The Hillman Advocacy Program

2022 Program Registration Now Open:

The Hillman Advocacy Program is returning for its fortieth year in 2022.  It will take place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, from January 19 through 21, 2022.  Registration is now open.  Apply here!

Please note: All participants in the 2022 Hillman Advocacy Program must be fully vaccinated and show proof of vaccination at registration on January 19, 2022.

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The Hillman Advocacy Program has been completely full for the entirety of its 40 year existence educating over 2,000 students, and it continues to draw some of the brightest legal minds in West Michigan.

Program Sponsors: Each year the program is sponsored by the Western District of Michigan Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

The Hillman Advocacy Program is financially supported by many generous law firms, corporations, and individuals.

The Hillman Advocacy Program

The Hillman Advocacy Program is an annual three-day seminar that has provided high-quality, professional courtroom training to hundreds of trial lawyers.

Formerly known as the Trial Skills Program, this learn-by-doing seminar is patterned after well-known techniques developed by the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA) in Boulder, Colorado. It gives 62 new attorneys a unique opportunity to develop courtroom skills under the guidance of some of Western Michigan’s top trial lawyers – all of whom volunteer their time. We keep the number of participants low to maintain a 3-to-1 student to teacher ratio.

Some years ago the Chief Justice of the United States called for improvement in the courtroom skills of trial lawyers. Responding to this challenge, Judge Hillman was determined that such criticism should not be directed to the trial practice in the Western District of Michigan. He enlisted the aid of his fellow jurists and several leading trial lawyers to form an instructional workshop where attorneys could learn by doing.

In 1981 Judge Douglas W. Hillman, responded to the call of then Chief Justice Warren Burger and an investigatory committee of the U.S. Supreme Court for “a need to take positive steps to improve the quality of advocacy in the United States District Courts.”

Judge Hillman was determined that such criticism should not be directed to the trial practice in the Western District, and so he enlisted the aid of his fellow jurists and several leading trial lawyers to form an instructional workshop where young attorneys could learn by doing. In Judge Hillman’s own words, “Trial lawyers are made, not born.”

About the Program

The Hillman Advocacy Program is a learn-by-doing seminar patterned after well-known techniques developed by the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA) in Boulder, Colorado. It gives 62 new lawyers a unique opportunity to develop courtroom skills under the guidance of some of Western Michigan’s top trial lawyers – all of whom volunteer their time.

The size of each group is limited to ten students in the Basic classes and six students in the Advanced classes. Each participant conducts direct- and cross-examination of live witnesses (played by volunteers consisting of area lawyers, paralegals and court personnel), and performs exercises involving impeachment of witnesses and introduction of exhibits. Their performances are videotaped and reviewed with the student and critiqued by a faculty member.

This workshop has received national recognition and has the active support and cooperation of the state and federal judiciary in the Western District of Michigan.

All of the district’s federal judges actively participate. A district judge, magistrate judge, and/or circuit court judge is assigned to each class of students and, over a box lunch provided by the workshop, the students have the opportunity to engage in conversation with the judges on an informal basis. Students and judges alike mark this lunch as one of the highlights of the program.

In addition to the workshop sessions, the program features two demonstrations in which faculty members deliver closing arguments and conduct direct- and cross-examinations for the workshop participants.

What Makes the Hillman Advocacy Program Special?

The FBA of West Michigan, together with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, sponsors and supports the Hillman Advocacy Program, which is similar in format and approach to other trial practice workshops, except:

The FBA of West Michigan knows of no other program where the entire bench of a federal district court dedicates its full attention, courtrooms, and facilities for 2 ½ days to the mission of teaching and improving trial skills.

The Hillman Advocacy Program faculty consists of volunteers – the leading trial lawyers in West Michigan from both the civil and criminal bar – as well as a nationally renowned experts who, in addition to his opening instructional presentation, circulates among the courtrooms to provide one-on-one feedback to students.

Prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers, as well as civil plaintiff and defense lawyers, work together with judges and magistrates in one forum for one purpose – to teach and improve the skill sets of new lawyers.

Typically, 5 basic classes of 10 students each and 2 advanced classes of 6 students each are offered. The advanced classes conduct a one-day jury trial and observe the jury’s deliberations.

The student/teacher ratio, remarkably, is 3:1.

The Hillman Advocacy Program endeavors each year to achieve on the faculty a diverse representation within the Western District.

Year after year, the Hillman Program teaches and mentors students from small firms and large firms, the U.S. Attorney’s and state attorneys general’s offices, and even new attorneys still looking for professional assignments.

Hillman Advocacy Program Faculty and Lecturers

The Hillman Advocacy Program is proud to bring together some of the top trial attorneys in West Michigan along with nationally renowned experts to help up and coming lawyers garner the skills needed to try a case in federal court.

The Hillman Program is proud to announce that David Mann of Simple Message Courtroom will serve as a faculty member for the 2022 program. David is a story specialist who teaches attorneys and business leaders how to make an impact by clarifying their message. He has combined his decades of experience as an actor, director, and playwright with the needs of attorneys and entrepreneurs to help them win cases for their clients or grow their businesses.

In his capacity as a persuasive story building specialist for lawyers, David is on the faculty of Loyola School of Law and the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA). He has constructed opening statements for winning verdicts in cases ranging from medical malpractice to defamation to securities fraud.

David has delivered keynotes and workshops for State Bar Associations, law firms of all sizes, Fortune 500 companies, and major nonprofit organizations nationwide. As a speaker, trainer, and performer, David has been featured in The New Yorker, Village Voice, The Business Journal, and Minnesota Business.

A professional theater artist for over two decades, David has performed or directed for the Guthrie Theater, The Children’s Theatre Company, Great River Shakespeare Festival, and many other theaters. He has written and performed several critically acclaimed one-man shows and plays, and he is a recipient of a Bush Artist Fellowship for Storytelling. David is a graduate of Northwestern University and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and he lives in Minneapolis.

Thank You To Our Sponsors

The Hillman Advocacy Program has been financially supported over the years through generous donations from law firms, big and small, and solo practitioners.

The program benefits from very generous and important corporate donations.

Thank you to everyone who has made the Hillman Advocacy Program possible.