Dean's Desk: Law students benefit from alumni's professional experience

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

dean-newton-notre-dameOne of the benefits of writing this column is that it gives me time to reflect on aspects of Notre Dame Law School that are known and appreciated in South Bend and among our graduates, but are perhaps not as well known to the Indiana bench and bar.

A full week before the official beginning of the semester last month, our school’s common areas were already resonating with the buzz of students conferring and debating. In the hallways, seminar rooms and classrooms, nationally known trial lawyers and judges were observing student pre-trial performances and asking penetrating questions. The semester break had another week to go, yet the student adrenalin was flowing.

This has been the new normal ever since the Notre Dame Intensive Trial Advocacy Program began in the spring of 2004. ITA students and faculty return to school a week early each semester so that they can dedicate themselves to their trial workshops all day, every day, without distraction.

The formal program goes from 7:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. Many students continue working long into the evening. These weeklong pre-semester workshops are then followed by continued training and simulated trials throughout the rest of the semester.

Not all of the rising 2Ls and 3Ls who take this course want to be litigators. As professor James Seckinger, the program director, has explained, “The program is valuable for students who want to enhance their ability to analyze facts critically, understand the relationship between the facts and what the client wants to achieve, and then communicate clearly to the decision-maker. The skills learned here are useful for every lawyer.”

There are a number of remarkable things about this program. The intensity with which the students practice their skills sets the entire law school abuzz with energy. Even more surprising, however, is that most of the faculty – over 40 each semester – travel to South Bend on their own time and dime to make this endeavor possible. The number of students in the ITA program is roughly the same as the number of volunteers, providing a one-to-one student-teacher ratio. Often three or four volunteers will observe and critique each student performance. Our contribution is to put them up at the university’s Morris Inn and to provide pizza for lunch at the law school’s Crossings Café, but a number of the NDLS grads insist on paying for it all.

The guest faculty who are not from Notre Dame tell us they volunteer because they see the program as a chance to give back to their profession by mentoring the next generation of attorneys and to hone their own advocacy skills by spending a week focusing on nothing but the elements of their craft. The Notre Dame grads who return as visiting faculty usually also add their desire to give back to NDLS as a strong motivation. I suspect also that the opportunity for fellowship with skilled trial advocates and often old friends from around the country is another motivating factor in bringing these talented volunteers back each year.

Seckinger, who created the program, is one of the nation’s outstanding trial-advocacy teachers. A member of the Notre Dame law faculty since 1974, he first joined the National Institute for Trial Advocacy faculty in 1973 and went on to serve as its director from 1979 to 1994. Since 1994, he has continued teaching trial advocacy at NDLS.

I asked Jim how the program reached its current size. Jim reported that at its inception, he was assisted by a few local attorneys and judges, including adjunct professors Jeanne Jourdan and Tom Singer. Then a Notre Dame Law School alumnus from Chicago, Tim Nickels, volunteered. Soon, several more Chicago lawyers heard about the program and got involved. NDLS grads in the military became interested in participating, other military lawyers volunteered, and fairly quickly trial attorneys from all over the U.S. and even from Canada signed up. It helps, of course, that Jim seems to know almost every trial lawyer in the country from his many years at NITA.

As I know all of my fellow Indiana deans agree, the legal skills required of entry-level lawyers in the new legal job market have increased substantially over the past decade, and trial skills are but a piece of the larger puzzle that includes appellate advocacy, mediation, negotiation and transactional skills. The ITA program is one of a number of litigation training opportunities at NDLS: the Comprehensive Trial Advocacy course, taught by local judges and lawyers, which covers a broad range of trial skills and allows students to conduct simulated trials; highly regarded courses in deposition skills, typically taught in four sections each semester; and the Moot Court Trial course, which is an advanced litigation training program for members of the NDLS trial teams who will participate in the National Trial Competition and the American Association for Justice mock trial competitions.

After the quiet break, walking into the law school a week before the semester as the ITA program is in high gear and being greeted by a cacophony of well-suited students arguing fine points of law is always a high point for me, signaling the beginning of the new semester with all its promise for our students’ futures.•


Nell Jessup Newton is The Joseph A. Matson Dean and Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School. She has served as dean since 2009. The opinions expressed are those of the author.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  2. Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh who is helping Sister Fuller with this Con Artist Kevin Bart McCarthy scares Sister Joseph Therese, Patricia Ann Fuller very much that McCarthy will try and hurt Patricia Ann Fuller and Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh or any member of his family. Sister is very, very scared, (YES, I AM) This McCarthy guy is a real, real CON MAN and crook. I try to totall flatter Kevin Bart McCARTHY to keep him from hurting my best friends in this world which are Carolyn Rose and Paul Hartman. I Live in total fear of this man Kevin Bart McCarthy and try to praise him as a good man to keep us ALL from his bad deeds. This man could easy have some one cause us a very bad disability. You have to PRAISAE in order TO PROTECT yourself. He lies and makes up stories about people and then tries to steal if THEY OWN THRU THE COURTS A SPECIAL DEVOTION TO PROTECT, EX> Our Lady of America DEVOTION. EVERYONE who reads this, PLEASE BE CAREFUL of Kevin Bart McCarthy of Indianapolis, IN My Phone No. IS 419-435-3838.

  3. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

  4. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.

  5. (A)ll (C)riminals (L)ove (U)s is up to their old, "If it's honorable and pro-American, we're against it," nonsense. I'm not a big Pence fan but at least he's showing his patriotism which is something the left won't do.