Lawyering Skills II

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As I mentioned in my previous post, one of my classes this semester is Lawyering Skills II. (For information on Lawyering Skills I, take a look at this post.) Both Lawyering Skills I & II are required courses at the William H. Bowen School of Law here in Little Rock. Although LS I is ungraded (pass/fail) and worth only 2 credits, LS II is worth 3 credits and is graded.

While I am sure that this is a class that some people dread, it has great potential to be one of my favorites. At least once a week each student will stand in front of their workshop class (~8 students) and speak. Law Skills II, is essentially an introductory Mock Trial class. This week we had to give a 5-8 minute Opening Statement. Next week half of the class will question a “witness” on direct, and the other half will cross examine that same witness. As soon as each student finishes their statement, the instructor, a practicing litigator, offers advice based on their strengths and weaknesses. I can almost guarantee that any student who hates public speaking and/or receiving public criticism will hate this class.

This type of class is much more up my alley than Moot Court was. Trial advocacy is quite a different beast than Appellate advocacy. Whether it be the cases in our casebooks, the briefs we’ve written, or any of the oral arguments we made in RWA II or Moot Court, most of what we have been doing in law school so far is centered around appellate level cases. Lawyering Skills II switches the focus onto the trial.

I wanted to share something that I borrowed from a presentation created by a lawyer, Dale T. Cobb, Jr., titled ACTING FOR LAWYERS: Welcome to the Theater of the Absurd:

The art of story telling dwindles with every passing generation, and with it goes the power to move; to change; to persuade.  To tell a story well is to weave a tapestry of the spoken word with the use of our bodies as instruments.  To bring a story to life requires raw talent enhanced by rehearsal, genius, improvisation, and most importantly by the wisdom to know the difference.

The true artist can bring to life the theme or plot of the story in a single line or gesture.  A now  deceased trial lawyer who tried scores of railroad crossing accident case in his career would begin his closing thusly:

“Ladies and gentlemen; this man represents steel and steam. I represent flesh and blood.”

The lawyer who does not grasp the premise that a jury is an audience waiting to be entertained, caressed, wooed, and thereby persuaded, does a disservice to his or her client and to the profession as a whole.

All I can say is… BRING IT ON!

Deposed… again.

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If you haven’t already read my posts Eeek! I will be deposed and Deposed, then I highly recommend you do that before reading this post. While you are at it, it may be helpful to also read Lawyering Skills I: A Mixed Bag.

While I was originally skeptical about Lawyering Skills I, I have really grown to love that class.  Now… I’ve never been one of those students who lived and died based on my professor’s opinion of my work. When being called on in class, for example, I do my best to correctly answer the questions; however, I am completely unbothered when I am unable to do so because my strategy for studying is aimed, not at perfectly playing my part in the socratic method, but at doing my best on the final.

But something about my Lawyering Skills professor brings out the best in me. After turning in an assignment or answering a question in class, I feel like a dog whose very existence seems to hinge on his masters approval. A simple “Good Job, Caleb” can make my day, while a “I expected more from you” sends my mind racing on how I can improve next time. I honestly find my teacher, who is a practicing attorney, inspiring and motivating. But that brings me to the whole point of this post…

For the last two weeks my Lawyering Skills class has been focusing on depositions. This year we weren’t given a 1L to depose, but instead had to depose two of our classmates. When none of my classmates volunteered, I decided to play the role of Mark Asher. I felt quite confident in this role because this was the very same role I played when I was being deposed as a 1L.

But this time around I decided to play the part a bit more colorfully. I did my best to use as thick of an Arkansas accent as I believed I could (somewhat) realistically pull off. I tried to add the most colorful background that I could come up with while still sticking to the required material. For example, I decided that my character, who was an excavator by trade, had learned his trade while in the military. His job in the military? Yup, you guessed it: Intelligence. Now you may be asking: How in the world does someone learn to dig while serving in Intelligence? Well… I created a fanciful story of how I was always getting in trouble and how my punishment was always to dig holes.

My favorite moment was when I was asked what type of trouble I had been getting into and my response was something along the lines of: “Oh I got in trouble fer all sortsa stuff. But dis one time I played a prank on some of tha other fellars and I had convinced dem dat Intelligence says ders ah whole bunch of bad guys on tha other side of a hill. An it just freaked dem boys out so bad cause dey all thought dey was gonna die.”

Another shining moment was when I was asked if I had received any complaints about my work as an excavator. I responded with something along the lines of: “Complaints!?!? Shoot no, I ain’t never received no complaints about my work. Normally folks love my work. Hell… sometimes dey applaud me…” *I start quietly clapping my hands* “… like dey ain’t never seen such good work afore.”

