Budding trial lawyers learn from legal veterans
Public Relations - Published: June 3, 2014


The next generation of trial lawyers heard some valuable advice about their profession of choice recently through Widener’s Intensive Trial Advocacy Program. The seven-day program is one of only a handful nationwide that provides students with a foundation of skills necessary to succeed in a courtroom.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan E. Schwab ’92 told the 24 ITAP students enrolled in the Harrisburg program that everything they need to be successful lawyers they learned in first grade. Schwab delivered the campus’ 11th-annual E. John Wherry Jr. Distinguished Lecture in Trial Advocacy and Professionalism on May 21. The lecture is an annual part of ITAP and a highlight of the program.

Schwab, who was the valedictorian of the Harrisburg campus’ first graduating class, told students they need to be honest, be prepared and treat opponents with civility. She also told them to listen carefully, avoid legalese and “use your words.”

“Being a good writer is the number one tool in your toolbox as a lawyer,” Schwab said. “Go back to your basic grammar. I’m telling you, it will pay huge dividends in your writing.”

After they keep it to the basics, lawyers need to slow down and proofread their work, Schwab said. That crucial step should not be overlooked in our modern, fast-paced world.

Schwab gave the students ample time for questions, and their conversation ranged from whether attorneys should sit or stand during cross examination of witnesses (she prefers standing attorneys) to questions about her pet peeves as a judge (spelling errors, sloppy writing and motions seeking more time because lawyers have been ‘very busy’).

Schwab began her career as a middle school English teacher, and after law school entered private practice. She also spent time working in the government sector – at the Pennsylvania Treasury Department, at the Department of the Auditor General and in the House of Representatives – before she was tapped to serve on the federal bench in the Middle District of Pennsylvania in 2012. She has served on the Widener Law Board of Overseers and chaired the Harrisburg campus’ Diversity Advisory Board.

In Delaware, attorney Ellen C. Brotman, a graduate of Albany Law School and a partner at Montgomery McCracken in Philadelphia, gave the 15th-annual Wherry lecture to 84 ITAP students on May 20. Brotman’s remarks, “A View From the Trenches, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Law,” included several poignant stories about her coming of age as an attorney.

“Being a lawyer is such a hard job and very hard work,” Brotman said, “if you can find some part of it that fits your personality – your soul, like I did – you’re so lucky.”