As reported by Christian Nolan in the November/December 2017 edition of the New York State Bar Association State Bar News, Allan J. Ahearne, Jr. was Program Co-Chair of the Young Lawyers Section’s first-ever Advanced Trial Academy at the Syracuse University College of Law:
The Young Lawyers Section’s Trial Academy is a popular New York State Bar Association event held each spring at Cornell Law School in Ithaca.
So popular, in fact, attendees have been asking for additional advanced trial prep. That feedback came to fruition on the last weekend in October as the State Bar Association Young Lawyers Section co-hosted the first-ever Advanced Trial Academy at Syracuse University College of Law.
‘All of our evaluations signaled to us that this was a need,’ explained Erin Flynn, of New Rochelle (McCabe, Weisberg, and Conway), who is immediate past chair of the Young Lawyers Section and served as a program co-chair of the Advanced Trial Academy with Allan Ahearne Jr. of Hudson Valley (Ahearne Law Firm) and Rebecca Smithwick of New York City (Lupkin & Associates).
Flynn said that suggestions of having this kind of event would come in at the conclusion of the Trial Academy each year. The challenge, however, was finding a place to hold it.
Cornell Law School has donated the space each year during their spring break. Finding another location for the advanced program was a challenge, Flynn said. Megan O’Toole, associate director of member outreach & development at the State Bar, reached an agreement with Syracuse Law School to hold the event there.
Flynn is hopeful that, like the Trial Academy each spring at Cornell, the Advanced Trial Academy will become an annual event in the fall at Syracuse.
‘We tried to keep it as reasonably priced as possible,’ said Flynn. ‘We’re not trying to make a profit. There are expensive (trial academies) out there, but many young lawyers cannot afford that.’
The Friday-through-Sunday event at Syracuse cost the 17 attendees $600 to participate. The three-day workshop was geared toward those who have already completed the Young Lawyers Section’s Trial Academy. The participants were taken through a full trial, from voir dire to closing arguments; including fact witness and expert witness testimony.
The participants choose to take part in a civil or a criminal trial and were assigned to either the plaintiffs/prosecution side or the defense. They were not allowed to switch their roles and were told to prepare as if it were a real trial.
The impressive group of volunteer critique faculty provided nearly a one-to-one ratio for the participants. The critique faculty, including the team leaders, aimed to bring out the lawyers’ untapped potential, which often times could be critical.
‘Please don’t get offended when you are critiqued,’ Judge Deborah Karalunas, a Supreme Court justice in Onondaga County and active State Bar member, told the participants. “That is why you are here.”
Other team leaders over the course of the weekend were Timothy Fennel l of Oswego (Amdursky, Pelky, Fennell & Wallen), Tucker Stanclift of Queensbury (Stanclift Law) who serves as chair of the Criminal Justice Section, Eric Sills of Albany (Gerstenzang, Sills, Davis, Cohn & Gerstenzang), and Lisa Peebles, of Syracuse (federal public defender for the Northern District of New York).
Strategy, expert witnesses
The inaugural event kicked off Friday Oct. 27 with several expert lecturers. The first featured Vishal Gupta, a partner in Steptoe & Johnson’s New York office. Gupta spoke about trial strategy. He urged the attorneys in attendance to tell a persuasive story efficiently. He said judges and juries are best engaged and persuaded by facts presented in story form.
The next lecture about expert witnesses was presented by Stephen Younger of New York City (Patterson Belknap), a past president of the Association and Judge Kathleen Hogan, an acting Supreme Court justice in Schenectady.
The pair provided advice about choosing expert witnesses. They said to consider how a potential witness can hurt your case before thinking about how they can help it. They also advised speaking to someone who has previously watched a witness to get a better sense of what to expect and whether they would be right for your case. Also, given the high cost of experts, to factor in how much ‘bang for the buck’ you will get.
‘The difference between a good lawyer and a great lawyer—preparation, preparation, preparation,’ said Younger.
Other expert lecturers were Michael Bottar, of Syracuse (Bottar Leone) who spoke about hearsay evidence and the case law guiding it, as well as Peter Gerstenzang of Albany (Gerstenzang, Sills, Davis, Cohn & Gerstenzang) who discussed cross examination techniques.”