In the News

Women's Trial Academy Dissects Anatomy of a Trial

August 01, 2014

Direct examination. Cross examination. Opening statements. These were the topics covered in recent months by the 12 participants in the Women’s Trial Academy, sponsored by OWLS and led by Renée Rothauge and Lisa Kaner, partners at Markowitz, Herbold, Glade & Mehlhaf. The academy’s first program, which will last eight months, began in February.

Each of the monthly sessions starts with tips and advice from Renée, Lisa, and guest coaches, who are experienced female litigators and judges in the Portland area, followed by a demonstration of these trial skills by the Trial Academy participants and constructive feedback. Participants work within the closed universe of a model case in civil litigation, wherein defamation, destruction of personal property, and intentional infliction of emotional distress are alleged between family members. Participants are provided with necessary case materials to prepare for their assignments.

The April session focused on direct examination during trials. Nena Cook (Sussman Shank) and Julie Vacura (Larkins Vacura) joined as guest lecturers. Participants were encouraged to experiment with the timing of questions and pauses, and with movement in the courtroom. The importance of preparation was also emphasized, including working with your witnesses prior to trial and developing themes for your case to weave through their testimony. The April session concluded with the students conducting their own mock direct examination of the model case’s defendant, followed by feedback from the guest lecturers.

The May session addressed cross-examination. Guest lecturers Janet Hoffman (Janet Hoffman and Associates) and Julie Vacura offered tips. Preparation was stressed as a key element to successful cross-examination. For civil trials, preparation usually begins with a witness’s deposition, months before trial. For criminal trials, however, for which depositions are not conducted, preparation requires work such as investigating the scene where the incident took place and the witnesses’ backgrounds in advance of trial.

Participants were advised on how to deal with surprises during cross-examination, including how to handle unexpected and potentially damaging answers from hostile witnesses. The May session concluded with the students conducting their own mock cross-examination from the model case, which, to mimic real life, also included responding to objections raised under the Rules of Evidence by the guest lecturers and other participants.

The June session tackled opening statements. Guest lecturer Jane Paulson (Paulson Coletti) advised participants on how to organize opening statements to best capture the jury’s attention and gain its trust. Demeanor and the ordering of the opening are key to ensuring a receptive jury. The students then delivered their own opening statements for either the model case plaintiff or the defendant. The five- to eight-minute opening statements were videotaped, providing students with the opportunity to observe their personal tics and critique what they liked and did not like about their own statements. Mock jurors also provided constructive feedback.

Participants in the first class of the Women’s Trial Academy will continue to meet on a monthly basis through September 2014.

By Kristen Tranetzki,an associate at the Angeli Ungar Law Group in Portland and a WTA participant.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 edition of the AdvanceSheet.