In this episode of the Wealthy Woman Lawyer podcast, we chat with Attorney Tania Williams, founder and CEO of The Skilled Advocate Company and experienced litigator. The company provides trial training programs for lawyers who are new to practice, new to litigation, or those who simply want to brush up on their litigation skills. Tania founded the company because she believes better lawyers make better advocates and achieve the best results for their clients.
“I tried to figure out how to serve solos and small firms and do something I like doing every day. I created, on the back of a sheet of paper, what this company would look like, how I would run it, and what the workshops would look like. And that was the birth of The Skilled Advocate Company,” says Tania.
This week, we chat about why trial training makes better lawyers, as well as…
- Training and practice as a key to developing confidence in the courtroom
- Issues unique to women in the courtroom
- The skills necessary for effectiveness in every step of the courtroom process
- The skill-sharpening courses The Skilled Advocate Company teaches
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
- The Skilled Advocate Company’s Website
- The Skilled Advocate Company’s Facebook
- Tania’s Twitter
- Email Tania
- Tania’s LinkedIn
Davina Frederick: Hello and welcome to the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast. Our mission is to provide thought-provoking, powerful and practical information to help you in creating your own sustainable wealth-generating law firm without overwork or overwhelm so you can live your best life. I’m your host, Davina Frederick, and I’m here today with attorney Tania Williams, founder and CEO of the Skilled Advocate Company.
The Skilled Advocate Company provides advocacy training workshops for lawyers who are new to practice or new to litigation or appellate practice, because they believe better lawyers make better advocates and achieve better results for their clients. Welcome, Tania. We’re so happy to have you here today on the Wealthy Woman Lawyer Podcast.
Tania Williams: Thank you so much, Davina. It’s great to be here.
Davina: Good, good. So You are down in. you are in West Palm Beach, Florida, correct?
Davina: Okay, great. So tell us about your journey before we get into the Skilled Advocate Company, tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming an attorney and leading up to what you’re doing today.
How Tania Learned To Lawyer Like a Boss
Tania: Okay, so that’s actually a loaded question. So here’s why it’s loaded. It’s actually probably the first time I’m going to tell the story out loud to someone who’s not a family or friend. And when I say not a family or friend I mean a close friend because I do consider as, you know, e-friends. So my journey started, my mom would tell me that from I was a little kid, from I was about five I would, you know, always have to argue my points. And then when I got siblings, I would try to mediate between the two of them and try to argue as to why none of us needed to get in trouble. But the truth is, I grew up on Law and Order.
And I knew when I grew up, I wanted to be Jack McCoy. And I wanted to be a prosecutor. That’s all I wanted to do. And then one day in 1989, my mom got a phone call and the phone call was to tell her to come and pick up her car that was in Connecticut because that’s where my father got arrested. And we went through that process and I remember sitting in the courtroom as a kid because I was 11 at the time, during the holidays and the judge looking at him and saying, I know you want to go home. I see your family here.
But that’s not going to happen. At that moment in time, I decided that’s who I wanted to be because in my head that person in that robe has the most power in that room and had the ability to give me the one thing I wanted for Christmas and chose not to. And I wanted to be in that position, not to be a person of power, but to be fairness in that robe because in my little head it was unfair. As I got older and became a prosecutor myself, I now know it was fair based on the circumstances. But that was what cemented my path for me, you know, at 11 years old sitting in the back of a courtroom hoping my dad was going to come home and he wasn’t.
Davina: Yeah, that’s so powerful. Thank you for sharing.
Tania: Thank you. That’s how my path started. And I’ve been on it ever since.
Davina: Yeah, yeah. So you went to law school and did you love trial work when you were in law school? Where you on the trial team or moot court or
Tania: So here’s the funny thing. I was actually, I was. I was on moot court. I knew nothing about mock trial while I was in law school. I just knew I wanted to be Jack McCoy. That’s all I knew. I had no idea that prosecutors made peanuts at the time. I just knew, you know, that’s what I wanted to do. So I did do moot court. I did law review because that’s what they told us we had to do.
