For three days, rising third-year law students found themselves and their classmates under the microscope, as they practiced their trial advocacy skills with the help of lawyers, judges, and law professors from around the country. By the end of the third day, not only had the near 200 students completed the LSU Law Center’s Trial Ad Program, they also gained confidence in their own skills as future lawyers.
“For me, the program epitomized what I thought law school was like when I started as a first-year student and it reaffirmed my desire to be an attorney,” said Rebecca Bayless, a student at the LSU Law Center. “We learned how important facial expressions, voice modulation, and body language were in addition to the words we were speaking. I was honored to have Hon. Laurie White as one of my team leaders and she was really great at providing useful techniques for the aspiring female attorneys in our group such as ‘speak like you have grit in your belly and not like you’re nice and sweet.’”
This year’s program, made possible in part by a grant from the Houston Law firm of Vinson & Elkins, was the 18th edition at the LSU Law Center. Over the course of the program, students acted as trial counsel and simulated actual trial skills under the watch of 60 judges and practicing lawyers from around the country. Activities during the program included role playing, critique, videotaping of performances, lectures, and demonstrations by the faculty.
“I view this program as a perfect example of professionalism,” said Dean A. Sutherland, a faculty member for the Trial Ad Program and 1975 graduate of the LSU Law Center. “Sixty judges and attorneys from around the country, many of whom have no direct connection to LSU, and from all sides of the legal spectrum, give up at least three days from their professional schedules to try and help the LSU Law Center students improve their communication and persuasion skills.
“As I tell the law students, the faculty members feel that if we can help them learn to avoid the mistakes that we made during our early careers, their future clients and the entire profession will be better served.”
At the closing ceremonies, Program Director Dominic Gianna-a founding partner in the law firm of Middleberg, Riddle & Gianna-addressed the students, saying that Southern University has asked to start a similar trial advocacy program. In the future, Gianna said, these LSU students will be asked to help educate a new crop of aspiring attorneys and pass on the lessons learned over those three days.