Albany Law School students took advantage of a unique opportunity to assist the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York and the Federal Court Bar Association (FCBA) this September by helping prepare a new training program for federal litigators.
Through the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA), the NDNY Court and FCBA will soon offer a new and free training program for attorneys in exchange for their assistance with Section 1983 cases—violations of Constitutional rights – primarily from inmates in federal prisons in Upstate New York.
Before the live training begins, court and bar association officials – primarily Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York and Albany Law School Online Graduate Program practitioner faculty member Adam Katz – thought students from the Capital District’s only law school would be willing and eager to help work the program’s kinks out. Plus, students could get real-time, hands-on, constructive feedback on their litigation skills from seasoned attorneys who were on hand to help get the project off the ground.
Enter Professor Michael Wetmore ’14’s Trial Practice students who were the perfect match. Cameron Bishop ’24, Priscilla Capuano ’24, Justin Davis ’24, Kyle Durkee ’24, Hannah Merges ’24, Tahseen Midani ’24, and Lexie Paddon ’27 participated. Additionally, Diana Waligora ’25, a current intern at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, also joined.
“This was a terrific opportunity for our students to practice the very advocacy skills they have been learning since their first day in law school. From making objections using the rules of evidence to arguments based on testimony and exhibits, our students shined before real practitioners inside real federal courtrooms. NITA is regarded as the premier trial advocacy teaching group; its network helps even the most seasoned trial lawyers grow as advocates. For anyone aspiring to do litigation, practical experience in a safe and professional environment like this is invaluable and I’m thrilled that our students got the experience,” said Wetmore.
In the James Foley Federal Courthouse in downtown Albany, students took the roles of plaintiff or defendant counsel in the hypothetical case NITA Liquor Commission v. Cut-Rate Liquors and Jones. The case included a fictional report of a NITA Liquor Commission investigator, nine exhibits, two witness statements, and used the Federal Rule of Evidence 803. The two “witnesses” were the investigator James Bier and the store clerk Dan Jones. Bier “testified” on behalf of the NITA Liquor Commission and Jones “testified” for Cut-Rate Liquors and himself.
As part of the simulation and similar to moot court competitions, students worked through an abbreviated trial, including opening/closing statements, direct/cross/redirect examinations, entering evidence and more.
After every step, each student received critiques from the program’s faculty, Martin Karlinsky and Dewey Cole, both expert litigators at the federal level.
“NITA’s “learning-by-doing” method provides a unique opportunity for advocacy skill development via real-time, individualized feedback. This feedback, which is provided by experienced trial attorneys, allows for effective persuasive communication development in a short amount of time. In just one day, I became more self-aware of my current trial advocacy skills—inclusive of tangible areas for development—all while having the opportunity to network with a group of high-caliber attorneys,” said Diana Waligora ’25.
“The NITA training was more than I even expected. Detailed feedback was given on each section of the Trial by top litigators in the Northern District. Not only is that an amazing experience as a law student, but the criticism and skills that I was given are things that I will take with me into practice, to make me the best litigator I could possibly be. This is something that every law student should have the opportunity to do before going into practice. It boosted my confidence and taught me things about the trial process that I did not know before,” said Lexie Paddon ’27.