Family law is not for the faint of heart, and institute teaches best principles and methods ~ Tulsa World
Family law is a tough practice.
Children’s futures are at stake. Homes and any monies involved are being divided. Cases turn ugly in a moment, and attorneys representing their clients must be prepared for these sometimes unexpected mood shifts.
Some Tulsa attorneys admit they would rather try a number of heinous murder cases rather than one family law case.
Judges have been heard to say they dread the controversial and contested family law cases because no one clearly is the winner and everyone loses when all cards have been played.
Even attorneys involved in a family law practice have difficult times because of the twists and turns a case might have. Shane Henry, who practices family law with the Fry and Elder Law Firm, said he consistently lost cases during his first three years in practice and knew he needed additional training.
The question was where to go.
The two attorneys had written a manual on the family law practice over 25 years to help new attorneys understand the practice. It also helps experienced attorneys gain more knowledge so they can improve their work.
During the past quarter century the money has accumulated and now is used to help cover the costs of the Trial Advocacy Institute that is part of the OBA Family Law Section.
The first institute held in 2014 at the Oklahoma Bar Association Center in Oklahoma City was limited to 20 participants. The 2015 class was limited to 21 participants with nine on the waiting list for the next one expected to be scheduled in July 2016.
Family law cases can be messy and an attorney has to be prepared to do the job for the client, Henry said. Lessons covered by the institute’s volunteer teachers during the week-long session are intense.
Lawyer participants are taught the importance of opening and closing arguments, discovery, cross-examination of both regular and expert witnesses, exhibit introduction, how objections are made during a trial, dealing with hearsay and how to make motions to dismiss a case.
Next they go to classrooms where videotaped presentations are made before attorney teachers who also critique their work. They also watch a video of themselves in action, and hear the reasons for the criticisms and suggestions.
Finally, they have the opportunity to repeat what they had done and make changes. These also are critiqued.
These are important lessons, Henry said. Theory, not practical work is taught in law school. Students, after graduation, often roll up their sleeves, go to work and make devastating mistakes for their clients and themselves.
The Trial Advocacy Institute gives new and experienced attorneys tools to “conquer the world,” he said. Once attorneys know they have a solid foundation they can feel more comfortable as they represent their clients.
Henry is so passionate about the help he received, he now helps mentor others.
“The truth is, we as volunteer teachers get more back than we give because we learn from others,” he said. “I wish that someone would have helped me like this when I first started my private law practice nine years ago.”
It was only after Henry joined the Fry and Elder Law Firm that he got that help from the two experienced family law attorneys and his personal skills improved.
He also attended the National Institute of Trial Advocates in Houston and Boulder, Colorado, to fine-tune his skills even more.
The national training seminars, while valuable, are expensive at $3,500 per person, Henry said. That doesn’t include the lodging or the money lost because the attorney was not in the office for clients.
Oklahoma’s Trial Advocacy Institute costs currently are set at $1,500 per participant and, like the national schools, do not include lodging or associated costs while away from the office.
“Our costs are kept down because all instructors are volunteers,” he said.
That includes Tulsa County Judge Theresa Dreiling and Tulsa Attorney Carl P. Funderburk. It includes Oklahoma County Judges Barry L. Hafar, Howard Haralson, Richard C. Ogden, and Aletia Timmons.
Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice John F. Reif spoke to the class three times and attended the graduation ceremony.
Other volunteer speakers included Matt Dodd, a nationally known trial lawyer and lecturer who spoke on cross-examination; Melissa Brown who discussed social media; Steve Resind who discussed family law treatment and evidence, and Dr. Sol Rappaport from Chicago, a nationally known psychologist.
Other teachers and mentors, besides Henry, included Aaron Bundy, Kim Hays, Keith Jones, Funderburk and Dreiling, all from Tulsa; Ford, Tucker and Michelle Smith are from Oklahoma City. Smith serves as the Oklahoma Bar Association Family Law Section’s Continuing Legal Education Chair.
Results of the institute are almost immediate. One woman told Henry she was afraid to try a family law case before she attended the Trial Advocacy Institute. Returning home, she stepped into the courtroom and won the case for her client.
“Now her potential opponents are settling their cases rather than going to court,” Henry was told.
“I’m just a small piece of the puzzle in this complex situation,” he said.
“Bundy and I are graduates of the Houston Family Law Institute and we do continuing legal education programs that we feel are a definite help to other attorneys.”
Dreiling said she sees a definite difference in attorneys in the courtroom who have attended the institute, Henry said.
Trial preparation involves a lot of hard work, he said. “There are a lot of ways to skin a cat and part of that is based on timing. Part of the work is an art, part is science.”
The bottom line is a successful outcome for the client.