A Summer Session Perspective, From a First Time Attendee

Posted on May 14, 2018 in Summer Session

Another CLE Another seminar Another day away from the office with unanswered phone calls and problems to come back to on Monday morning. Or so I thought The NCDD Harvard experience was exciting, the curriculum cutting edge leaving its attendees refreshed for Monday morning.

One of the most unique things about the Harvard experience were the breakout sessions. Well versed and experienced DWI/DUI attorneys led each group which consisted of 5 students. Attendees were given advanced notice of the breakout sessions and encouraged to bring an opening statement. I had a trial the following Monday that I prepped for. I opted for trying something new and different as encouraged by Denis DeVlaming during his seminar on a powerful opening statement. I normally present my opening statement prior to any evidence, but felt with the facts of this case it would be more appropriate to wait until after the State had presented their evidence to present my secret weapon, aka the stomach virus. The leaders in each my breakout session gave each participant about 3-5 minutes to make their opening statement. They then critiqued each participant. With me and a couple of others the leaders explained a drill that would help me overcome my weaknesses. I like to try to contain my emotion and stay very fact based during my open statement and crescendo into closing. But the leaders explained how I could be more effective. After exercising the drill a couple times, we than gave the same opening statement again. It was amazing how we all grew as speakers in just a few short minutes. On Friday, a subsequent break out session followed in cross examination also very effective.

Another thing that I appreciated were the topics and skills discussed in attacking a case without an expert. I practice in San Antonio: home of the Spurs, The River Walk and Fiesta. (For those unfamiliar with Fiesta it's a two week long party were the city essentially shuts down to enjoy parades, food and fun.) Most of the previous CLE's I went to encouraged hiring the best expert your client could afford. However, my average client can't afford an expert. They may be able to afford an expert report on their breath test, but some would rather justify taking a plea instead of hiring an expert because of cost. I felt like the tools I gained from learning how to effectively cross their "expert" was invaluable. I think it was almost empowering to be given permission to go to trial without an expert as long as you've done your homework and understand the fundamentals of an intoxilyzer or gas chromatograph. Oftentimes, I felt a bit incompetent because my client could not afford expert. After a number of my blood trials I've been questioned by my fellow local attorneys as to whom I hired as an expert and sheepishly replied, "I didn't have one." It is refreshing to learn that there is a school of thought who advocating destruction of the expert via cross examination only.

While the topics covered in most CLE remain constant. We expect that opening statements, GC and breath tests will be discussed at some point. Several of the topics covered were new and fresh. For example, Injury and death cases are an area in which I have no experience, and I'm not completely sure I want to venture. But the science of the attack fascinates me. Edward Fiandach broke it down to the nuts and bolts. He gave a great intro of what you need to know if you choose to take on one of these cases that not only included a breakdown of the mechanics and technology that one would need a grasp of but also the mental and emotional hurdles that one must be prepared to cross.

Intermingled throughout the seminar was delicious food, drinks, and camaraderie. I say it on a regular basis that I have the greatest job in the world defending good people who are often wrongfully accused in this witch hunt of DWI investigations. I learned that this was a belief shared by the majority of the NCDD membership.

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