And that was what I did. But I didn’t do trial ad. Or, well, let me rephrase. I didn’t do mock trial. I did trial ad because I wanted to do a clinic with the State Attorney’s office because I found out that that’s how you get hired. So I did do advanced trial ad and things like that in order to get my requirements, in order to be a certified legal intern and go to the prosecutor’s office my last semester at law school.
Davina: Wow. Okay. And so you work to the prosecutor’s office and then where did you go from there?
Tania: Okay, so this is where my resume gets schizophrenic, okay? Because I did. I started as a prosecutor in Orlando and I was there for three years. Tried more cases than some small firms put together because I think I tried somewhere between 70 to 100 cases before I left. And I did everything from misdemeanors, juvenile to felony. And then I decided that I was going out to LA because I was going to get an LLM in media entertainment law.
And I was going to go be an entertainment lawyer because I was going to go walk the red carpet with Will Smith. That’s what entertainment lawyers do. That’s what I was going to do. That’s not what entertainment lawyers do but find that out until I was there. I never saw Will Smith. I did see Harrison Ford though, who was rather short, but
Davina: Really? Wow. We’re getting all the dirt here today.
Tania: I know. Walked right past him on the street. But I saw a couple people, never saw Will, who was, you know, the man of my dreams at the time. But I fell in love with copyright and trademark. And then I came back to Florida because my mom was getting sick a little more than I wanted her to and having to have a flight to come home every time just wasn’t conducive.
So I moved back to Florida in 2008 and started doing foreclosures, like everyone else during that time, for a civil firm down in Miami. And then Nova, where I went to law school down in Fort Lauderdale, they had a moment of plenty and literally overbooked the school by an entire section. So a friend of mine who was the dean over the academic resource program, she asked me to help her out and come and teach that additional section, critical skills.
So I did that for that year. And I was like, Okay, all right. I did it. It was a little more than I thought it was going to be, but I did it. And then two weeks before I was supposed to be done and go back to my whole litigating life, someone quit. And that was two weeks before orientation. And she was like, uh, about that. And I was like Wait a minute.
So I ended up going into the position full time and taught law students for six years. And I started to put the LLM to work by teaching entertainment law. And I started to get involved with the trial teams and trying to make sure that I kept everything sharp. I was still practicing because I still ran a foreclosure portfolio on the plaintiff side while I was working at NOVA, at least for the first couple years. And did that for six years. And then around 2015, I decided I wanted to come back out into full-time practice and came back out doing insurance defense.
So between foreclosures and insurance defense, I got more motion practice and all sorts of experience than I thought I would ever need. And I became an appellate lawyer, believe it or not. And did the appeals for the office. So it gave me a different perspective on being a trial lawyer. I still prepped everyone for trial and made sure they did everything they needed to do and get the exhibits and all that stuff or whatever. But I was looking at it now from a different perspective. And then in 2016, my life shifted and I had to shift with it. Like, okay, all right, here we go. And now I was working for myself and I was out on my own.
Davina: Yeah. And then what led you to create the Skilled Advocate Company?
The Inception of the Skilled Advocate Company
Tania: So while I was at Nova, I actually taught for NITA, the National Institute of Trial Advocacy. And I taught for them for a few years and taught in their trial advocacy program. Saw, you know, different attorneys come through there, different skill levels and tried to help them as best as I could. So now, in 2016, actually 2017, I had been on my own for about six months and was having an existential crisis is what I call it. I was literally having a conversation with God while I was at Tires Plus. And it went something like this.
Davina: I can relate to that. I think a lot of people can relate to that.
Tania: I was waiting for my brakes to get done and I was like, look, Jesus, because this is how I talk to God and I’m very glad that I still have air in my lungs. I was like listen here, Lord, I mean, like, this isn’t working for me. This whole running a firm the way people tell you to and you got to be the rainmaker, you got to do this. I hated it. I hated the thought of it. I just hated it. I just wanted to practice. That’s all I ever wanted to do.
I never wanted to run a business. And I was like, if this is your plan for my life, then I need to at least not hate it every single day. And I sat there and I was like, okay, Tania, what do you like to do? I said, Well, I like, I love doing trial and I like teaching. How do I put the two together? I said, Well, I think that I can teach lawyers how to do trial. I mean, NITA has their niche, but my delivery is different. And my persona, the way I deliver the information, the way I connect, it’s just different. And I was like, there’s no need for them to be the only person in the space.
