Staging CLEs with a trial lawyer focus

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Tom Hamer remembers how impressed he was by Houston attorney Zoe Littlepage’s presentation a couple of years ago to the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association. He said Littlepage recounted how during a multimillion-dollar product-liability trial, she went to Office Depot, bought construction paper and other materials, and pasted together an exhibit that succinctly made to the jury — and won — her case.

“What she did in that seminar was challenge us to be thinking in all cases how to present a case to a jury in an understandable fashion without breaking the bank,” said Hamer, an Anderson attorney who chairs the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association’s Continuing Legal Education Committee.

hamer-tom-mug Hamer

The speakers may be instructive or inspirational, but Hamer said he tries to find those who can give trial lawyers advice and tools to help them better represent clients.

“We do a pretty good job of balancing the national perspective as well as the Indiana perspective,” said ITLA Executive Director Jason Bell. He said CLE programming is often shaped by state or national trends, but topics dealing with voir dire, liens, and litigation technique are always popular with members.

Littlepage is among notable lawyers from around the country who’ll be presenting at CLEs offered by ITLA this year. Others include Mark Kosieradzki and Paul Scoptur, Minnesota and Wisconsin lawyers, respectively, who’ll present a program on questioning corporations and other organizations in Rule 30(b)(6) depositions.

Scoptur believes 30(b)(6) depositions are underutilized. They provide lawyers a means to seek documents and information directly from organization officials who must testify about information known or reasonably known to the organization.

“Many lawyers I think are less skilled in actually doing the deposition,” Scoptur said. “They don’t know the technique of restatement, summarization, and boxing in.”

Throughout the year, ITLA offers in-person and online CLEs on a variety of topics from conferences on medical malpractice to hour-long sessions on enhancing expert investigations using plaintiff-only databases.

“We like to pride ourselves on the quality of speakers we bring in, and not just national speakers, but Indiana speakers,” Hamer said. “We’re always looking for ways to improve.”

Hamer said two annual events offer members the opportunity to earn more CLE credit than the state requires each year. Each fall, ITLA’s Annual Institute brings together state and national experts in numerous areas for two days’ worth of CLE programs. The event this year will take place at the Indiana Convention Center on Nov. 3-4.

Each spring, ITLA sponsors its Lifetime Achievement Seminar. This year’s honoree, John D. Ulmer of Goshen, was honored for his more than 50 years of service at an event that also provided 15-minute speaking opportunities for about 40 attorneys.

“What’s great about that is it’s more of a nuts-and-bolts seminar where we share with each other and talk about issues that may be unique to Indiana,” Hamer said.

“Most of us who are somewhat active in ITLA and take advantage of the programs, most of us don’t even worry about CLE credits,” he said of the annual events. “We know if you go to those two programs and hit any other programs we have through the year, you’ll far surpass” required annual credits.

“It’s almost like, ‘Wow, we’re getting our batteries recharged,” he said of ITLA’s signature spring and fall events.

Indianapolis attorney Mary Findling is program chair for a daylong ITLA medical malpractice CLE scheduled for July 15. She expects the program will offer about six hours of CLE credit. Among the presenters will be Indianapolis attorney Tina Bell, who will provide an update on recent Indiana med-mal cases, and former ITLA president Steve Langer of Valparaiso, who will update attendees on changes in the law taking effect next year.

But Findling’s also scheduling a medical illustrator to talk about the value of graphic presentation of evidence, and she’s excited about bringing in Orlando, Florida, attorney Keith Mitnik to talk about voir dire, opening statements, and how to deal with “warts and bruises” on cases that go to trial.

“Nobody has a perfect case that goes to trial on either side,” Findling said. She said Mitnik is a star litigator and she’s impressed by his approach on “how to get potentially adverse jurors who have some bias against a medical malpractice plaintiff off the jury.

“He is worth the price of admission,” Findling said of Mitnik.

Hamer said ITLA tries to balance topics to fit a range of trial lawyer practice areas. Many members won’t have an interest in medical malpractice, so it’s important to have diverse offerings. There will be CLE opportunities this year for those who practice or have an interest in Social Security disability appeals. One program will explore possible sources for recovery in personal injury cases where insurance policy limits are inadequate. Another offers tips in working civil sexual assault cases. And more programs will be added to the ITLA calendar as the year goes on.

While it can take some effort to fill out a slate of programming for trial lawyers with diverse interests and practice areas, it’s not without reward. “Who would I like to listen to, who would I like to hear? That’s a nice benefit of being the CLE chair,” Hamer said.•

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