Lawyer Training Program 25

January 16, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Young attorneys will get a chance to practice their trial skills this week at the Hillman Advocacy Program, which has been helping local trial lawyers hone their courtroom presentations for 25 years.

“It’s highly renowned and respected and just does a fine job of training young lawyers in trial practice skills,” said David Gass, chairman of the program and an attorney at Miller Johnson.

The two-and-a-half-day program, which will take place Wednesday through Friday at the Federal Court for the Western District of Michigan, gives young attorneys the chance to learn from volunteer faculty comprised of local attorneys, practice their trial skills, and then hear a critique of their presentation. There will be various presentations including a welcome by Chief Judge Robert Holmes Bell; a session on “Techniques for Effective Communication” by Brian Johnson, a nationally known communications consultant; and recognition of the 25th anniversary of the event and its founder, the Honorable Douglas W. Hillman.

Throughout the event, participants will study opening statements, closing statements, cross examination, direct examination, jury selection and use of electronic evidence. They will also participate in a mock trial that will be presided over by federal magistrates and judges.

Gass said the program has not changed much in 25 years except for the addition of discussing the use of electronic evidence.

“We are still teaching the same basic trial skills that are necessary for lawyers,” he said.

Though there are other private programs that offer to help young attorneys with their trial skills, Gass said this program is unique as he does not know of many that have a partnership with the federal courts.

“There aren’t many like it in the country where the federal courts close down and allow us to use their facility, and the federal bar participates to the extent that we do,” he said.

The cost to take part in the program is $275, Gass said.

Approximately 50 attorneys participate in the program, with more than 1,500 trial lawyers participating over the past 25 years. Gass, who participated in the second year of the program, has been involved in the steering committee for 10 years and also served as a faculty member four times.

Gass said he believes the program speaks highly of the attorneys in the community.

“The lawyers in this community are willing to give their time and talent to train young lawyers,” he said. “That says a lot about the bar in West Michigan.”    

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