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Inside the 3L Litigation Immersion – The Trial

Hannah Shtein is a 3L from Milwaulkee, Wisconsin. She’s blogging about her experience in W&L’s fall litigation skills immersion, one of the key components of the School’s innovative third-year curriculum.

“I found immersion valuable because it teaches skills that are not only “lawyering”, but also life skills whose reach extends across different careers, and also across personal relationships.”

Thursday: Cross-Examination and Trial Prep

10:00am-1:00pm – More Cross-Examination Practice and Closing Session

Thursday morning, we practice the cross-examination tactics we discussed on Wednesday in the same format as with direct. Cross-examination ends up being a little easier because it tends to be shorter, and of course allows us to lead the witness and to be a little more aggressive.

We then have a closing session, and Professor Moliterno congratulates us on being almost done with immersion, but to be honest I fidget in my seat the entire time because I am having daytime nightmares about fainting or forgetting how to speak English at my trial.

1:00pm-COB – Trial Prep

The rest of the day is spent preparing for trial on our own. My trial is at 7:45am on Friday, and I have “jury duty” for other students’ trials, as well as my trial in my client role, later in the day.

I meet with opposing counsel to go over which parts of the depositions we have been provided with each of us wants to admit into evidence on Friday, and discuss which parts we will object to, so we can prepare our responses. For example, I tell my opposing counsel that I will object to a portion of testimony in which someone calls my client a busybody (she is, but we don’t want the jury to know that) as impermissible character evidence.

I also meet with my client to discuss her direct examination and to go over the questions opposing counsel may ask her on cross examination, so that she is prepared. Then I make a binder with all of my materials, go over my opening, closing, direct and cross a few times, and try not to have any actual nightmares about trial. Wish me luck!

Friday – Trial: The Fateful Day

7:45am-9:00am – TRIAL

I walk into our “courtroom” clutching my binder to my chest and taking strategically deep breaths (to avoid the daytime-nightmare-faint), but the trial ends up being less frightening than anticipated. I had not been looking forward to being observed by a jury of my classmates, but I actually find their presence comforting. Also, I don’t faint or forget how to speak English, so all is well!

I also find that opening, closing, direct, and cross go much more smoothly than I anticipated, because I have a better idea of how to conduct myself from having practiced it in my small section. I am still not an effective public speaker, but I feel much more confident and comfortable than I expected, because I’ve had the opportunity to practice.

Once we finish closing arguments, Professor (“Judge”) Moliterno gives us feedback on the substance of the presentation and our arguments, and makes suggestions for other ways we could have argued, or objections to opposing counsel that we could have made. We also hear from our classmates on the jury about how we could have improved, and what we did well.

10:30am-2:30pm – Witness and Juror Roles

I spend the rest of the day watching my fellow classmates as a juror and a witness, so I have the opportunity to watch and learn from my “co-counselors” and to observe their trial demeanor and strategy, and to decide what I want to emulate or avoid, and also floating on cloud nine because I survived my trial.

Final Thoughts

I suppose I have been completely immersed—or perhaps now that it’s over I’m un-immersed?—so I can speak from the Other Side.

Although Professor Moliterno told us at the very beginning of immersion that some of us may change our minds about whether we want to litigate. I haven’t. I still don’t want to litigate, and in fact I may not seek a traditional legal career at all.

Nonetheless, I found immersion valuable because it teaches skills that are not only “lawyering”, but also life skills whose reach extends across different careers, and also across personal relationships.

Public speaking, for example, may be a little bit terrible for some of us, but is also something most of us will likely have to do in some capacity or another. We may not be presenting at large academic conferences or in front of a courtroom, but the ability to express oneself articulately and effectively in front of a group of people extends to smaller groups, too, and helps us broaden the ways in which we engage others. And that’s a pretty universal skill.

Similarly, negotiation is something we use daily. Every day we ask someone for something in a thousand different ways, without even thinking about it. Negotiation allows us to do that more effectively, both in a career sense (a business deal that closes the way you or your client had hoped), and in our daily lives (how can I get someone to give me a free piece of candy? Just kidding—kind of.).

Also, speaking of business deals, transactional immersion is next. See you next semester, when we will learn how to “A) Always B) Be C) Closing” (quote credit: Alec Baldwin, Glengarry Glen Ross). #immersed!