Trials & Litigation

Diverse Lawyers Trial Academy hosts 2-day training for 1st-chair roles, and applications are open

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DLTA participants conducting a cross examination

Participants in the Diverse Lawyers Trial Academy conducted a cross-examination at the Boston program in November.

Throughout her career, Beth Kaufman has seen countless studies showing that female lawyers are not afforded the same leadership opportunities as their male colleagues.

One study, “First Chairs at Trial: More Women Need Seats at the Table,” published by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession and the American Bar Foundation in 2015, stuck with her. It examined a random sample of civil cases filed two years earlier in the Northern District of Illinois and found that 76% of lead counsel were men. Only 24% were women.

“It indicated that for women lawyers, it was an elusive position—first chair at trial,” says Kaufman, a partner in Schoeman Updike Kaufman & Gerber’s New York City office and chair of the Section of Litigation. “And we know the same is true, but exponentially worse, for lawyers of color.

“I felt like it was time to do something, instead of just fretting over the statistics and the failure for women and lawyers of color to really advance significantly.”

Kaufman and other leaders in the Litigation Section created the Diverse Lawyers Trial Academy, a two-day intensive training program that connects lawyers who have been historically underrepresented in civil proceedings with a faculty of experienced trial lawyers, in-house counsel, judges and trial consultants. Attendees participate in one-on-one and group trial skills development sessions on direct and cross-examinations of witnesses and the presentation of closing arguments.

After hosting the inaugural Diverse Lawyers Trial Academy at Suffolk University Law School in Boston in November, the Litigation Section is taking the program on the road. Registration is open for the next Diverse Lawyers Trial Academy, which will be held April 21-22 at the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law. Space is limited, and interested participants must register by April 8.

DLTA attendees in front faculty in back Participants in the Diverse Lawyers Trial Academy conducted a cross-examination at the Boston program in November; DLTA attendees are pictured in the front row, and the faculty is in the back row.

Boston event demonstrated ‘hunger for this type of training’

Kaufman, who describes the first program as “unbelievably successful,” says its attendees were mostly women and included a mid-level associate, young partners and one lawyer who had practiced for more than 20 years.

“That shows that there is this hunger for this type of training among people even if they have been successful and advanced to being partners in law firms,” Kaufman says. “I think that for the most part, they had participated in a trial at least in some manner, but never as first-chair trial lawyers.”

“Some of them had never questioned witnesses,” she adds. “They were just there to take notes and observe and do whatever tasks are needed to get through a trial.”

Beatrice O’Donnell, one of four co-chairs of the Diverse Lawyers Trial Academy, says they aimed to give participants a safe setting to try tactics they may not try when real clients are sitting behind them in a courtroom. They also wanted to bring in diverse faculty so participants could see potential role models in action.

“Diverse lawyers really need to see more modeling,” says O’Donnell, of counsel at Duane Morris in Philadelphia. “I know that was a very difficult thing for me when I first started out, that there weren’t that many women trial lawyers who were visible that I could watch, that could help mentor me.”

Laurence Rose, another co-chair of the program, adds that it focuses on issues that female lawyers and lawyers of color may face when acting as lead counsel. As an example, he says a trial consultant leads a discussion on challenges diverse lawyers experience in contemporary courtroom situations and their possible solutions.

“These lawyers should come to this program because we concentrate not only on the skills of being an effective courtroom attorney but also on the issues that will assist them in showing those people who unfortunately need to be shown that they are capable of sitting in the first chair,” says Rose, professor emeritus and former director of the Litigation Skills Program at the University of Miami School of Law.

Everything’s bigger in Texas

Amy Stewart, the founding partner of Stewart Law Group in Dallas, is one of the Litigation Section’s managing directors who has focused on planning the Diverse Lawyers Trial Academy’s Dallas event.

The plan is to use the same case materials, which involve the alleged theft of trade secrets, but the organizers have added examinations of an expert witness to their agenda. The Dallas session will also feature a conversation between Chief Judge Barbara M. G. Lynn of the Northern District of Texas and Dallas DLA Piper Partner Kim Askew, who are both former chairs of the Litigation Section.

Stewart says she loved “how proud the attendees were of themselves” by the end of the program in Boston and expects more of the same in her city.

“This is a very unique opportunity for you to present oral argument, closing arguments or do cross-examinations in front of judges and other people in the legal profession and then get constructive feedback,” she says. “Each one of them walked away and were very positive about the experience, and that is why I’m really excited about bringing it to Dallas.”

For more information or to apply for the program, visit the Diverse Lawyers Trial Academy website. The deadline to apply for the Dallas event is April 8.

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