Intensive Trial Advocacy Program Kicks Off New School Year

Author: Lauren Love

Sixty-three Notre Dame Law students have successfully completed a grueling week of advocacy training as in the Law School’s the Intensive Trial Advocacy class, a unique program taught by distinguished trial attorneys and judges to develop students’ advocacy skills.

The program, which began in the spring of 2004, calls for law students and guest faculty to return to campus a week early each semester so that they can dedicate themselves to simulated exercises on all aspects of in-court trial practice, including opening statements, development of witness testimony, use of illustrative aids and exhibits in evidence, cross examination, and closing arguments.

The formal program runs from Saturday to Saturday, 7:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m., with students working long into the evening to prepare for the next day. The weeklong pre-semester workshops are then followed by continued training and mock trials throughout the rest of the semester.

“The Trial Advocacy Program exemplifies our commitment to ensuring that students enter the legal community with solid advocacy skills and a strong ethical foundation,” said John Conway, adjunct professor at Notre Dame Law School and member at LaDue Curran & Kuehn LLC. “We think we offer the single best training program for trial lawyers in the country.”

Faculty lead the program with support from a number of seasoned, prominent litigators and judges who volunteer their time to work with students. While students were on their feet, delivering opening statements and closing arguments, conducting direct and cross-examinations, working with exhibits, and teaming up on trial strategy, the guest faculty were reviewing their performances and giving constructive feedback.

“Being thoroughly critiqued on my style and strategy in openings, directs, crosses, and closings by these respectable figures is an incredibly unique experience that no future trial attorney should miss,” said Zvonimir Sola, 3L. “I decided to take the this course precisely for this reason.”

The program is open to all rising 2L and 3L students, even those who aren’t interested in becoming litigators. According to the program’s creator, Professor Jim Seckinger, any student who is interested in enhancing their ability to analyze facts critically, understanding the relationship between the facts and what the client wants to achieve, and then communicating clearly to the decision-maker should enroll.

Seckinger has been a member of the Notre Dame Law faculty since 1974. He is recognized nationally and internationally as a top trial advocacy professor and practitioner and was the director of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy for 15 years and a faculty member for more than 40 years.