So I tried to figure out how to serve solos and small firms and do something I like doing every day. And as I was sitting there at Tires Plus, I created, and it’s almost cliche, on the back of a sheet of paper, so not quite a napkin, but on the back of a sheet of paper, I fleshed out what this company would look like, how I would run it, what the workshops would look like. And that was the birth of the Skilled Advocate Company in April of 2017.
Davina: Wow. Talk about divine inspiration. Divine inspiration. So Tires Plus.
Tania: Listen, I was sitting there, like God, I know I’m not supposed to work for someone anymore, but you’re gonna have to help me because I don’t like this. I don’t like the traditional, you know, grinding, going out
Davina: What is it you didn’t like about it?
Tania: I think Well, for one, I always said I never wanted to run a firm. So I, the way I was raised, you never talk to somebody because you wanted something. And that’s what networking felt like. It felt like you were only talking to people because you want something, and I couldn’t get past that mental block. And I was, for my civil experience, it’s been insurance defense. So that has always seemed like something where you have to have a lot of money in order to make sure that you’re reaching adjusters, you’re taking them out, you’re doing what you need to do, at least the way that I was taught to do it.
So I didn’t have that. So I was trying to figure out how to survive and it’s like, I love the freedom of working for myself, but the freedom of money not to show up, I was not jiving with that one. I was like no, only one of us can be free and money cannot be the one that’s free. Like there’s a conflict here. And that’s really what it was. It was that, you know, they don’t teach us in law school, how to run a firm. They just teach us how to think, and that’s it. And with that, yes, there’s so much you can do and then there’s so much that you can’t because you just don’t know how to do it.
Tania: So I decided that I was going to try to figure out how to do something that I want to do. And I still have a traditional practice only because, like I said earlier, I have, I want to become a judge one day, and I know that in order to do that, there are certain boxes that I still have to check whether I want to check them or not. So I keep my traditional practice, but my love and the thing that I’m pouring a lot of time sweat and energy into is making better lawyers.
Davina: Right, right. So I want to delve into that a little bit and talk about, I think it’s a wonderful mission to focus on, you know, this better lawyers make better advocates and achieve better results for their clients. I mean, I love that because I think it’s really desperately needed. You know, when you’re in law school, you’ve got three years, you’re trying to cram everything in and most of it is theoretical.
And if you don’t get a lot of trial practice or experience and then you go out and suddenly you’re like, Okay, what am I supposed to do? And you and I have talked about being, both of us being introverted kind of people and I know a lot of attorneys are very cerebral and introverted as a result, maybe.
And I think there is a lot of times, particularly with women attorneys, because, you know, a lot of my clients are women attorneys, women, law firm owners, there’s a lack of confidence in the courtroom. And I think that costs us money, quite frankly. It takes money out of our pockets. If we don’t have those litigation skills, because as a litigator, you can make more money, you know, then you can as a, unless you’re working for the prosecutor’s office, then you can if you don’t have those skills.
And even if you’re not doing litigation, having a really, a clear understanding of what really goes on in the courtroom. Even if you don’t do it forever, having that experience is hugely helpful and it really increases your confidence in representing clients, because then you don’t have that fear. I mean, if they threat Oh, we’re going to go to court, you’re like, Alright, let’s go, you know? So have you found, I mean, have you found that experience? I mean, your clients who come to you, what do they say and how do they feel before they start working with you? What are some of the things that they say to you that tell you why they come to you?
Tania: So, one of the things that I hear a lot and I actually started to use it in the advertising, not because I wanted to exploit the pain point, but because I’ve lived the pain point. Meaning as women attorneys, there are things we deal with that a man will never deal with. That’s just the truth of it. I was actually explaining it to a client just yesterday why it is I lawyer the way I lawyer.
Because we come into the courtroom and we are perceived to be everything except the lawyer. That’s like, the last thing that we are, especially if you’re a woman of color, like myself, Oh, that is not who you are at all. And when I started as a prosecutor, I have a very young face, even though I’m much older than I looked when I started
Davina: You do look very young. Just talking about dates and all that I’m like, oh, wow, you’ve been at this a long time. You’re like me, right?
