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November 15, 2015
Andre Young and Kimberly Soto

ANDRE YOUNG OF ORLANDO, left, said the Trial Skills for Minority Business Lawyers program was notable for its “diversity of participants, faculty and presenters” and that it was beneficial because “no one is born with all the skills necessary to be a good trial lawyer.” Also pictured is participant Kimberly Soto.

25 participate in the Minority Skills Training Program in Orange County

It was not the average day at the Orange County Courthouse in Orlando for 25 lawyers who participated in the “Trial Skills for Minority Business Lawyers” program.

The inaugural October program was led by Ninth Circuit Judge Alice Blackwell and modeled after one in Miami-Dade County that offered each participant an opportunity to improve important trial skills inside an actual courtroom, while receiving feedback from a faculty of seasoned lawyers and judges. Sponsors of the program included the Business Law Section of The Florida Bar, local law firms, and other legal organizations.

Judge Blackwell said one notable characteristic of the program is that it “gives minority attorneys the opportunity to network with experienced attorneys who practice business law.”

She said building a network of relationships with other attorneys has always been recognized as a smart, even necessary, business practice for successful attorneys.

“With an array of knowledgeable and skilled attorneys — in areas such as bankruptcy, commercial litigation, personal injury, and construction litigation — along with circuit and county judges who currently or previously served on the civil bench, the program met its goal of exposing participants to professionals who could impart their collective wisdom to the group,” said Judge Faye L. Allen, who served as a faculty member.

Judge Blackwell said the minority skills program emphasized the aspect of increasing trial skills within a positive environment that includes a “learning by doing” modality. Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Fred Lauten, who served on the faculty for the event, stressed the importance of being positive in giving constructive feedback to the participants. He suggested that each faculty member point out positive areas and give no more than two or three suggestions for improvement so that the participants would be able to retain the advice given.

Mayanne Downs of Gray-Robinson and a former president of The Florida Bar, acknowledged the benefit of a skills program that included lawyers and judges serving as faculty members to train young lawyers. She pointed to the prevalence of cases that settle out of court. “Because of this,” she said, “[attorneys] don’t get a lot of opportunity to try cases and develop skills in a meaningful way.”

Downs provided practice tips and pointers that attendees could adopt to set themselves apart from other lawyers as they prepare their cases for trial.

With several Florida law schools that focus on attracting minority students, including the Florida A&M University College of Law in Orlando, the number of minority attorneys has increased in the local legal community in the last few years. Every trial attorney, minority or otherwise, needs to be proficient in skills, such as how to give an effective direct and cross examination of fact witnesses, the importance of trial ethics, the proper method for impeaching a witness, and best practices in closing arguments. All of these topics and more were addressed by the guest lecturers and faculty during the program.

Andre Young of Orlando said the course was notable for its “diversity of participants, faculty and presenters” and that it was beneficial because “no one is born with all the skills necessary to be a good trial lawyer. The only way to become good is to do it.”

[Revised: 04-25-2018]