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Jeremy Gross of Gillette isn’t sure what type of legal practice he plans to pursue after graduating from the University of Wyoming College of Law. But after two weeks of intensive focus on trial law, he has a much better idea of what a career in the courtroom might be like.
“It’s a lot of work,” Gross says. “But it’s also fun and exciting to be in a courtroom arguing.”
Gross was among 24 third-year UW College of Law students who received valuable instruction from nearly 70 volunteer attorneys and judges, most from Wyoming, during the two-week Summer Trial Institute at UW. Actual courtroom reporters also attended the second annual event.
Court reporter Dwande LeMay, also of Gillette, volunteered at 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.
The institute culminated with a mock trial, complete with a defendant and attorneys on both sides of a case. The trials were heard before a judge and jury panel.
“Our students worked, in some fashion, on the Summer Trial Institute from dawn until past midnight, pretty much every night. This is very similar to what they will later experience as actual trial lawyers,” Easton says.
Gross’s mock jury trial was a civil fraud case, in which he represented a fictional insurance company that sued a client for faking injuries in set-up vehicle collisions.
During the institute’s first week, he and the other students 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 trial, Easton says.
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 a 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.
Gross says it was somewhat intimidating to perform in front of professionals, but he learned much from doing so and appreciates the help he received.
“It’s pretty awesome that they come back and are willing to share this stuff with us,” he says.
Easton says the institute is a “fantastic way to teach trial advocacy.”
“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,” 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.”
Easton emphasized the value added by the volunteer faculty members, noting that “this program would not be possible without the contributions of experts.”
“Each of them took time out of very busy schedules to travel to UW and share their expertise with our students. We are extremely grateful for their support of UW and our students,” he adds.
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.”