New Zealand Law Society - Jewel in the crown of legal education

Jewel in the crown of legal education

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Well over 2,000 lawyers have greatly benefitted from NZLS CLE Ltd’s Litigation Skills Programme, which celebrates its 30th birthday this year.

The outstanding success of the programme “is proved by its longevity,” says this year’s programme director, Fiona Guy Kidd.

“No matter what your experience coming in – whether you’ve been in court a lot or not – you can still get a lot from the course.”

This is true not only for the participants, but for the faculty too, who find themselves learning from the programme.

“It works and it continues to work,” Ms Guy Kidd says, “because of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA) method of critiquing the participants.” (The first course, held in August 1986, was directed by NITA regional director Joe Jaudon of Denver.)

Course participants get “great benefit” from it.

Last year’s programme director, David Clark, describes the benefit in this way, comparing participants entering the course with those at the end of the course “the standard has been lifted massively”.

“The value to the individual, and therefore to the profession, is that these people have got a whole week to focus on themselves and their skills and learning from people who are very experienced litigators,” Ms Guy Kidd says.

“We have four team leaders and the participants are divided into four teams, each led by a judge. This year we have District Court Judges de Ridder, Morris, and Thompson and Justice Kós from the High Court.”

Participants learn by doing and being critiqued and they learn from watching themselves on a recording of their performances. “They also learn from watching demonstrations, such as of an opening address, leading a witness and cross-examination.

“Participants also learn through doing drills – having a go at doing a skill till it becomes second nature. It is very intensive.”

The all-important critiquing takes place throughout the week. Participants are essentially critiqued by two faculty members in front of their classmates, together with a one-on-one review of the recording of their performance with another faculty member.

Being on the faculty is something she has enjoyed, Ms Guy Kidd says.

“Often litigation can be a very lonely exercise, and you don’t get to interact with others, except seeing opposing counsel.

“But on the programme you get exposure to seeing a wide range of people performing litigation skills.

“A lot of the faculty members keep coming back. People have been doing it since 1986. In fact, Nigel Hampton QC was on the faculty in 1988 and Robert Lithgow QC is often involved. He’s the senior statesman of litigation skills. Both were faculty members again last year

“The faculty keep on coming back because they get a lot of enjoyment out of seeing participants improving and developing. And it’s a great opportunity for them to catch up with colleagues. It’s a very collegial atmosphere.”

“It is great for faculty as well,” Mr Clark agrees.

“You get a lot of benefit just watching other faculty relate to younger members of the profession. You have got lawyer demonstrations and it’s just fantastic watching those, because everyone learns from that. It doesn’t matter whether you are junior or senior, we are all learning.

“It’s a great course and wonderfully run by NZLS CLE Ltd,” he says.

This outstandingly successful programme owes much to the late Wellington lawyer Douglas Wilson.

Mr Wilson attended a litigation skills course run by the NITA in Denver, Colorado, in 1984.

Following that, he and his wife visited Terence Arnold (now Judge Arnold) in Canada. “We got talking one evening … and got very enthusiastic about setting one of these up in New Zealand,” Judge Arnold later recalled.

Mr Wilson and his wife returned to New Zealand, with Mr Arnold following five months later to find that Mr Wilson already had the idea well under way. After that, they worked on the project together.

They talked to Annette Black (then Director of Education for the New Zealand Law Society) about the value of such courses, and they persuaded the NZLS Continuing Legal Education Committee.

They then succeeded in gaining the agreement of Justice Eichelbaum and Judge Satyanand to become team leaders – and so the course happened.

“It was a success and that success has been emulated every year ever since.”

Douglas Wilson’s “finest moment … must be the New Zealand Law Society’s residential Litigation Skills course which offers a splendid example of what can be done by a professional body in enhancing the skills and standards of its members to the public benefit,” Tim Blennerhasset, of Chapman Tripp Sheffield Young, wrote in an obituary about Mr Wilson, published in LawTalk on 10 October 1990.

This year’s Litigation Skills Programme will run from 16 to 22 August at Lincoln University, Christchurch. Applications for the programme must be received by NZLS CLE Ltd by 5pm on Wednesday 3 June. Limited financial assistance may be available for applicants through the Douglas Wilson Advocacy Scholarship Trust.

NZLS CLE Advanced Litigation Skills – for criminal and civil litigators

More experienced practitioners with at least six years’ civil or criminal law experience will also benefit from the advanced course which is based on the same NITA teaching method. This five-day, non-residential course will take place from 14 to 18 June. Applications for the advanced course close at 5pm on Monday 4 May.

For more information, or to apply for the upcoming Litigation Skills Programme, visit

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