Now before you think I was just goofing off the entire time, I should let you know that I was as serious as I could be given the circumstances. After all… it wasn’t my fault that Mark Asher had such a colorful background. I was just doing my best to accurately represent him. But who ever said that law school can’t be fun?

All-in-all I was deposed for probably close to an hour and a half, split over two class sessions.

One of my classmates got her revenge when it came time for me to depose her character. Her character was a real estate agent who had opened up her own land development company. Now… when I prepared my five page outline of the questions I was going to ask during the deposition, I had in mind that I would be deposing a professional. Instead what I found was a homemaker who believed her job as a “real estate agent”  revolved around schmoozing and having drinks with clients. The reason she started a land development business? She watched a lot of HGTV and felt she knew enough to act as her own project manager to build a commercial building on some land she inherited. Doh!

Unfortunately, when drafting my outline I made certain assumptions about her professional experience. But because my assumptions turned out to be wrong, big chunks of my outline were useless. My strategy then became to use very narrow and leading questions to prevent her from creating all these fantastical stories and to try to trap her in her own statements. I’m pretty sure that the only actual result was that I ended up coming off as abrasive and condescending.

As soon as I was finished deposing my classmate our instructor followed up with a few questions and managed to accomplish in three minutes what I failed to do in twenty. And she was able to do it while coming off as pleasant rather than abrasive and condescending. So it looks like I still have a lot to learn.

My 2L Classes in a Nutshell (or Pyramid)

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It just dawned on me that I have yet to share my class schedule this semester.  As a 1L all of your classes are chosen for you and you have no say in when you will take those classes.  We typically had two classes a day and those classes were spaced out appropriately. Classes weren’t too early in the morning, nor were they too late in the afternoon. The schedule balanced out pretty well.

This semester I am taking six classes. Some of these classes are required classes and some were electives. (Here is a list of the required curriculum at the University of Arkansas Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law.) I’m sure by now that you probably know that I’m taking Constitutional Law and Disability Law.  I am also taking Evidence, Lawyering Skills I – Litigation, Scholarly Writing, and Moot Court.

My classes this semester are anything but appropriately spaced and balanced out. Here is a breakdown of my weekly class schedule:

  • Monday – Evidence from 3:30 – 4PM.
  • Tuesday – Constitutional Law from 8:45 – 10:45AM; Ten minutes later I have Disability Law (10:55 – 12:25PM).
  • Wednesday – Are you ready for this? Lawyering Skills from Noon – 2PM; Evidence from 3:30 – 4PM; Scholarly Writing from 5:15 – 7PM*; and Moot Court from 7:05 – 9:05PM.
  • Thursday – Less than 12 hours after my last Wednesday night class gets out, I repeat Tuesday’s schedule.
  • Friday –  NO CLASSES!

*Scholarly writing doesn’t meet every week.

So that, folks, is my schedule of classes in a Pyramid! Stay tuned for details on these classes… because I know you just won’t be able to sleep well until you know all the details.

School has begun!

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It’s been a few days since I last left you with the happenings of the final days of orientation. I’ve now sat through four of the six classes that 1L’s at UALR take their first semester. Yesterday was Legal Research and Reasoning, Writing & Advocacy (RWA). Today’s classes were Civil Procedure and Property.

A few thoughts:

Research & RWA are skills classes. I’m really not excited about either of these classes, but I certainly don’t dread them. I’ve heard they will be rather labor intensive and teach skills that are vital to those who practice the law. I consider myself a fairly decent writer even though I’m sure my grammar skills are lacking.

Civil Procedure seems to be another one of those classes that are really important to an attorney (as I’m sure all the classes studied in the first year of law school). But it also doesn’t spark a large interest in me. The upside is that the first class went fairly well and I found it interesting. Perhaps this class may eventually light my fire… until then it’s on my ‘maybe’ list.

Property class may be a hit. It’s far too early to tell for certain, and I haven’t delved into Torts or Contracts yet, but there is a lot of potential. Private Property rights are a cornerstone in a free society and I happen to be rather fond of free societies. And to be honest, I’m somewhat interested in Real Estate law, even though I really have no clue what that entails.

Upcoming classes:

Ever since watching The Paper Chase I have been quite apprehensive about Contracts. But as you may recall,  my fourth day of orientation included a practice class given by our Contracts professor and I really enjoyed that class. That class seems quite promising.

For the longest time I have thought that Torts will be my favorite class this first semester. I’m not quite certain why I think I will like Torts. However, I have yet to meet that professor or even read a single Torts case. So this class is up in the air also.

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