Martins Birgelis stood as if to address the bench, squarely before the jury box in McCartan courtroom. “But you see,” he said, “in this position I can’t be seen by the camera. I have to stand forward a little bit.”
The human rights lawyer from Latvia, enrolled in Notre Dame Law School’s Intensive Trial Advocacy Program, wasn’t concerned about others seeing him on camera. He wanted to make sure he could see himself. One of the many benefits of this extraordinary program – which brings together top litigators from major law firms, judges from across the country, and a roughly equal number of students, to engage in a week of rigorous courtroom exercises and trial workshops – is that the students are able to view video recordings of themselves. This allows them to focus more intently on their demeanor and body language, elements of the courtroom encounter that can have a real effect on outcomes.
“The experience is great,” Martins explained. “You never really know what your skills are until they are put under close scrutiny. Here in ITA you see your true abilities – no better than you have, and no worse. It’s exhausting, but worth the time.”
Zimbabwean lawyer Kennedy Masiye recognizes the value of the course in developing skills that answer his own specific needs. “The ITA program helped me to perfect my advocacy skills in court, especially on the opening address and closing arguments,” he explained. “I learned that facts win cases, and therefore it is important to develop and advance my case theories concisely, a skill I did not have before coming to Notre Dame.”
Martins and Kennedy are two of the five students from the LL.M. Program in International Human Rights who enrolled in the Spring 2017 semester of ITA. Adjunct Professor John Conway, one of the distinguished attorneys who works closely with the students, remarked upon the benefits of having the LL.M. students in ITA. “It has been a great experience for all involved,” he said. “The LL.M.s are practicing lawyers and that experience contributes to their learning, while the law students greatly benefit from working alongside lawyers from other countries. LL.M. participation in ITA really shows that trial advocacy is an international language.”
Professor Jim Seckinger, one of the nation’s outstanding trial advocacy teachers, began the ITA Program at NDLS in 2003 and has directed the program since its inception.