What is Hillman?
The Hillman Advocacy Program is a learn-by-doing seminar patterned after well-known techniques developed by the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA). It gives over 60 attorneys a unique opportunity to develop courtroom skills under the guidance of some of Michigan’s top trial lawyers – all of whom volunteer their time. The program keeps the number of participants low to maintain a 3-to-1 student to teacher ratio.
The West Michigan Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, together with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, administers and supports the Hillman Advocacy Program. Although it is similar in format and approach to other trial practice workshops, no other program involves the entire bench of a federal district court dedicating its full attention, courtrooms, and facilities for 2 ½ days to the mission of teaching and improving trial skills.
The Hillman Advocacy Program faculty consists of volunteers – the leading trial lawyers in West Michigan from both the civil and criminal bar – as well as David Mann of Simple Message. David is on the faculty of Loyola School of Law and the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA). He has constructed opening statements for winning verdicts in cases ranging from medical malpractice to defamation to securities fraud.
Remarkably, the district’s federal judges actively participate in the program. A district judge, magistrate judge, and/or circuit court judge is assigned to each class of students and, over a box lunch provided by the workshop, the students have the opportunity to engage in conversation with the judges on an informal basis. Students and judges alike mark this lunch as one of the highlights of the program.
Learn by Doing
During the program, each participant conducts direct- and cross-examinations of live witnesses (played by volunteers consisting of area lawyers, paralegals, and court personnel), and performs exercises involving impeachment of witnesses and introduction of exhibits. Their performances are recorded and reviewed with the student and critiqued by a faculty member.