When Kyle Ridgeway was just a third-year law student, he participated in a class that offered more in just two weeks than many law school courses offer all year. As a student, Kyle found this experience pivotal to his education as a lawyer. Now, as an attorney for Williams, Porter, Day & Neville, Kyle was honored to take part in this class again- this time as a speaker.
Originally, around 2012, Steve Easton, a former Dean and current professor of the University of Wyoming College of Law created an experiential, immersive trial class that he called ‘The Summer Trial Institute.’ In this class, third-year law students would spend two weeks of the summer delving into the ins and outs of trial practice. Instructors from all over the state would provide guest lectures, answer questions and share their experiences. Judges, lawyers and many others involved in the world of trial law would speak to the students and offer insight into the courtroom.
Additionally, the last two days of class feature an immersive trial, both for a jury trial and for a judge trial. All of the roles are filled by actual professionals. From the judge to the jury- even the court reporter. The students are able to try a case in front of these professionals and they are given actual rulings, just like a real trial. They receive feedback after the fact and are able to ask questions.
Recently, other members of WPDN were able to participate in the Summer Trial Institute as well, and their presence even further legitimized what Easton and his class are trying to accomplish. Stuart Day conducted the Civil Pre-Trial training for the participants, while Craig Silva conducted the Criminal Pre-Trial. Both men agreed that this is an experience that every would-be lawyer should experience.
“There’s nothing better than hearing from like actual practicing attorneys about how things work,” Ridgeway stated. “It’s hard when you’re in law school because, you know-mock trials are mock trials, right? There’s always this vagueness involved with those things.”
This experience is not a mock trial. While the results are irrelevant, the experience is not.
“It gives you the opportunity to make mistakes,” he continued. “And it’s in an environment where it’s okay to do that- you’d rather make mistakes in an environment like this than you would in a real courtroom with a real client.”
The outcome may not be real, but the process is as real as it gets without having passed the bar exam. And it’s the process, Kyle says, that matters most.
“By the time you’re in your third year of law school, it’s really important to do these kinds of practical things, because it really prepares you as best as anything can, short of becoming a lawyer a year earlier,” Ridgeway said. “The only way you can really learn things and make mistakes and if you’re not willing to do it if you’re not willing to try things, you’re never going to get anywhere. So, it’s important- not just this program, but lots of the experiential learning programs that they have at the UW law school that are really helpful for developing and maturing you for when you become a lawyer.”
The lessons Kyle learned as a student in ‘The Summer Trial Institute’ were pivotal to his growth as a lawyer. But he also learned a lesson or two when he returned to teach, all these years later.