Judge Barrett Estate Funds Student Trial Experience
August 18, 2014 — The Summer Trial Institute is boot camp for future trial lawyers, and their participation is made possible by a fund established by Judge James E. Barrett, who served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for 40 years.
First held in 2011, the Summer Trial Institute gives third-year law students the needed skills to become trial lawyers, and the Judge James E. Barrett Summer Trial Institute Scholarship was created to help ease the burden of tuition for students.
“Few law students across the nation gain the experience our UW Summer Trial Institute students receive—learning from the best of the bench and bar, through direct interaction,” Professor Stephen Easton says. “This is a great example of the university—in this case, the College of Law—interacting with the entire state of Wyoming. Though the institute occurs in Laramie, it is very much a statewide program, with faculty and students from across the state.”
The Judge James E. Barrett Summer Trial Institute Scholarship is given to however many students it can support each year—with 5 students receiving it in 2014—with each student receiving between $250 and $500. In addition to learning skills that are invaluable in their careers, they also get the distinction of being a Judge James E. Barrett scholar—a true honor for any law student.
A bequest from Judge Barrett’s estate provided the base funding for this scholarship. To honor his memory, several of his mentees and others admirers were asked if they would like to donate to the fund.
Pete Mounsey, Judge Barrett’s law clerk who graduated from UW Law School in 1984, was more than happy to support the fund and was the driving force behind getting others to donate. Jack Speight, who graduated UW in 1962 with a political science degree and is currently a lawyer is Cheyenne, was also incredibly helpful in creating this scholarship, along with countless others who honored the memory of Judge Barrett by ensuring that future generations have the opportunities they need to be successful.
The Summer Trial Institute is a two-week student intensive for in-trial skills mentored by leading trial attorneys from across Wyoming and beyond. Students learn by doing—they practice in a courtroom with seasoned lawyers and receive direct feedback from peers or future employers. The course culminates with students trying a jury trial in front of sitting Wyoming judges who have volunteered for the program.
“It is absolutely incredible to see the students’ transformation in two weeks,” says Christine Michel, trial institute coordinator. “The first day they’re all really intimidated. By the time they get to the final trial at the end, they’re so professional, collected and do such a great job.”
The program is a collaboration among the American College of Trial Lawyers (ACTL), the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), and the College of Law. Representatives from those organizations and Professor Stephen Easton make up the faculty selection committee that decides each year which judges and lawyers to invite.
Attorneys and judges volunteer their time to instruct the students. There are 70-80 volunteers who have come from places as far away as Alaska, but most are from Wyoming.
Judges that have helped with the program come from district courts, circuit courts, and occasionally from the Supreme Court and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Nancy Freudenthal, U.S. District Court judge for Wyoming, attends every year.
The volunteers receive CLE teaching credits. Otherwise, they pay for travel expenses out of pocket, but they are willing to do that because they indicate that they truly enjoy the institute and helping students.
“The feedback I’ve gotten from (the volunteers) is it’s really fun, it’s good for them to refresh these topics that they haven’t addressed in a while, and they get to see the perspectives of other attorneys,” explains Michel.
She adds, “It’s a really good way to be involved. If they don’t have money to give but still want to be involved and support UW, this has been a good way to do that because they’re giving up their time. They come at their own expense.”
The first week of the Summer Trial Institute breaks down the components of a trial, and students watch mentor lawyers perform those elements. After that, they are expected to practice those skills, and at the end they try a case themselves.
“Because this is an immersion course, the students are thinking about the trial and only the trial all the time,” says Christine. “In real life, prepping for a trial is a similar process. It’s two weeks of shutting the rest of the world off to prepare, so the course is really simulating a real-world experience for them.”
Judge James E. Barrett was the third person in the history of Wyoming to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals. He was nominated to the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals by President Richard Nixon and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1971. He served for 40 years.
In his career, Judge Barrett participated in the disposition of 9,000 cases and wrote more than 3,000 opinions. In 1979, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Warren Burger designated him the first judge to serve on the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review in Washington, D.C.
Judge Barrett was born and raised in Lusk, Wyoming, and always considered it home. In the 1950s and 60s, he served several terms as the Niobrara County and Prosecuting Attorney and Town Attorney. From 1967–71, he served as the Wyoming Attorney General.
Before him, his father was one of the few Americans to serve as a U.S. congressman, governor, and senator. His son, Richard Barrett, was a trial lawyer for 34 years, as well as former president of the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association, and from 1981–83, he represented Niobrara County in the reapportionment lawsuit. He was excited about having a scholarship named in honor of his father.
In addition to having a scholarship named after him, last year, the College of Law dedicated the judge’s chambers to him, naming them the James E. Barrett Judges Chambers.
Judge Barrett’s Wyoming roots run deep, and so does his legacy.
A law student tries a case at the Summer Trial Institute.