Wheatland Student Enjoys UW Legal Boot Camp

August 22, 2012
Student at mock trial
University of Wyoming law student Sean Larson of Wheatland prepares to make an argument during the UW College of Law’s recent Summer Trial Institute. (UW Photo)

University of Wyoming law student Sean Larson of Wheatland has known for some time that he’d like to include trial work in his future legal practice.

After participating in the UW College of Law’s two-week Summer Trial Institute, he’s even more certain.

“I knew I would like to litigate and try cases before this, but this solidifies my path toward the courtroom,” Larson says. “By far, this was the most fun I've ever had in a law school course.”

Larson was among 24 current 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. Actual courtroom reporters also attended the second annual event.

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.

“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.

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 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 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.

Larson and his partner represented the defendant in a fictional sexual assault case. “It was exhausting to stay focused and constantly thinking for the three-hour trial,” he says. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

“Participating in this taught me trial time management, improved my public speaking skills, and allowed me the opportunity to learn trial practice from seasoned attorneys and judges,” Larson says. “I met a lot of great practitioners who love what they do.”

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,” Easton says.

Larson agrees.

“Having experienced practitioners come evaluate us was the best portion of the course,” he says. “They taught us what not to do and shared difficult experiences from when they were just beginning.  They were very encouraging, yet also critical to help us improve every day.”

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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