A detailed account and review of NITA Deposition Workshop CLE, held on the UNC-Charlotte campus.
I have been a practicing corporate transactional lawyer for my entire professional career. For the last several years, with the economy moving sideways, the opportunity for steady, meaningful deal work (the core of my practice) has been slim.
About a year into the financial crisis, my partner and I took a hard look at the future of our corporate law practice. With well-funded legal self-help companies increasing their share of the corporate law market, and the downward pressure on fees by clients, the future didn’t look bright. To borrow a line from one of my trader friends, we felt like we were in a “race to zero.”
So after 14 years of negotiating deals and drafting contracts, we decided to become nursing home abuse litigation attorneys. Our thought was that if we could diversify our revenue stream with some contingency based work, we would have less of an argument with clients about fees and would be able to move away from the business model of trading hours for dollars.
Problem is, other than lawsuits in which we have personally been involved as litigants, we had little meaningful litigation training.
A “learning by doing” deposition workshop.
On the recommendation of some of the trial lawyers at Law Firm Suites, New York’s leading executive suite for law firms, I recently attended a three day Deposition Workshop CLE offered by the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA). NITA is the self-proclaimed premier provider of “learning-by-doing” education for the legal profession, and they really deliver!
The course was three full days of short classroom sessions followed by 90 minute deposition simulations. In the simulations, lawyer-students get to practice the skills discussed in the previous lecture with real life deponents, who were actors hired by NITA.
The course I attended was held at UNC-Charlotte. Other courses are held at universities and law schools around the country.NITA is the self-proclaimed provider of learning-by-doing education and they really do deliver Click To Tweet
Instructors are an impressive mix of attorneys.
The entire class of about 60 attorneys and the 10 faculty members attend the lectures together. Then the class is split up into groups of about 10 students who attend simulations together throughout the course. Two instructors evaluate students in each simulation, who rotate from group to group throughout the course.
The instructors were an impressive mix veteran litigation attorneys from a variety of disciplines, firm sizes and locales. Two standout instructors were New Jersey big firm commercial litigator, Beth Sher, and North Carolina small firm attorney and NITA Board of Trustees member, Geraldine Sumter. All the instructors brought a unique and valuable perspective to the course and, incredibly, serve on a volunteer basis.
NITA’s system gets you “doing” on day 1.
NITA teaches a “funnel” system for conducting depositions and breaks down each component into individual simulation workshops, starting with introductions on day one and ending day three with getting admissions from the deponent.
Prior to attending the course, NITA forwards you a textbook covering the topics discussed in the lectures and a “litigation packet” containing the background materials for a fictitious lawsuit, including pleadings, discovery materials and deposition summaries. Each person is assigned to either the defendant’s or plaintiff’s team. I represented the plaintiffs in this commercial lawsuit.
To get the most from the course, make sure you show up prepared.
I decided to attend the course last minute so I didn’t have a lot of time to review the materials in advance, but I would highly recommend it. Within an hour of the class starting you will find yourself in the proverbial hot seat, deposing or defending a deponent in a simulated deposition — and you’ll need to know some background information in order to participate.
Thankfully, I had read the litigation packet in detail before the first day, and brushed up again the first evening.
The cost of attending is significant, but well-worth it for many attorneys.
My class seemed to be comprised mostly of third year or younger attorneys from larger firms. This, of course, makes sense since there’s a significant financial investment involved in attending ($2,000+ with travel costs), which is always better when your employer picks up the tab!
The course is open to both novice and experienced attorneys. About half of the attorneys had taken or defended depositions before, but many had not.
Experienced attorneys would definitely improve their skills by attending the course, but they would have to carefully weigh the expense of attending (and the missed billable time) with the benefits of attending. For a less experienced attorney, or someone like me who is making a career transition, the course was worth every penny and more.
NITA sales staff was extremely helpful in providing the information I needed to make the decision whether or not to attend.
Some tips if you plan to attend:
Give yourself enough time to review the materials way in advance, and if you can, brush upon on the federal rules of evidence.
You’ll have a much better experience if you show up prepared. Also, NITA assumes that you have a basic knowledge of the federal rules of evidence, including privileges and grounds for making objections. If you haven’t looked at the rules since you’ve last studied for a bar exam, you may want to refresh your memory.
Try to take the course away from your home city.
While it’s a hassle and expensive to travel, it may be best to get away from home so you can devote your attention to the course. In the evenings you’ll have prep-work to do for the next day, and you’ll be tired. You’ll get the most out of the course if you don’t have to deal with the distractions of home life.
Clear your calendar–really, clear it.
I felt bad for the students who had to run back to the office after the course to deal with document productions and work nuisances. The course is expensive and you’ll be giving up your time to attend, so you’ll want to take full advantage of it. This is especially so for transitional lawyers like me who will likely pay for the course and travel expense out of their own pocket. The course is usually given during two weekdays and one weekend day, so for the two days that you’ll be out of the office, shut off the PDA and make an uninterrupted investment in yourself.
Expect to feel dopey, but take comfort in the fact that everyone else does too.
It’s uncomfortable practicing newly learned skills in front of an audience, and then being critiqued by your peers. However, there’s no better way to learn, so embrace it. It’s way better than trying to figure it out on your own and possibly committing malpractice with a real life client.
For experienced non-litigation lawyers, the stuff you’ve learned in your career will really help.
Most of the lawyers in the class had been working in litigation for a while. Nevertheless, as an experienced transactional attorney I felt I had a slight advantage over my younger peers, who had little direct client experience and, in my estimation, sometimes failed to see the “bigger picture” of things. After 14 years of managing client expectations, negotiating with adversaries and thinking on my feet, I found my transactional experience to be very translatable to a litigation practice. This was especially so when we did the “client prep” segment, which really emphasized building confidence with an anxious client.
After the three day course, I felt comfortable that I could take and defend a deposition competently, and with some practice using NITA’s system, do it quite well.
Expect a great return on your investment.
One of the big take-aways from the course was that, you can take a deposition, and even though it may not be pretty, armed with the right tools you can still get the info you need to successfully advocate on behalf of your client. This was demonstrated over and over by watching clumsy student depositions (including my own) that typically achieved the desired outcome. That was a pretty big revelation.
The NITA course offers 21 CLE credits, which nearly satisfies an entire reporting cycle for the jurisdictions in which I’m admitted.
Of all the premium pay CLE courses that I’ve attended over the years, by far, the NITA course delivered the most value, and I see no reason why I shouldn’t be able to generate a hefty return on my investment.