Courtroom Observations

The best way to learn how to become a great trial lawyer is to second chair for a great trial lawyer. That way you learn from the best not only what it takes to prepare but also how to perform in trial. The second best way is to watch trial lawyers in court. Law students who take my trial advocacy course are required to spend a day watching a trial and submit a report on their observations. Invariably, these reports include student statements extolling the experience and pointing out how they learned from watching both good and bad trial work.

What follows are excerpts from the Seattle University law students’ reports for this semester. If you want to become a great trial lawyer and have not spent time observing trials, consider these comments. If you teach trial advocacy and don’t require your students to observe, consider these comments.

Student E. L. B.: You were right that watching the trial in person was an experience I could not get by watching it on YouTube. By being there, I was able to watch the jury panel’s reactions to everything that was happening (something I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do in an online trial), overhear quiet remarks made by the attorneys, and feel the reality of what was going on in court. . . .Thanks for assigning us to go to court!

Student K. C.: It was a good experience, and I learned a lot about the whole process. It makes the whole situation make a lot more sense on how things are supposed to run, the order in which a trial runs and how it is supposed to go.

Student M. S.: There was only enough time for Plaintiff to call its first witness and get through only a few questions. Interestingly, the plaintiff called the Defendant as its first witness. I am curious what her reason was behind choosing to start with a hostile witness. I would have liked to watch the whole trial to see what other interesting tactical choices she made, but that would have been impossible since it was a two-week-long trial. However, I learned a lot from one day. And I am looking forward to putting what I learned to the test in my trial performance.

Stkudent G. T.: I really enjoyed watching a portion of this trial, and I am very interested in what the jury decided. I think I might try to look up the result. As a result of taking my trial advocacy class, I definitely was cued in on some of the specific actions and techniques used by the prosecutor and by defense counsel.

Student T. W.: All in all, watching the trial was an interesting experience. Watching Judge J. was certainly enlightening. I had heard horror stories about how tough Judge J. is on criminal defendants, but she appeared very fair and balanced in her rulings. And watching the attorneys was very educational (both in terms of observing the good and bad things they did).

Student K.D.: Overall reflections: this trial was very dull and a waste of a lot of time, money, and energy. Counsel were not creative in their questions or objections and the theory and theme was vague. The attorneys obviously need to take a trial advocacy class.

As the last comment shows, students can also learn by watching poor performances.

Another way learn how to become a great trial lawyer is to watch skilled trial lawyers in the trial demonstration video, entitled “The Freck Point Trial.” “The Freck Point Trial” movie is on the DVD that accompanies the Trial Advocacy: Planning, Analysis and Strategies book. For more information on the book and movie, click here.