By FCBA President Adam J. Katz
Although the U.S. Constitution grants no categorical right to counsel in civil cases, our Court strives to appoint pro bono counsel for all trial-ready civil cases in which the plaintiff is pro se. Most Court-appointed cases in our District involve “Section 1983”, which is short for 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a statute that authorizes private parties to enforce their federal constitutional rights, and some federal statutory rights, against municipalities, state and local officials, and other defendants who acted under color of state law.
The FCBA, with the funding and support of the Court, has developed a trial-advocacy training program that we hope to offer annually to any member of our bar who requests such training, and agrees to handle a trial-ready civil case in our District, on a pro bono basis, within one year of receiving the training. Our training program is based on the method developed by the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, considered the preeminent trial advocacy teaching organization. The NITA method concentrates on learning by doing, followed by faculty critiques. Students use a generic civil case file to prepare exercises that develop core trial skills.
On October 1-2, 2023, we hosted our first trial-advocacy training program, at the Albany federal courthouse. During the program, experienced trial attorneys provided 12 attorneys from across the district with a crash course on how to try a case, working with them, in courtrooms, to develop the skills necessary to deliver effective opening statements, closing statements, direct examinations, and cross-examinations. At the end of day two, the students tried the case, which lasted approximately two hours. Later that week, those same attorneys participated in free, full-day CLEs on the substantive law of Section 1983. Between the hand’s-on and substantive training, those 12 attorneys now have the skills and confidence to try a typical civil rights case. And all 12 students who completed the program will do just that, helping ensure access to counsel in a dozen federal civil cases in upstate and central New York!
If you are interested in signing up for a future trial-advocacy training program, please contact me at [email protected].