Georgia State University College of Law’s Civil Pre-Trial Litigation course focuses on developing students’ pre-trial skills via hands-on learning. The course covers initial intake interviews, depositions and a mediation based upon information learned in depositions.
Given the importance of deposition taking skills in civil litigation, a significant part of the class involves learning to take and defend depositions. Students work with three case files involving different legal issues: a car wreck case, a slip and fall case, and an employment discrimination claim. Much like practicing attorneys, students must juggle multiple cases, learning facts and new legal theories well enough to question key witnesses in those cases.
To enrich student learning, we rely on practicing lawyers who generously volunteer their time. This past fall, I co-taught the class with Richard Mitchell, a top Atlanta plaintiff’s tort litigator and one of our adjunct professors.
During the weeks students practiced depositions, they also had the benefit of learning from other Atlanta litigators, including Carrie Christie (J.D. ’89), a civil defense lawyer; Charlie Bliss, director of Advocacy at Atlanta Legal Aid Society and a former plaintiff’s employment attorney; and Megan Boyd, a legal writing instructor who spent years defending bad faith insurance claims. Each of these lawyers are incredibly well respected litigators with experience working with new lawyers or soon-to-be-lawyers.
The guest teachers, along with professor Mitchell, brought real-world experience into the classroom. They pushed students to articulate their theory of the case and to identify the facts needed to prove each element of their claims or defenses.
Students received insights on how to identify what questions to ask and how to articulate questions to elicit key factual information. Many guest teachers went well beyond providing guidance through critiques. For example, Christie generously shared her deposition outlines with students, illustrating both the value of preparation and the wide-ranging topics they should explore in discovery depositions.
In addition to learning from litigators, students also had the benefit of hearing from Gino Brogdon, a top Atlanta mediator. Brogdon shared insights both about mediation and about lawyering. For example, he noted that the lawyers with the best reputations are those who work the hardest and are the most knowledgeable person in the room.
Brogdon, and all the guest litigators, reinforced an ongoing theme of the class: successful lawyering is 90 percent hard work and preparation.