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Rock Springs Student Gains Trial Experience in UW Law Institute

August 22, 2012
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University of Wyoming law student Ashley Wing of Rock Springs takes notes during a mock court proceeding as part of the UW College of Law’s recent Summer Trial Institute. (UW Photo)

In her third year of studies in the University of Wyoming College of Law, Ashley Wing of Rock Springs had never seriously considered pursuing a career as a trial attorney.

“I am relatively shy and found the prospect of trials intimidating,” she says.

But after participating in the College of Law’s two-week Summer Trial Institute, Wing says she’s not so intimidated anymore.

“This experience opened my eyes to the possibility of becoming a trial attorney, which was something I never considered before,” she says. “After the course, I am no longer as nervous about appearing in court and realized how fun trial work can be.”

Wing was among 24 current College of Law students who received valuable instruction from nearly 70 volunteer attorneys and judges, most from Wyoming, during the Summer Trial Institute at UW. Actual courtroom reporters also attended the second annual event.

Rock Springs attorney Dick Honaker volunteered as a faculty member during the institute.

The volunteer group served as faculty members for one or two days each, and some gave a week of their time, says Steve Easton UW College of Law dean. He adds that the institute is an intensive “boot camp” experience for the UW students who learn what it takes to become successful trial attorneys.

During the institute’s first week, the students -- all in their third year of law school -- attended sessions focusing on beneficial information about assorted parts of trial practice, such as direct and cross-examination of witnesses, opening statements and closing arguments. The lectures were followed by demonstrations in which faculty members showed students how they would approach these matters in trials.

The student performances, and the outlines they prepared in advance, were critiqued by the volunteer faculty members.

During the institute’s final week, students prepared for two separate court cases. Each student was a member of a two-attorney team that tried a “bench trial” -- a trial with a judge, but no jury. On the final day of the institute, the students were part of different two-attorney teams that tried cases in front of mock juries. Six different jury trials -- some at the UW College of Law and others at the Albany County Courthouse -- were tried. A sitting or retired judge presided over each trial.

In her jury trial, Wing, arguing before U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal, acted as defense attorney for a fictional person charged with drunken and careless driving. It was Wing’s favorite part of the institute.

“It was an amazing feeling being able to put to use everything we had learned over the course. Prepping for the jury trial made me admire and respect the work of trial attorneys on an even greater level,” Wing says. “The amount of time and effort that goes into a trial is astounding, and it was nice to have the opportunity to prepare and the ability to make mistakes in a mock case.”

Wing says the input she received from Judge Freudenthal and other professionals was invaluable.

“I appreciated the different styles and approaches to trial practice, as this allowed me to develop my own unique style. I also appreciated the practical pointers that several of the attorneys shared with us,” Wing says. “Law school is primarily based upon doctrinal courses, and it is very helpful and encouraging to get practical advice from individuals who are experts in the field. Their input will ensure that the next time I appear in court I will be more prepared, more aware of the trial process, and a better advocate for my clients.”

Easton says the institute is a “fantastic way to teach trial advocacy.”

“We are proud of this program. There are few law schools across the nation that would even try to run such a program,” he says. “We are able to do so due to the generosity of the outstanding trial attorneys, judges and court reporters who volunteer their time to teach in the Institute.”

The Wyoming chapters of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) and the American College of Trial Lawyers (ACTL) co-sponsored the program.

“These are extremely prestigious organizations that one must be invited to join, and invitations go only to the best trial attorneys,” Easton says. “We work with the Wyoming ABOTA and ACTL leadership to identify the’ best of the best’ and invite them to serve as volunteer faculty members for our institute.”

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