Refreshed Trial Advocacy Program challenges students to tackle cutting-edge methods, issues

This year, a small group of UW Law School faculty set out to better the school’s Trial Advocacy program, which offers students a complete range of litigation skills. The goal: Deliver training that is more relevant, engaging and inclusive.

Trial Advocacy is a cornerstone of legal education. UW Law’s program is grounded in the core skills students need to become a successful litigator while incorporating a modern understanding of psychology and technology.

The program has always covered fundamental, practical and necessary trial skills like opening statements and witness examinations. But the updated approach builds on a history of curricular innovation, adding new layers:

  • Inclusivity and relationship-building between students and a more diverse faculty; and
  • Modernized course material, which challenges students to tackle important and longstanding social issues, like racial justice, using cutting-edge technological methods.

A legacy of excellence

UW was among the nation’s first law schools to bring improvisational skills and persuasive storytelling into the classroom important tools for teaching law students to advocate effectively. Learn more about how UW Law teaches the art of persuasion.

As psychology has revealed the messages audiences best respond to, and as the critical role that storytelling and emotion play in advocacy has emerged, the UW Law faculty’s teaching approach evolved and adapted to help students develop a highly effective advocacy style.

“The majority of law schools follow a more orthodox approach,” said William Bailey, UW Law’s former director of trial advocacy and professor from practice. “No other schools are doing it quite like this. It is important that we are always looking for ways to better equip our students to meet the challenges of practice. I am very excited for the future of this program, which always has meant so much to me.”

Audience-centered advocacy

The Trial Advocacy courses bring current cases into the classroom, where students grapple with old concepts like technology, privacy and social media — but under the new program, these old concepts have new twists: body-cam video, gender bias and political bias, to name a few. Until recently, these important subjects were often omitted from the legal discussion. But now, they are ever-present and change rapidly — sometimes within a 24-hour news cycle. This is today’s legal landscape. The new Trial Advocacy Program teaches students how to practice in it.

Raymond Delos Reyes, a public defender, teaches Trial Advocacy 1. He has spent six years trying domestic violence and dependency trials. He focuses on hands-on, practical skills in a course that culminates with a mock trial in front of local judges.

Raam Wong, a veteran journalist and now Senior DPA with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, teaches Trial Advocacy 2. He spent seven years trying sexual assault, domestic violence and homicide trials before moving to the civil litigation division. He teaches advanced skills that students use in mock trials before local judges.

“Trial advocacy students and new attorneys often focus their attention on trying to show off their finest oratory skills,” Raam said. “But effective communication begins by first considering the perspective of the listener and understanding what values and attitudes they bring to the experience. My course will teach an audience-centered form of advocacy designed to meet jurors where they’re at.”

This spring, his course will focus on a case file that he authored after prosecuting a criminal case involving a shooting at a political protest. The six-week politically charged trial offers many lessons to budding lawyers.

“Our students will be practicing law in a new, changing environment,” he said. “We want to prepare students for the sorts of modern juries and fact patterns they’ll be encountering.”

Pursuit of excellence

In alignment with UW Law’s goals to enhance diversity among the faculty and instructors, the UW Law team recruited a diverse group of affiliate faculty from a wide range of backgrounds and with deep subject matter expertise to support the weekly smaller section discussions. Lecturers represent different genders, identities, ages, ethnicities, years of practice and types of experience like local, national, private and public sector work.

“We know that students engage more deeply and get more from a program when mentors and faculty reflect their values, priorities, interests and life experience,” Bailey said. “We hope that students find someone to connect with and further develop their passion for the profession.”

While not every Trial Advocacy student will appear in court, students will, throughout their careers, make presentations — and they’ll be expected to be articulate, well-organized, logical, factual and meet the moment. The skills cultivated in these classes will be valuable in any environment including CLEs, client meetings or company meetings. Perhaps the biggest value, though, will be students' ability to stand and deliver as an advocate for others.