Tania: I’ve been doing this for almost 18 years now as a lawyer, and I am in my 40s and I embrace it now. Now I tell people, I’m like, listen the Oil of Olay is just working wonders. As a kid, I hated it. But I started as a prosecutor at 24 years old in Orlando, and I got a lot of Sweetie, can you tell me when the prosecutor gets here? Or Oh, this is going to be easy, or, you know, I had attorneys that thought because of my gender and my race, they were going to own the courtroom.
And at first, some of them did, because I didn’t know, I knew my rules, but I didn’t know how to push back properly because I would always, I would kind of shrink down because again, you’re the only one like you in the courtroom that’s not in an orange jumpsuit. So you’re working through all of that mentally and you start to feel bullied, you start to feel intimidated. There are people where they will push you, they will try everything they know they can’t until they realize that you know the rules.
And I’ve had participants come to the workshop and they will say just that. They’ll say, Oh my god, Tania, you know, like I was in court and I feel like this guy just kept bullying me with objections because he would just make objections when there was nothing to object to. And I was like, Yeah, I think that’s what he was doing and until you respond confidently, he’s gonna keep doing it.
Because they know they’ve got you on the hook. So I do have a conversation with them about how to push back and how to push back in a way where everybody backs up. Everybody in the courtroom understands, no, I belong here, and you’re not going to treat me how it is that you think you’re going to treat me because it’s true. We do, we, as women we’re taught to soften our voice. We’re taught to shrink down. We’re taught to not fully walk in who we are because it will intimidate or it will seem aggressive or everything that we do, a man can do and nobody bats an eyelash.
The moment we do it now, it’s a whole nother situation. And I’ve had to address that. And then for all participants, male or female, it’s true. I’ve been an insurance defense attorney. I know exactly how adjusters think. And they are only going to pay as much money as they absolutely have to. Well, guess who gets more money? The person who will go to trial. That’s just the way it works. And they know who will and who won’t. So, you’re going to have to make sure that you have the skills to show them Oh, no, no, no, no, no no. If you want to pick a jury, let’s pick a jury. I have no problem with that.
Davina: Yeah. Right now.
Tania: That’s it. Let’s go. I will get six people in this box and we will go to town. And then the insurance adjuster will be like, oh, okay, so you said you needed how much? Okay, we’re probably not going to give you that much, but we’ll give you this much. Because there’s a level that they’ll go to pre-suit because they know all the people who will never file a complaint.
Then there’s a level that they’ll go to post-filing because they know all the people who will never go to trial. One of the very first things we did was look up the other attorney and see how many trials they have, or how many opinions are out there in their name. That’s what we did, you know? So, you have to.
Davina: Yeah, so your competition is looking. They’re looking to see because it’s a psychological game that they’re playing with you. They’re preying on those insecurities and those doubts and that lack of confidence, and so you really have to step into it.
Tania: You do.
Davina: Wow. And, you know, the problem that you expressed about being, assuming that you’re everything in the courtroom but who you are, right? But an attorney. That is a really, you and I hear this problem discussed a lot among women attorneys. It is a real issue and it’s something that, you know, men don’t realize that that’s that kind of silence. Well, it’s microaggression, you know? Or it’s aggression, aggression.
Tania: Exactly. Exactly.
Davina: Right. You know that it happens in a courtroom. And it does. And I know, the problem is even more, you know, more so for women of color. Absolutely. Absolutely. And so you bring up a very powerful point. So let’s talk about some of the skills that you teach. And then we’ll get into sort of how you teach and what’s going on, because I know you’ve got some exciting things going on. But talk to me about some of the skills that you teach. You have a number of different programs.
Making Lawers Better Advocates One Skill at a Time
Tania: Yes. So our most popular program is our Objections miniseries. It’s a two-part program in that it’s two half-day courses where I do objections in the morning. Generally, what they are, how they work, how to understand them, go through some of the most common objections and their definitions and how they work.
And then in the afternoon, we do hearsay because nobody understands hearsay. People on the bench don’t understand hearsay. Hearsay is Mandarin Chinese, you know? So, it’s just what? I don’t understand. So we do the miniseries, which is usually something that everybody needs no matter what they do. And then there’s the full trial advocacy boot camp where that’s four days hands-on, I teach you each and every single skill from opening, actually from voir dire all the way through to closing.
