their trial advocacy skills.

Now in its 31st year, the Trial Advocacy College offers experienced lawyers and UVA law students an opportunity to hone their advocacy and persuasion skills through a variety of lectures, demonstrations and workshops that culminate in a mock trial in front of a live jury.

"It's a bit like spring training for lawyers," said Stephen A. Saltzburg, director of the college and a George Washington University Law School professor. "Trial lawyers get together and they remind themselves what makes them good. And they share that with other lawyers and law students. There's an incredible amount of learning and energy that takes place."

In 1981, Saltzburg, then a professor at Virginia Law, co-founded the college with Herbert J. Stern, then a federal judge in Newark, N.J. They partnered with Virginia Continuing Legal Education and the Law School with a goal to establish an annual institute for trial advocacy.

"We get letters from alums who say, 'I tried my first case since I was at your college and I had a smashing verdict. It really changed the way I practice law,'" Saltzburg said.

Each year, the college attracts a faculty of more than 50 trial attorneys, judges and other experts.

"We think we offer the single best training program for trial lawyers in the country," Saltzburg said. "We have a faculty that is committed to the program. They are talented lawyers, men and women from all over the country. They come back because they learn from each other."

Third-year law student Aditi Goel had two small group instructors at this year's Trial Advocacy College — one was an experienced litigation attorney and the other was a federal judge.

Matt Dinan
Matt Dinan, a third-year law student, plays a witness during a mock trial at the Trial Advocacy College.

"Being thoroughly critiqued on my style and strategy in openings, directs, crosses and closings by these two respectable figures is an incredibly unique experience that no future trial attorney should miss," she said. "I decided to take the Trial Advocacy College precisely for this reason."

For her mock trial, Goel represented a widow who was suing a life insurance company for $1 million of coverage under her husband's policy. The company alleged the husband committed suicide, while she contended he died in an accident.

Goel and her co-counsel, another third-year law student, spent hours collaborating on the theory, strategy and presentation of their case. At trial, Goel handled the opening, the co-counsel did the closing and each ran at least one direct and cross examination.

"The jurors were high school students and our judge was a JAG officer," she said. "This experience was very useful for me — it was a great way to practice all of the strategies we had learned the past few days and I could not have thought of a better way to culminate the entire experience."

Third-year law student David Perez also attended this year's Trial Advocacy College and said it proved to be a valuable experience.

"The course is a great follow-up to the semester-long trial advocacy course, as you are exposed to a range of trial techniques from a diverse group of experienced faculty that include former prosecutors and federal judges," he said, adding that he believes the college helped make him "more comfortable with overall trial procedure while bettering my advocacy skills."

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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