Common language

The National Institute for Trial Advocacy has a growing reputation both in the UK and internationally, claims Peter Lyons

They say that doctors bury their mistakes but what about advocates? An attorney who makes a mistake does so publicly, often in open court and apart from damaging the advocate's reputation, only one person pays and that is the client.

In 1972 in Boulder, Colorado a group of lawyers founded the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA), dedicated to improving and refining the skills of advocates throughout the US by employing a unique method of “learning by doing”. With great success it has enabled litigators to train in advocacy in controlled conditions and represented no risk to clients. Today, NITA is pre-eminent in advocacy training not only in the US but internationally.

Given the common heritage with the UK it was only a matter of time before the organisation spread its wings across the Atlantic. Now it has joined forces with the Nottingham Law School. Through its LLM in advanced litigation, Nottingham has been training advanced practitioners to senior partner level in litigation and dispute resolution using similar experience-based learning techniques.

The result of the union is NITA UK, recently launched in London by Sir Thomas Bingham. He stressed the need not only for young practitioners to learn advocacy skills but for more seasoned litigators to hone their skills against the hard edge of oral advocacy.

And not before time. Great changes are taking place in the structure of the UK legal profession. Previously, the roles of legal practitioners were closely defined: barristers went to court and solicitors stayed in their offices. This division of legal services has been said to create inefficiency and incur extra cost to the client.

Only a solicitor could see a client off the street, but to take the matter to court the solicitor had to instruct a barrister. Solicitors had limited rights of audience in the law courts.

In 1990 the Government passed the Courts and Legal Service Act with regulations enabling solicitors to appear in higher courts. The monopoly of the Bar has gone. Now solicitors are gearing up for advocacy. Clients are demanding a complete dispute resolution system including all elements of advocacy – the legal equivalent of one-stop shopping.

The Bar is responding by setting up its own advocacy training schemes. No longer are advocacy skills to be gained by “sitting with Nellie” as they have in the past.

It is against this background that NITA UK has stepped in. It has drawn considerable support from the judiciary, the Bar and top litigation practices.

The senior faculty of advisers has leading representatives from both sides of the Atlantic: Sir Philip Otton, a Lord Justice of Appeal; Judge Jim Carrigan of the Colorado District Court; and Professor Anthony Bocchino of the Temple University Law School, the director of NITA US.

And directing the UK arm are Professor John Sonsteng, of the William Mitchell College of Law in Minnesota, and Professor Peter Jones, of Nottingham Law School.

The UK section will run a rolling programme of courses at basic, intermediate and advanced level taught by a faculty of tutors from both sides of the Atlantic. The courses will involve the teaching of case analysis and witness examination; written and oral persuasion; expert evidence and how to conduct a civil trial.

The two organisations are already looking to the future. Nottingham Law School has senior US practitioners flying in to take part in its LLM in Advanced Litigation. The next stage is to develop the existing program into an LLM in Advanced Litigation and Arbitration with an enhanced International Dispute Resolution element. Discussions are already taking place with the US section as to the assistance they can give in delivering this programme in the US.

The logo says it all: hands across the water.

Peter Lyons is a senior lecturer at the Centre of Advanced Litigation, Nottingham Law School.