Notre Dame Law School’s Intensive Trial Advocacy Program is currently underway, providing rising 2Ls and 3Ls a week-long opportunity to develop their trial practice skills and gain litigation experiences through simulated courtroom exercises. The program is led by NDLS Professor Jim Seckinger.
One of the major pieces of the program’s success is that top litigators from major law firms as well as judges and justices from across the country come to campus to advise and coach students. “The curriculum has evolved significantly since the start of the program five years ago,” says Seckinger. “We’ve gone from two case files to one so that, rather than spending time reading files, students can devote more time to the things that tend to be most difficult for new lawyers, such as fundamental questioning techniques.”
Notre Dame Law School alumni, Notre Dame undergraduate alumni with law degrees from other institutions, and lawyers without a connection to Notre Dame participate as mentors to ND Law students. Volunteer lawyers and judges come from major firms and judicial benches across the U.S. and Canada.
“These lawyers volunteer their time and their money—each pays their own transportation costs—to give back to Notre Dame Law School and to their profession,” says Seckinger. “These people believe in the value of modeling and mentoring, and we couldn’t succeed at this without them.”
After the visiting lawyers and judges go home, the law students spend the rest of the semester preparing for a jury and a judge trial and then serving as a trial lawyer and a witness/observer in a jury and a judge trial. The law students leave the Intensive Trial Advocacy course with a vivid understanding of the relationship between facts and the law. In practice facts persuade.
Because of the course’s popularity and size limitations, there is always a waiting list of students hoping to secure one of the coveted 40 spots. Another aspect of the course’s popularity is it’s attraction to second year law students who are able to use their experience in the intensive trial advocacy course in their summer clerkship.
“Not everyone who takes this course wants to be a litigator,” explains Seckinger. “The Intensive Trial Advocacy program is valuable for any student who wants to enhance their ability to critically analyze facts, understand the relationship between the facts and what the client wants to achieve, and then communicate clearly to the decision-maker. The skills learned here are useful for everyone.”
Intensive Trial Ad participants continue to meet once a week throughout the duration of the spring semester. During that time, each student acts as a trial lawyer in two trials—one jury and one judge trial—and also serves as a witness or observer in one jury and one judge trial.
NDLS’s program is always ranked among the best trial advocacy programs in the country by US News and World Report.