More than 50 Legal Aid Advocates Get Complimentary, Top-Notch Trial Skills Training For Free Through Innovative Partnership

NITA Training - October 2013Dozens of legal aid advocates from throughout the Chicago area are participating in an acclaimed NITA (National Institute of Trial Advocacy) trial skills training this week thanks to an inventive partnership of NITA, The Chicago Bar Foundation, and the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.

There are two components to the training. On Monday, sixteen experienced legal aid trial attorneys completed a two-day teacher training program where they learned the NITA methodology so that they ultimately will become NITA certified instructors. These attorneys then have been teaching alongside experienced NITA instructors during a three-day Advocacy Skills Program, where forty legal aid lawyers have the opportunity to hone their trial advocacy skills. Thanks to Skadden, these programs are taking place in state of the art facilities.

NITA is the premier provider of learning-by-doing education for the legal profession and is widely used by many of the top firms throughout the country, including Skadden, to train its associates in skilled and ethical legal advocacy. However, due to funding constraints, this type of training–which normally costs more than $2,500 per person for lawyers in private practice–would be out of reach for most lawyers working in pro bono and legal aid organizations. This rigorous NITA training is incredibly valuable to legal aid attorneys, their programs and the clients they serve, said Margaret Benson, Executive Director at Chicago Volunteer Legal Services. The courts also benefit when legal aid attorneys are able to take advantage of high quality programs like NITA, she added. Skadden’s state-of-the-art facilities took the program to a whole new level, and their generous sponsorship demonstrates important support for the legal aid community.

NITA has made this possible as part of their commitment to public service and with a grant from The Chicago Bar Foundation to cover some of the out-of-pocket expenses associated with its work on the program. All of the NITA instructors, who are experienced and highly regarded lawyers and judges from throughout the country, are volunteering their time to teach the program. According to Angela Vigil, a Partner and North American Director of Pro Bono and Community Service at Baker & McKenzie, Chair-Elect and Secretary of NITA’s Board of Directors, and a long-time NITA instructor, this exciting partnership gives NITA a unique opportunity to apply our proven teaching methodology to the critical daily work of public interest lawyers who serve clients who would otherwise be denied access to justice. We are honored to lend our talents to this exciting collaboration where, together, we can accomplish more than any of our fine institutions could ever accomplish alone.

The CBF gave a special grant to NITA to help defray its expenses in putting on the training. Those costs were minimized by the generous contribution of space and staffing resources from Skadden as well as the very generous pro bono contributions of the volunteer trainers. “Skadden’s partnership with The Chicago Bar Foundation and NITA is one we value deeply, said Chuck Smith, Partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and a Director of The Chicago Bar Foundation Board. NITA trains our attorneys in trial advocacy, and we know that these NITA programs’ strengths will have a direct and meaningful effect on the clients who seek help from the public interest attorneys who participated in this week’s programs. Skadden attorneys do an incredible amount of pro bono work, but it is equally important that firms like ours partner with organizations like the CBF and NITA to provide ongoing training and support for the public interest lawyers who serve on the front lines. I hope innovative models of collaboration, like the NITA/CBF/Skadden model rolled out this week, can be replicated going forward. It’s the right thing to do.”

This program is one of many trainings being offered to legal aid lawyers this year through the CBF Legal Aid Academy, an innovative pro bono program to improve training and professional development opportunities for legal aid attorneys and staff. 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. The Legal Aid Academy provides talented and dedicated legal aid attorneys with high-quality training to ensure continued professional development and to support these attorneys in their challenging work, said Kelly Tautges, Director of Pro Bono & Court Advocacy at The Chicago Bar Foundation. The NITA program is a highlight of our training this year, and shows what is possible with great partners like NITA and Skadden.

The Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) brings Chicago’s legal community together to improve access to justice for people in need and make the legal system more fair and efficient for everyone. As the charitable arm of The Chicago Bar Association, the CBF’s work is made possible by the generous contributions of thousands of dedicated individuals, more than 200 law firms and corporations, and many other committed partners. Thanks to that strong support, the CBF awarded more than $4.6 million in grants in 2013 and continues to play a lead role in a number of innovative access to justice initiatives. For more information about the CBF, contact Bob Glaves at 312-554-1205 or

NITA is the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training. It pioneered the learning-by-doing methodology over 40 years ago and has since remained the ultimate standard in continuing legal education. NITA is a dedicated team of professors, judges and practicing lawyers who believe that skilled and ethical advocacy is a critical component of legal professionalism and all systems of dispute resolution that seek justice. Its mission is to promote justice through effective and ethical advocacy, train and mentor lawyers to be competent and ethical advocates in pursuit of justice, and develop and teach trial advocacy skills to support and promote the effective and fair administration of justice.