This is a short recap of the first Trial School Mixed Method Advocacy workshop which was recently held in Arizona. The program was very different from any other trial advocacy program in several ways. It was an experiment and a risk for everyone who attended took a chance on the program. However, almost without exception, those who attended felt it was one of the most productive and effective trial advocacy programs they had ever attended.
First, unlike most other programs, the MMA Workshop featured non-lawyers who taught attendees advocacy and communication methods rarely touched upon by any other programs. For example, Cliff Atkinson, the author of Beyond Bullet Points, spent 4 days teaching students how to create and use PowerPoint effectively to tell a story during trial. Atkinson didn’t just stand up and give a lecture for 3 or 4 hours, which he did. He also spent time working with students individually in the evening sessions, and also giving feedback and constructive help during breakout workshops were students got on their feet and built PowerPoint decks for opening statements. It was powerful and mind-blowing to a lot of folks who have never tried to build or use a PowerPoint themselves during trial.
Joshua Karton, the legendary theater coach who has taught at numerous other programs across the country, also spent the entire 5 days working with students. Some of us had worked with Joshua before at the Spence Trial Lawyer’s College. However, during the Trial School Workshop, he not only spent a half day with the entire group explaining his methods, but also worked with students individually as they got on their feet to conduct a mock voir dire and deliver an opening statement.
The rest of the faculty was equally outstanding. Chris Stombaugh, who in the past was a Reptile instructor and was Don Keenan’s partner, lectured and provided individual student coaching during the break-out sessions. Alex Alvarez from Miami shared his new and very unique voir dire method, and gave students a step-by-step explanation on how to use his method. Other faculty members included Mike Kelly from San Francisco, Jim Perdue, Jr. from Houston, John Gomez from San Diego, John Uustal from Fort Lauderdale, and me. All of us tried to share various approaches to voir dire and opening statements and suggested ways to combine the various methods into a ‘mixed method advocacy advocacy’ approach. Feedback from attendees was consistent: the best parts of the program were the small group breakout sessions. Each small group consisted of 10 students, with 2 faculty member coaches. Students got on their feet, delivered an opening statement and conducted a mock voir dire, and were given immediate feedback from the faculty. The sessions were videotaped so students could watch themselves after the fact for further improvement.
Throughout the 5-day workshop, students had a chance to work with each other, share meals, and network. We all walked away feeling like we had accomplished something together. I know with certainty that many cases were dramatically improved with the assistance of the faculty, through restructuring the story, creating visuals, and improving the self-confidence of the lawyers in their delivery.
We will do this again. We might change the format a little, but the combination of having a phenomenal faculty, presenting various methods of trying cases, and giving students the chance to stand up and practice is a phenomenal formula for learning. Not just for the students, but for the faculty too. Stay tuned, we will announce the schedule for the next MMA Workshop soon.