The only thing they don’t practice is voir dire just because of the logistics of trying to get everyone in to have a fake venire. But they do opening they do clothing, they do direct, they do cross, they do impeachment, refreshing recollection, moving in exhibits. Each and every single skill that you can do during a trial, I teach it and they do it. A participant is standing on their feet, delivering a direct examination within the first three hours of attending the workshop.
Davina: Oh, wow. I bet you have some people that just about have a meltdown when they get there and you tell them that.
Tania: Without fail, there is one person that always, because we asked for volunteers to go first and it’s like crickets. I mean, it’s so quiet in there you could hear yourself blink. And there’s always one person that tries to avoid it as long as they possibly can. Because you do, you have shy lawyers, you know? And when
Davina: And the general public doesn’t realize that. They don’t think of lawyers that way. But none of us who are lawyers know that there are a lot of us who are that way.
Tania: Exactly. And then when you put us in front of other lawyers, oh, heck no. No, no, no, no. I am not going to stand up in front of people where their whole job is to pick apart my life. No, I’m not doing it.
Davina: Yeah. Judgment is like the whole lawyer thing. We don’t need to be a judge to pass judgment, we already, we do that anyway.
Tania: Exactly. So it’s always hilarious during that first morning while everybody’s feeling everybody out and trying to figure out who is who, you know, and then they realize they’re all in the same boat. You know, everybody’s just there to learn and. And I, well, I mean, knock on wood, I have not had somebody say that they hated the experience. Not ever. And I’ve had almost 150 lawyers come through our programs now in the last three years.
And it’s really two and a half because I think our first workshop was October of 2017. And I remember a couple people always say, by the time we get through the first morning, they’re like, I’ve already made my money back. And that makes me feel good. And it makes me feel good because my concern is always that they’re getting, not what they paid for, but more than what they expected. Like they really feel like they’re getting that transformation from not knowing how to get it done to be in ready to do it.
Davina: Right, and confident. I bet they walk out with so much more confidence.
Tania: They do. And you still have some
Davina: And it probably carries on in other aspects of their lives.
Tania: It does, it does. It carries on in other aspects of their practice because what I’ve seen so far is, you know, they’ll still be somewhere they’re apprehensive because you’ve learned the skills, but then to get to trial in civil can take forever, and they’re still like, Oh my god, I don’t know if I can do this. But let’s say they have an evidentiary hearing or something like that, then they would have something go in their favor, and that totally lights them up.
I remember one of the testimonials that I use comes from Ryan Seba because she is just fan number one. And I love it because Ryan’s literal email to me was oh my god, Tania, I was just able to keep out opposing counsels photographs because he didn’t know how to lay the foundation. And you just taught me what the foundation was. And I was able to keep them out. And she was so happy. And she was just like, this was totally worth the money, you know?
And it always feels good when people are actually transforming like they’re becoming better lawyers. They practice better. They now know how to work up their cases better. They’re not as scared, like you said, that intimidation and that anxiety is significantly decreased because they’re like, Oh, I can do this. And I’ve had people who are fresh out of school. I’ve had people who have been practicing for 20 years, come into the program because they wanted a refresher because they haven’t done that many trials, and love the program.
Davina: Yeah, I think that’s what you see that we don’t talk about as lawyers, you know, there are, you can have a long career as a lawyer and only have a few trials, you know, especially full-blown beginning any trials, you know what I mean? You might go and handle one issue or something like that, depending on your area of practice. And you may go a long time because a lot of those certification programs, you know, require a certain amount of trials and time import, that kind of thing.
And the reason it takes a lot of people, time to get to the point where they can apply to be board certified in something is because they simply don’t have enough trial experience, right? So you’re not practicing those skills every day. You do lose them. You do, you know, even what you did learn and remember, is like, what? And, you know, people probably have their favorite objections, you know? They have their favorites are the hearsay objection, and then they know those but they don’t know all, you know, they’re like, Oh, yeah, forgot about that. I forgot about this, right?
