Chicago-Kent and Tec de Monterrey Launch Adversarial Trial Advocacy Program
Illinois Institute of Technology + Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey
In June 2009, 24 experienced Mexican law professors gathered in Mexico City to participate in an immersion course introducing them to a completely new concept: adversarial trial advocacy. The course was taught by professors from Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law (Chicago-Kent) in Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey‘s (ITESM) new state-of-the-art courtroom at the law school.
Chicago-Kent and ITESM formed a partnership to promote the judicial reforms in Mexico. Their partnership is funded by a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development, awarded by Higher Education for Development.
Until recently, Mexican criminal trials did not assume the defendant’s innocence until proven guilty, did not involve direct and cross examination of witnesses, opening statements and closing arguments. Trials traditionally were conducted entirely in writing and were not open to the public. This paper-based system offered opportunities for corruption, abuse, and human rights violations. Last year, the Mexican government responded to the judicial crisis in its country with sweeping constitutional reforms that will, within the next eight years, introduce adversarial, oral-trial advocacy to the Mexican courtrooms.
The daughter of a judge and criminal attorney, Karla Loranca is a Mexican lawyer currently studying at Chicago-Kent under the partnership. “It’s been a real shock,” she said of learning about the U.S. legal system. She is enrolled in evidence, comparative law and criminal procedure courses and finds them to be helpful. “It enriches me a lot as a professional,” she said.
“In Mexico, we think we have the instruments to introduce oral trials. There is no way that can happen in the next year. Everyone needs training. It will work, but not in two years,” she said. Therefore, Loranca plans to help her country.
With an ultimate goal to become a judge, Loranca’s studies at Chicago-Kent have inspired her to teach oral trials and help Mexico realize its legal reforms. “My plans are more focused to help Mexico develop and adapt its system. This is what is needed to teach –the judges and the lawyers.”
The partnership’s three-year program will help ITESM’s law school in Mexico City shift its teaching techniques from lectures to experiential learning and coach the next generation of attorneys in courtroom skills.
Gonzalvo Reyes, a professor at ITESM’s law school and a practicing criminal attorney has learned these new teaching methods from the trainings and is already using them to teach ITESM students, said Erickson. He now also uses Chicago-Kent’s approach of “hybrid of hands-on teaching” using lecture, demonstration and practice. In addition, in his role as a criminal attorney, he had tried a number of cases using new methods regarding evidence and procedure, for example.
This unique U.S.-Mexican partnership will sponsor numerous activities to spearhead the implementation of the new legal system. Chicago-Kent will assist ITESM with launching an in-house legal clinic, allowing students to work alongside professors on all aspects of real cases – a novelty in Mexican law schools.
They already established a connection with the judiciary. Judge David Erickson, a former appellate judge, who heads the trial advocacy program at Chicago-Kent and directs the Mexico Initiative, has begun teaching guest lectures at a judicial master’s class program offered by ITESM. “The reforms are sweeping and must be supported by all players in the courtroom to produce a real change,” he said. “We are excited and honored to be part of this process.”
Judge Erickson understands that the week-long lectures and mock trials gave most participants their first opportunity to argue in court and assume a proactive role in a trial. “It takes a lot of courage to do what they’re doing,” he said, expressing his admiration for the skills of the Mexican professors whom he taught. “They caught on immediately,” he said with a smile, “lawyers are lawyers.” However, Erickson notes that Mexico City and Mexico State has not yet started oral trials.
Karen Sigmond, a professor at ITESM, noticed one mid-career law professor who was particularly anxious about the transformation of her nation’s legal tradition, as well as about arguing in public. But by the end of the week-long training, it was she who voluntarily offered to deliver the closing argument in a mock trial. “It was sort of an automatic skill attorneys have, but it may have been dormant, perhaps,” said Sigmond. “You could see the change. You could see the progress.”