Litigation Academy Helps Lawyers Hone Skills

Young and old lawyers participate under the guidance of state and federal judges and seasoned practitioners; they also get a little assistance from some of the area’s most talented professional actors, posing as witnesses.

Litigation Academy
Lawyer Jennifer Luzzi questions Charles Sweigart during a workshop session on the skill of admonishing a witness. Image Credit: The Providence Journal/Sandor Bodo
Katie Mulvaney, Providence Journal Staff Writer and RWU Law MSL Student

From The Providence Journal:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Many, many steps lead up to a trial. Evidence is gathered. Documents are produced. Witnesses are interrogated.

The questioning of witnesses during depositions was the focus of a recent Litigation Academy in U.S. District Court. The program, now in its fourth year, is designed to help lawyers, young and old, hone their skills under the guidance of state and federal judges and seasoned practitioners. All this with a little assistance from some of the area’s most talented professional actors, posing as witnesses.

“It makes it so much more realistic,” said Jordan Mickman, a staff attorney for the Rhode Island Center for Justice.

“It’s clear that the actors have prepared as much as we’ve prepared,” said Mickman, 32, who joined the nonprofit public interest law office in July and received a scholarship to attend the academy this spring.

“They really bring in that X factor,” Jose Lopez, a solo practitioner in Massachusetts, agreed.

The program, novel in the nation for its use of professional actors drawn from Trinity Repertory Company and the Gamm Theatre, combines lectures by lawyers with decades of experience with workshops in which the students get to practice their craft. They then get feedback from judges, lawyers and the actors themselves in a supportive setting, without worrying about putting a client at risk.

Much of what they learned in the most recent academy was how to get out in front of potential pitfalls in court and how to lock in a key admission or nugget of information that will help them win their client’s case.

“In a deposition, I’m your best friend,” [RWU Law adjunct professor] Brooks Magratten said of his approach. Magratten co-chairs the program with Roger Williams University School of Law professor Niki Kuckes.

“I’ve been at it for 30 years and it’s still practice,” Magratten said.

“You learn from your mistakes,” Kuckes said. ...

For full story, visit The Providence Journal.