If you haven’t heard of WSBA’s Trial Advocacy Program, it’s a two-day intensive trial-skills training seminar led by local trial attorneys. It culminates in an all-day mock trial before a sitting judge. It’s a great opportunity for anyone who wants to be a trial attorney. I had the fortune to attend TAP last year as a scholarship recipient and was asked to share a few “aha moments” that resonated with me.
- The little things. TAP exposes you to the little “common sense” things experienced trial attorneys would know, but new lawyers might not, such as how to sit in your chair so you don’t get tangled up when you try to stand and object. Or, how you can tell if someone is a trial attorney based on whether a Teglands* (the bible of trial practice) is within arm’s reach of their desk. Knowing these seemingly obvious but practical details can make you feel more comfortable and prepared.
- “Be yourself, don’t try to be someone else.” The presenters reiterated that everyone has their own style. I felt more confident knowing there is no set personality type to be a successful trial attorney and that I didn’t have to pretend to be someone I am not. TAP is a great opportunity to discover your style, learn how to complement your partner’s style, and navigate your opposing party’s style.
- If you’re not nervous, there’s something wrong. While preparing for the trial, I expressed to a seasoned attorney about being nervous, despite it being a mock trial. They advised that I should worry if I wasn’t a little nervous, and that although it gets better with experience, I wouldn’t stop feeling nervous. Although it’s clear you shouldn’t be overconfident, the New Lawyer Panel at TAP encouraged participants to counter their lack of experience and nerves with significant preparation. TAP provides the ideal environment to start working through your nerves in a mock courtroom, but with a sitting judge and other attorneys.
- Your true audience. One of the most unique aspects of TAP was the ability to listen in on jury deliberations. You hear which arguments, attitudes, and pieces of evidence resonated with the individuals who ultimately decide your case. Aspects you thought were crucial, and likely focused onduring preparation and delivery, may have been of little or no consequence to them. This part of the mock trial is both interesting and agonizing, as you helplessly listen to the jury rehashing your case as they’ve interpreted it. This serves as a great reminder that your audience ultimately isn’t the other attorneys or the judge, but the captive, unassuming jurors in the room.
- You’ll surprise yourself. Despite being incredibly nervous while delivering our party’s closing argument, I decided to give a rebuttal improvised from five sticky notes I had jotted on during the opposing party’s closing. My partner and I had not planned for a rebuttal closing, yet at the last minute, I found an untapped source of courage and vigor to refute the arguments of an attorney who had decades more experience. Challenging myself to do something I was unsure of gave me a tremendous feeling of accomplishment and exhilaration.
TAP is a highly-organized program with great flow between topics and thoughtful presentations, and I’m grateful I had this opportunity. Thank you to all the judges and volunteers who gave up their Saturday to create this trial sandbox, to presenters for creating engaging and well-developed materials, and to WSBA staff who worked hard to provide an authentic and rich learning experience.
*Karl B. Tegland, Courtroom Handbook on Washington Evidence, 2016-2017 ed. (Vol. 5D Washington Practice Series).