From Jury Selection to Closing Arguments: New Lawyers Run the Gauntlet of Trial Academy 2024

By Jennifer Andrus

April 15, 2024

From Jury Selection to Closing Arguments: New Lawyers Run the Gauntlet of Trial Academy 2024


By Jennifer Andrus

On a sunny Saturday in April, 40 young attorneys, many fresh out of law school, are wandering around the Bar Center in Albany. They come from many backgrounds and regions of New York, looking wide-eyed, excited and ready to embark on a five-day rigorous program. By the end of the program, they will learn how to succeed as trial lawyers – from jury selection to closing arguments.

“The trial academy is one of our signature events at the New York State Bar Association,” said President Richard Lewis. “It is an example of one of our key missions here – to provide practical guidance and education to our members.”

The first lesson was conveyed by Tucker Stanclift, co-founder of the academy, who made a show of dropping his prepared remarks and flubbing his speech. When the students clapped anyway, he protested and taught the students how to present to a group without making the mistakes he just demonstrated.

Each year, the Trial Academy gathers accomplished veteran attorneys who guide new lawyers in the craft of presenting an argument. Much more than a conference for continuing legal education credit, it’s a boot camp where lawyers put on armor for trial and learn from the best the New York State Bar Association has to offer. Forty students are chosen each year.

Direct and Cross Examination  

Working in teams, students prepare civil and criminal cases during the academy, including direct and cross examination of witnesses. The rounds are recorded, and students receive feedback from judges in both a group setting and one-on-one with academy faculty.

Robert Wells of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers was on a team critiquing students, looking at all aspects including presentation style, pacing, demeanor, and command of the room. Wells encouraged the students to be confident while stopping short of arrogance.

“I don’t want to be smooth; I want to be believed,” he said.

Attorney Peter Gerstenzang advised students how to be aware of their body language, where to place hands and how to move subtly in a courtroom to keep the focus on witnesses. “Don’t look stressed; the jury will pick up on your anxiety,” he said.

Albany County Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O’Connor schooled students in approaching a witness, presenting exhibits and crafting examination. “Using a phrase like ‘is it possible’ or ‘do you believe’ gives a witness too much latitude,” she said. She also reminded students to be confident in both their objections and their responses to objections.

Speaking at the evening reception, Justice Elizabeth Garry reminded students that a trial attorney has an obligation of preservation in each case. Garry, who presides over the Appellate Division, Third Department, says the preservation of objections in order to effectively appeal a case is critical at the trial level.

Trial Academy Moves to Albany

The academy, which was first held at Cornell Law School before moving to Syracuse Law School, has grown over its 15-year history. This year, the event moved to Albany to use the association’s Bar Center and the Albany County Courthouse, which are conveniently located next to each other.  Through a strong partnership between NYSBA members, the judiciary and court staff, the academy was able to utilize several courtrooms where students led direct examination and cross-examination of witnesses.

“Holding the academy sessions in the courtroom provides real-life experiences for students, which has elevated our program,” said Stanclift. “We hope this relationship and cooperation with court staff will continue as the program evolves.”

Program co-chair Clotelle Drakeford said the new location will attract students. “Albany is an exciting city, and we hope it attracts young professionals to come here for a weekend. Its central location is ideal to draw students from across New York,” she said.

Many of the experienced legal team wished they could have attended a program like the Trial Academy when they started out.

“We bring together the best minds from across our association to train the next generation of trial attorneys,” said NYSBA Immediate Past President Sherry Levin Wallach, co-founder of the Trial Academy “We want them to succeed and continue to learn and grow as members in our New York State Bar Association.”

Check out this 2024 Trial Academy wrap up video.

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