USDC Rhode Island’s Litigation Academy
The United States District Court, for the District of Rhode Island, recently completed its third successful Litigation Academy, an ongoing series of programs aimed at developing practical litigation and trial skills. Conceived by Chief Judge William Smith, the Academy prepares local practitioners of all ages with practical hands-on litigation and trial training. In an era when fewer disputes reach court, with far fewer tried to verdict, the Academy fills a need for attorneys to develop these practical skills.
Under Judge Smith’s leadership, the Court reached out to the Rhode Island Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and Rhode Island’s law school, Roger Williams University School of Law. A unique partnership resulted, pairing seasoned local attorneys and judges with enrolled “student” practitioners. Former Rhode Island Chapter President, Brooks Magratten, and Professor Niki Kuckes help manage the program with Judge Smith. Each program focuses on a phase of litigation; topics thus far have been deposition and direct and cross examination. The intensive three to four-day programs are held at the federal courthouse and the law school. Each phase within a program is launched with a lecture, followed by skills sessions. For example, the first phase of the deposition program focused on admonitions, starting with a lecture correlating successes and failures with skillful and not-so-skillful uses of admonitions. A unique feature of the Academy is that, whenever possible, skills sessions are played out in open court. Each program has sold out, with positive reviews from participants. In fact, due to high demand, the deposition program was repeated.
Rhode Island is home to one of the country’s finest regional theatres, Trinity Repertory Company. Members of Trinity’s resident troupe performed as witnesses in the past two programs, adding more challenge (and entertainment) to the participants’ experience. The tuition is kept well below market rates by the Court and Roger Williams University hosting the program in their facilities, and by judges and lawyers volunteering their time to act as faculty. In addition, the Rhode Island Chapter of the FBA offered 50% tuition scholarships, enabling six practitioners to attend who otherwise would not have been able to.
The USDC Rhode Island Litigation Academy serves as an example of how the federal legal community can benefit from genuine collaboration among the bench, bar and law schools. Judge Smith is pleased to report that the fourth Trial Academy is in the works for the spring, and will focus on opening statements and closing arguments. Another sell-out is expected.