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Unique Judicial Trial Skills Training Offered in June, July and August

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Stephen M. Simon


The Law School is unique in offering courtroom management skills training to new Minnesota judges. Since 1982, it has offered a distinctive Judicial Trial Skills Training Program, which is now mandatory for all newly appointed or elected trial judges in the state. More than 300 Minnesota judges have completed the program.

The Judicial Skills Training Program will be offered this year from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. June 18th, July 30, and August 20 in the Law School's Courtroom 180.

The program centers on a simulated trial, which introduces new judges to the complex courtroom dynamics that occur in the trial process. Just like in a real trial, multiple courtroom challenges are raised simultaneously. A student judge conducts the mock trial, during which experienced lawyers, chosen for their recognized trial expertise, raise a variety of trial situations designed into the simulation. An experienced trial judge watches the proceedings. After the trial, the participating lawyers and the "jury" offer the student judge their perspectives on how the issues were handled and the dynamics of the trial events. Then the senior judge conducts a private critiquing session with the student judge.

Most simulations include a mock jury, composed of law students or other student judges in the training program. The student jurors benefit from observing the trial and provide helpful feedback to the student judge.

By participating in the Judicial Trial Skills Training Program, judges are introduced to the complex trial dynamics that occur in a courtroom and the skills needed respond to them and conduct a fair and efficient trial. These skills include controlling the conduct of attorneys and other trial participants, focusing and directing the trial process, managing the jury, and dealing with "acting out" defendants, difficult witnesses, dangerous objects as evidence, and more. The judges are also given tools on how to respond to and deal with issues of justice and intervention, race and gender, bias, and judicial ethics.

The Judicial Trial Skills Training Program was founded by and continues to be directed by Professor Stephen M. Simon ('71). Professor Simon and Professor Carol Chomsky have integrated the Judicial Trial Skills Training Program into classes they teach at the Law School by having students from their Misdemeanor Clinic and Trial Practice and the Judicial Externship courses serve as witnesses, defendants, and jurors. Professor Simon has taken the Judicial Trial Skills Training Program to many other states and the National Judicial College, the Federal Courts Education program, and Military Judge Education programs.

For more information, contact Professor Simon at simon001@umn.edu.