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An Innovative Curriculum

courtroom

The Institute's courses blend theory with practice and emphasize the ethical considerations present in trial litigation. The courses are taught by seasoned litigators who bring a real-world perspective to the classroom. The course curriculum is based on active involvement and participation in class. Actual litigation problems are used with accompanying texts on skills and examples of litigation procedures.

There are eight required classes and one lab: Pretrial I (3 credits); Pretrial II (2 credits); Trial I (3 credits); Trial II (3 credits); Advocacy as a Performing Art (1 credit); Expert & Scientific Evidence (2 credits); Administrative Law (3 credits); Criminal Procedure (3 credits); and Technology Enhanced Trial Advocacy (0 credit). Students are also provided with the opportunity to enroll in the optional Trial Practicum Course (0 credit). In addition, students are encouraged to gain practical litigation experience through the MSU Law Clinical Programs, an externship or a summer internship.

The program emphasizes skills training, development of case theory and themes, analysis of litigation strategies, civility and ethics. Topics include:

  • Fundamental questions about client retention
  • Analyzing legal and factual claims
  • Developing a theory or theories of the case
  • Drafting all relevant pleadings (complaints, answers, production requests; interrogatories, deposition notices, motions to compel, motions for summary disposition)
  • Arguing the case before sitting judges or experienced trial
  • Effective use of courtroom technology in the pretrial and trial stages, including comprehensive training on TrialDirector Software
  • Handling jury selection - voir dire
  • Practicing professional decorum
Trial Practice Institute Program Course Requirements
First Semester Second Semester
  • Pretrial I (3 credits)
  • 7 Weeks: Technology Enhanced Trial Advocacy (0 credits)
  • Pretrial II (2 credits)
  • 1st 7 Weeks: Theatrical Skills (1 credit)
  • 2nd 7 Weeks: Trial Practicum (optional) (0 credits)
Third Semester Fourth Semester
  • Civil Trial (3 credits)
  • 7 Weeks: Expert & Scientific Evidence (2 credits)
  • Criminal Trial (3 credits)

Also required: Administrative Law (3 credits) & Criminal Procedure (3 credits)

Pretrial I and II

In the first term of the program, a three-credit hour Pretrial I course reveals to the students all initial attributes of trial practice. The course requires a complete "work-up" of an actual case, including interviews with parties and non-parties, discovery, depositions, and thorough preparation and argument for or against summary judgment.

The second-semester course, a two-credit hour Pretrial II class emphasizes oral skills through both taking and defending comprehensive depositions. The students also prepare and participate in a facilitative mediation program designed to fully familiarize them with alternative dispute resolution procedures and practices. Finally, students work on opening and closing skills for the trials they will conduct in the second year of the program.

Trial I and II

student

In the second year of the program, students take Civil Trial I, a three-credit hour course, which requires students to prepare or defend a civil case from the beginning of the dispute through trial before a civil jury. Sitting judges preside during trial either at the Law College Moot Courtroom or in courtrooms in the local community.

In the final semester of the program, students take Criminal Trial II, a three-credit hour course involving an actual criminal matter. Again, students are required to work on the case from the start of the alleged event through a complete trial before a jury at the end of the semester. All aspects of criminal trial procedure are undertaken by the students, with experienced trial lawyers and skilled judges participating throughout the course. Arraignments and preliminary examinations are conducted before appropriate court officials and are transcribed. Students are required to conduct their trials based on the development case with the record they have created.

Expert & Scientific Evidence

In the second year of the program, students also complete a two-credit hour forensics course taught by a former prosecutor. The Expert & Scientific Evidence class is designed to supplement civil and criminal trial practice skills by exposing students to scientific techniques and the procedures used in a court of law. The course includes fingerprint and DNA technology, as well as other scientific procedures and the protocols required under Daubert/Kumho Tire.

Theatrical Skills - Advocacy as a Performing Art

The first year of the program also includes a one-credit hour theatre class taught by theatre professors. This class provides students with persuasive communication skills and effective uses of non-verbal communication. The use of gestures, voice modulation, positioning for greatest success before a jury, and general confidence in communicating and advocating are simultaneously stressed throughout the class.

Technology Enhanced Trial Advocacy

In addition, with the advent of courtroom technology and electronic evidence, the Institute trains students in the capabilities and efficient uses of evidence presentation in an effort to save litigants and the courts time and money. The Institute offers a seven-week course called Technology Enhanced Trial Advocacy. The course provides full exposure and training on TrialDirector software, and use and application of the software on the MSU College of Law courtroom technology platform. This technology platform is the template used by the Federal Courts in the Eastern and Western Districts of Michigan and by other Federal and State jurisdictions on an increasing basis as courtroom technology is implemented throughout the country.

Substantive Law Courses

As part of the certification process, students are also required take a three-credit hour Criminal Procedure class and a three-credit hour Administrative Law class.

The Geoffrey Fieger Trial Practice Institute curriculum was designed with a systematic learning objective. Students are required to take each class in sequence and as scheduled.


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