Bringing Legal Training To Life
Does art imitate life, the old debate asks—or does life imitate art? It’s getting hard to tell, for those directing advanced training at Alliance Defending Freedom.
The training is offered to Allied Attorneys—lawyers not employed on the ADF litigation team, but who share the ministry’s priorities and cooperate with it in defending cases across the country—as a highly specialized, tightly focused variation on the usual ongoing legal training required of all who practice law.
"If it wasn’t for ADF, we wouldn’t have had any training in this." Greg Terra
“Non-lawyers don’t always appreciate how specialized law is,” says Joseph Infranco, senior counsel and vice president of Alliance Coordination. “One of the difficulties we find with some of our most pressing cases is that lawyers are not comfortable if they don’t have a background in that particular area of the law. They might see a case, they might have the heart to help, but they just don’t have the expertise—and that’s more of a disincentive than we might realize.
“With advanced training,” he says, “we look at areas of the legal landscape that are sensitive, that require quick intervention, that are kind of technical for various reasons. We’re looking to get these attorneys trained by experts in those fields, so that they’ll be as capable as anybody in their state on these matters, and able to jump into cases related to that area with no reluctance.”
In the last two years, ADF has offered advanced training related to rights of conscience, religious speech in the public square, and denial of medical care. It was that last subject—and the real-life experience that came hard on the heels of the training provided—that led the ADF team and Allied Attorneys to a new understanding of how crucial this kind of specialized training can be.
Several years ago, ADF attorneys were called in to intervene in the case of Jesse Ramirez, a seriously injured auto accident victim whose treating physicians had cut off his food, water, and medicine. Acting on behalf of Jesse’s sister, who wouldn’t give up on him, ADF went to court to get Ramirez the sustenance and medical attention he needed to live. After months of proper medical treatment and physical therapy, he walked out of the rehabilitation center on his own.
The ADF legal training team drew heavily on that experience in preparing a sample case for Allied Attorneys participating in advanced training related to denial of medical care. Those involved in the training were divided into teams of two, presented with a realistic legal scenario, and required to do research, draft affidavits, interview experts, cross-examine witnesses, file briefs, and argue their case before a judge (with most of these parts enacted by ADF team members).
All that hands-on activity is a far cry from the long hours of listening to lectures that characterize most advanced legal training programs … and it seems to distinguish the training offered by ADF from that of almost any other ministry in the country.
“I don’t know of anybody offering anything remotely like this,” Infranco says. “We require participation. We simulated all the stress of a real-life hearing—this was a true representation of what these attorneys are going to face.” For a lawyer, he says, the distinction between this kind of training and the usual lecture hall fare is “the difference between a medical school student hearing a lecture on anatomy, and performing actual surgical procedures under the guidance of senior doctors. It takes legal training to a whole new level.”
"There’s somebody with ADF who’s an expert in any subject I want to deal with." Randy Wenger
“It was the best and most fruitful (advanced) training that I‘ve ever received,” says Greg Terra, who, with fellow attorney Stephen Casey, heads Texas Center for Defense of Life (TCDL) in Austin, Texas. “Just a lot of good, helpful information in a very short amount of time. And very hands-on—just the best bang for the buck I’ve ever seen, as far as legal training goes.”
Terra and Casey quickly had reason to draw on what they’d learned in the training. Less than a month after the ADF session, they were asked to represent a comatose man whose estranged wife wanted to remove his feeding tube—a situation eerily like the scenario they had taken part in only weeks before. Based on that recent training, the two men took the high-profile case.
“If it wasn’t for ADF, we wouldn’t have had any training in this,” Terra says. “But we were ready to handle it. We had a good overview of what to do and what we needed to think about. It was like we’d handled one before.” In the months since, TCDL has taken on other, similar cases.
“The resources of ADF are amazing, and empowering,” says Randy Wenger, chief counsel of the Independence Law Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who attended the same advanced training session. “There’s somebody with ADF who’s an expert in any subject I want to deal with. The brightest and the best people are employed there, and they’re looking for ways to empower me.”
“It’s a shared base of experience—a shared pool of information,” Infranco says. “Any ally who comes to advanced training gets the benefit of a special relationship with us. That ally can call ADF attorneys for whatever kinds of training, support, or financial assistance he or she may need in taking on these kinds of specialized cases.” By offering that kind of help, he says, “we’re raising the quality of legal representation throughout the alliance.”