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Law Firms Provide Young Lawyers with Real Courtroom Experience

Lawyer Randi Winter is part of a program at her law firm, Felhaber, Larson, Fenlon and Vogt. The program helps young attorneys obtain courtroom exposure so they can improve their skills.

“I’ve gotten more court opportunities than I ever expected,” Winter said in an interview with The Star Tribune. “This helps develop your professionalism both with your clients and with opposing counsel.”

The program, called the Felhaber program, puts young lawyers in trial boot camp in the state of Colorado so they can obtain advanced training. The program also gives the attorneys access to federal and state judges so they can talk with them about courtroom protocol. The lawyers can also conduct mock arguments in real courtrooms in front of judges who are in their black robes. The program then places the attorneys on assignments that permit them to try real cases with the Minneapolis city attorney’s office.

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“There’s only so much that law schools can do,” said Bryn Vaaler, the professional services partner for the Minneapolis firm Dorsey & Whitney. “There are a lot of things we’re better equipped to do than law schools. Law school is the place to get the theory of law.”

The associates at Dorsey work pro-bono on cases and receive training from the “Dorsey U” program that features senior members of the firm. The dean of the Hamline University School of Law, Donald Lewis, said, “We have the students for three years. A large majority of time, especially in the first year, is spent on content and theory. It’s not until the second and third year that we can give them practical experience.”

The school now offers a course that teaches the skills of being a lawyer that include how to run a practice. The school has also brought in a director to run clinics that allow students to interact with interact with actual clients who have actual problems. Hamline is also expanding its externship that places students with lawyers currently practicing.

Jay Quam, the Hennepin County District Judge, said, “Having training opportunities isn’t the same as actual trial experience, but it’s better than nothing. What I see in these young attorneys is unrealized potential. They are very smart with a ton of talent but they need repetition. You don’t become good without practicing.”

Lee Lastovich is the co-chairman of Felhaber’s litigation department. He co-chairs the department with Donald Heeman. Lastovich estimates that the firm spends “well into six figures” in lost attorney revenue.

“Training is something we’re committed to,” Lastovich said. “We want our lawyers to be courtroom-ready as soon as possible.”

City Attorney Susan Segal said, “It’s a really good opportunity for our office. It gives us extra bodies to handle trials, and it’s a great way for lawyers to see what we do. Criminal law happens so quickly. You have to stand on your feet sometimes with only a police report to go on.”

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