To Represent a Client

Trial by experience is the goal of the Kessler-Eidson Program for Trial Techniques.

By Michelle Valigursky

As a future law student, Chris Nace 03L 03B “was pretty sure I wanted to try cases, so the opportunity to go through the Kessler-Eidson Program for Trial Techniques (KEPTT) and knowing the school was committed to creating trial-ready attorneys was the deciding factor for me in choosing Emory.” This Washington DC trial lawyer appreciates his educational foundation. Now Nace practices with Paulson and Nace, PLLC. “Emory was a good decision because I try a lot of cases.”

The principle behind KEPTT is that oral advocacy boosts confidence, sharpens presentation skills, and strengthens a young lawyer’s ability to develop strong legal arguments. Since KEPTT’s inception in 1981, more than 7500 second-year law students have participated in firsthand courtroom experience of both a bench trial and a full jury case.


Chris Nace 03B 03L chose Emory, in part, because of Trial Techniques.

Nace attests to the program’s strength. “The program had me ready. It is not make-believe. It is not staged. It is very real and gives an extraordinarily accurate presentation of what trial is like,” Nace says. “Emory’s Trial Techniques program re-creates the trial experience and environment in every way, shape, and form.”

Nace put these skills to the test early in his career. “The reality is that when I started in my trial practice, I needed to rely on that training. I left a larger law firm to practice with my dad and brothers, including Jonathan Nace 01C.” Nace’s father Barry unexpectedly became ill. “That wreaked havoc on our trial schedule and we were in a position of having back-to-back-to-back medical cases over a six-week period. So I had to jump in and first chair one of them right away,” he recalls. “I can honestly say that my success (we were able to obtain a plaintiff’s verdict in the case) was dependent largely on my Emory training. And that training provided the foundation for everything I have learned to do in a courtroom.”

Though trial law was not the career path for Elliot Berke 97L, he also valued the KEPTT experiences he gained. “One of the keys to my professional development was being exposed to so many different sides of our profession while at Emory,” he says. The variety of experience “gave me a perspective that has proven very beneficial to me as I've worked inside and outside of government, in house, and in private practice.” Berke is a “big fan” of the Trial Techniques program. “It provides an excellent foundation for future litigators, but also valuable experience for future transactional lawyers too. Lawyers who don't litigate still work with lawyers who do. Understanding the fundamentals of trial work can only enhance how a transactional lawyer approaches his or her job. And that makes them better lawyers, no matter what they do."

Alumni Lawyers Enrich Trial Techniques

“Modeled after the National Institute for Trial Advocacy program, which is used to teach practicing lawyers, Emory's program is one of the largest in the country and has been recognized as one of the nation's finest,” according to the Emory School of Law website. Its goal is to help students “develop theories for particular witness examinations, decide on approaches to bring out facts consistent with your theories, prepare witnesses, and conduct direct and cross examinations using courtroom technology in the use of exhibits.”

“Trying cases is a skill that not many young lawyers get to develop these days,” Nace explains. “Having that skill set is relatively unique for practitioners and gives Emory alumni a leg up in what is a difficult job market.”

Each May, the Kessler-Eidson Program for Trial Techniques workshops are conducted at Emory Law and on location at nine Atlanta law firms and public law offices: Alston + Bird, Federal Public Defender's Office, Jones Day, Kilpatrick Stockton, King & Spalding, McKenna Long & Aldridge, Smith Gambrell & Russell, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, Troutman Sanders, and the U.S. Attorney's Office.

More than 50 prominent trial lawyers and judges, from across the United States and Canada come to Emory to serve as instructors for the May session. Students attend intensive workshops and learn how to make effective opening statements and closing arguments. In addition, they prepare several problems each day, demonstrate skills, and receive feedback from prominent trial lawyers, judges and teachers.

Editor’s Note: Christopher T. Nace, Esq. 03B 03L is an attorney with Paulson & Nace, PLLC in Washington D.C. Elliot Berke 97L is a partner & co-chair of the political law group McGuireWoods LLP, also in Washington D.C.

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Michelle Valigursky