The Power of Partnerships

CBF Report April/May 2014

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The CBF Legal Aid Academy: Bringing Top-Notch Training to Legal Aid Advocates

By Jessica Bednarz  |  CBF Program Manager

Fantastic course. Very demanding, but I learned a great deal and believe I amnow poised to be an excellent advocate for my client. €“ Participant in free Advocacy Skills Training provided by the Academy

Fantastic course. Very demanding, but I learned a great deal and believe I am now poised to be an excellent advocate for my client. €“Participant in free Advocacy Skills Training provided by the Academy

Over the past five years, hundreds of attorneys have received high-quality training and professional development opportunities through the CBF Legal Aid Academy. The Academy brings together our legal community to ensure that legal aid attorneys have access to the opportunities that allow them to sharpen their skills and continually improve as attorneys, managers and advocates. Through the generous contributions of attorneys, law firms, CLE providers and others, the Academy provides these opportunities without sapping the already stretched budgets of legal aid organizations.

The Academy provides training mainly through two complementary systems:

  1. coordinated training, through which legal aid attorneys join already existing training programs at law firms and other organizations, where the subject matter is appropriate and space is available; and
  2. customized training, through which firms, legal consultants, and others in the legal community create and present trainings customized for the legal aid community.

In addition, the Academy partners with the CBA to provide free CLE Advantage memberships for all legal aid attorneys employed by CBF grantee organizations, providing these attorneys with unlimited access to all CBA CLE programs at no cost.

As the Academy matures and aims to offer even more substantial customized training, a newsletter and more ways for partner firms and organizations to get involved, the importance of our legal community coming together is more evident than ever. The following highlights demonstrate the power of the partnerships that have developed through the Academy.

The Year in Review: Highlights from 2013

The Legal Aid Academy was fortunate to partner with numerous firms and organizations throughout the year to develop a long list of high quality programs. Below are just a few examples of the many great programs the Academy offered to legal aid attorneys in 2013.

Pincus Pic

Pincus and the Legal Aid Academy have provided me with great ways to receive quality training that would otherwise be unavailable to legal aid attorneys. In the deposition program that I attended, I obtained valuable knowledge on preparing witnesses, when to make objections, and the differences associated with taking depositions for cases in federal versus state court. I also got to network with fellow legal aid attorneys and learn from their experiences.
€“Participant in free Deposition Training provided by Pincus Professional Education

Pincus Professional Education CLE Seminars. One of the Academy’s strongest partners over the years has been Pincus Professional Education, which provides attorneys with high-quality, practical CLE programs. Based in California, Pincus has a strong presence in Illinois, and from the start of the Academy has offered at least five spots in every CLE program in Chicago, even when the program is sold out. In 2013, legal aid attorneys attended programs on depositions, jury selection, presentation skills, trying cases in federal court, appeals, expert witnesses, litigation skills and e-discovery. In total, Pincus donates over 50 spots to the Academy each year. Spots to these trainings are filled within minutes of the CBF posting them on and attendees give them rave reviews.

NITA & Skadden Teacher & Advocacy Skills Trainings. In October 2013, nearly 60 legal aid attorneys participated in a week-long NITA (National Institute of Trial Advocacy) trial skills training thanks to an inventive partnership between the CBF, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and NITA. The program allowed both experienced and newer attorneys to gain valuable skills. First, 16 experienced legal aid trial attorneys participated in a two-day teacher training program where they learned the NITA methodology and ultimately became NITA certified instructors. These attorneys then had the opportunity to teach alongside experienced NITA staff during a three-day Advocacy Skills Program, where 40 less experienced legal aid lawyers honed their trial advocacy skills by preparing and conducting direct and cross witness examinations and closing statements, receiving on-the-spot feedback from the NITA instructors. This NITA program not only allowed nearly 60 attorneys to sharpen their skills, it helped build capacity for additional training in our community. Several of these now NITA-certified instructors will teach alongside experienced Kirkland attorneys at an upcoming deposition skills training.

Skadden pulled out all the stops, providing state of the art technology, space, food and other support. The CBF gave a special grant to NITA to help defray its expenses in putting on the program.

The American College of Trial Lawyers Training Series. In the spring and summer of 2013, the American College of Trial Lawyers partnered with the Academy and delivered a series of training programs on topics including how to prepare for and conduct a trial and ethics. These well-attended trainings allowed the best trial lawyers in the city to share their experience and expertise with the legal aid community.

Settlement Series. Last fall, experienced legal aid attorneys from Prairie State Legal Services, LAF, and the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law joined professors from the University of Chicago School of Law and University of Illinois College of Law to develop a three-part series that covered distinct pieces of the settlement process: (1) drafting effective settlement agreements; (2) counseling clients on settlement; and (3) a psychologist’s perspective on settlement. Thanks to the Chicago Bar Association and GoToMeeting, attorneys located in offices outside of Chicago were also able to attend all trainings via live webcast, bringing together legal aid lawyers from throughout the state.

Looking Ahead: What’s in Store

This year we will continue to expand the Legal Aid Academy by creating new in-depth programs with existing partner firms and organizations and by identifying new partners.We are also looking forward to debuting our new quarterly newsletter later this spring.

Kirkland Deposition Training. In May, 30 legal aid attorneys will have the opportunity to sharpen their deposition skills during a two-day deposition skills program sponsored by Kirkland & Ellis, LLP, a long-time supporter of the Academy. The program is modeled after Kirkland’s in-house deposition skills program. Participants will work in teams and have the opportunity to both take and defend depositions, receiving feedback from experienced Kirkland and legal aid attorneys.

New Partners. This year the Legal Aid Academy is proud to announce that Schiff Hardin LLP and Troutman Sanders LLP have joined our growing list of partner firms and organizations interested in making pro bono training contributions to the Legal Aid Academy.

Quarterly Newsletter. Over the past five years, the Legal Aid Academy has increased its program offerings and identifies trainings offered in Chicago by other organizations that may be of interest to legal aid. While having a wide range of options is good, it can be difficult to keep track of all of this information. The purpose of the new Legal Aid Academy newsletter is to gather all of this training information and deliver it to legal aid attorneys in one communication on a quarterly basis. The newsletter will also be available on the CBF website so attorneys can refer back to it at any point in time.

[note note_color=”#235d97″ text_color=”#f5db73″]The Academy relies on pro bono contributions to provide coordinated and customized training and it is always seeking help in these areas. Individuals, firms, companies and organizations can all contribute in a variety of ways. For more information, visit or contact Jessica Bednarz at or 312/554-4952.[/note]