Hands-on Trial Techniques

February 3, 2011 - 12 AM

N.H., 3L

You probably already know that YLS is a great place for legal theory, but you should also know that there are many opportunities for practical instruction at the law school. In addition to an amazing array of clinical courses, YLS offers a number of simulation-style courses that allow students to hone their trial and appellate skills without the pressures associated with having an actual client. The most popular of these is Trial Practice, where students divide into three-person “law firms” and spend each week playing out a different trial scenario. One week you may cross-exam a witness in a fictitious automobile accident case, while the next week you may perform a jury voir dire. You are guided along the way by your instructors, who are real-life full-time attorneys and judges who take time from their weeks to teach you trial skills.

I liked Trial Practice so much that I took a follow-up course entitled Civil Litigation Practice. In many ways, that class is an advanced version of Trial Practice; students form two “firms” of six people and are led by two of the area’s best trial attorneys. But the fictional scenarios are much more complex and do not change from week to week, and students learn an even broader array of skills. During the semester that I took the course, we spent several weeks practicing our depositions skills, several more on opening and closing arguments, and a couple weeks of additional cross- and direct-examination practice. They even brought in a mediator to run a mock commercial mediation (if you’re wondering, the other side refused to settle despite our rather generous concessions . . . but I’m not bitter about it at all).

The highlight of the course is a day-long mock trial that occurs at the end of the semester. The instructors bring in a panel to act as a jury, and the entire trial is done in character. Each member of my law firm had an assigned task (I cross-examined one of the main witnesses) and we spent weeks preparing together. At the end of the trial, the jury deliberated for an hour. Unlike in real life, however, we were able to view the deliberations, an exercise that proved very insightful. You’d be surprised at some of the odd visual cues that jurors will pick up on during the trial, as well as what facts draw their attention. In any event, my firm ended up losing quite decisively. I’d like to think that it was because we were assigned to the weaker side of the case, but it was probably because of the Cicero-esque closing statement given by one of my friends for the opposing party. The experience, however, was quite enjoyable and I highly recommend that you take the course should you enroll at YLS.