Trial By Fire
Tania: Exactly. Exactly. And I think sometimes it’s one of those things where they teach it to us in theory, but until you actually use it, you don’t really realize how it works, you know? And trying to now fit a square peg in a round hole if you get the wrong exception that you’re trying to use or whatever, and it’s like, oh, wait, I could have just done that. And that’s what I try to do. So I deliver the content in a way that anybody can grab it, make sense of it, and use it because I’ve learned that everyone does not learn the same.
And if you only deliver it in one way, you’re going to lose half your room because some people learn visually, some people learn auditory, some people are kinesthetic learners, so they had to put it together and play with it and make it make sense. So I need to hit all aspects of learning in a very short amount of time because our lectures for the full boot camp even though the boot camp is four days, the lectures are only three because in that fourth day they actually do a trial.
So I have to condense a lot of information into a short amount of time because it’s really two and a half days because on that Saturday, I give them the afternoon to go work on the trials that they need to do. So, you learn how to teach to a variety of people. You learn how to teach to the person where they are the analytical lawyer, they want the legalese, they want, you know, they want it to sound very proper and very put together.
And then there’s the person that’s like, no, I need you to sound just like me, where I have no frickin clue what is going on. I have no idea which way is up and I need to know that’s okay. So I have to teach all those people. I have to teach the person where even though they have invested their money in themselves, they’re looking at me like, are you sure you know what you’re doing, lady? Just give me five minutes. Give me five minutes, and you’ll know I know what I’m doing.
Davina: Yeah. Okay, okay. All those years of teaching have, are really, probably really made such a huge difference in you being able to do this company and really teach other attorneys, you know? So you, not only have you got the actual in-courtroom experience, you actually have a lot of experience as a teacher. So the combination of that is very, very powerful because I do think it takes both. I mean, you could, there are a lot of attorneys who are great, you know, in the courtroom, but they don’t know how to teach other people.
I remember my first trial. Well, I was an intern in the prosecutor’s office and I was literally walking back down to the office from someplace and one of the young prosecutors there said, Oh, you want trial? You need to trial experience? Come on. Let’s go do a trial right now. And that was my first instruction to a trial. I walked in with him and he, it was something he’s telling me as he went in, I don’t really think this is going to be, we probably should have just pled this out. I really don’t need it to be great. But, you know, just to give you some trial experience.
No kidding, I walked in greenhorn and had this trial. Didn’t last very long. And unfortunately for me, I was up against a very experienced defense attorney and my witness was an officer. And basically, the officer lied. And yay, I had no preparation, I have not spoken to him before I walked in, and he lied, really. And once the defense put on their case, it was very obvious that the officer just let his ego get ahead of everything else. And yeah, so I’ve lost spectacularly, my first trial. But I would not recommend that as the way to go about it. Fortunately for me the other one I did, I did all my own and I won that one. So I was very happy about that.
Tania: The trial by fire is real.
Davina: It really is. It really is and you just get, you know, unfortunately, that’s the way, you know, as attorneys, that’s often how we experience it. It’s no wonder you have so many attorneys here like, I hate this, because, you know, it really is that ongoing training and support for our skill because what we do is challenging. It’s very challenging.
Like you said, if you own your own business on top of that, then you add that level of challenge on top of it. So it’s super important that attorneys continue to get education and support in all in keeping and developing your skills and in running your business, you know? Because you don’t just walk out of law school with all that.
Tania: You don’t walk out of law school with any of that.
Davina: Exactly. What little bit you learn in law school is, you know, you don’t learn anything about running a business in law school, but what little bit you learn in law school, you forget half of it anyway.
Tania: Because you had to replace it with what you needed in order to pass the bar. It’s like, you gotta keep putting information in and taking information out all through law school. And then when you get done, it’s just like, my mind is a sieve. I’m done. I can’t, I don’t know. And when I got to the state attorney’s office, I think, for the first three to six months, because my first three months as an intern, I was like, wait, what?
What do you mean I didn’t learn anything in law school? Like, I don’t understand. They’re like, Look, wait. And then when I was now out on my own doing this, I was like, Oh, my God, I didn’t, for the first six months I cursed Nova every day. I was just like, what did I pay for? What do you mean? I don’t understand. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to do this. I have no idea what she’s talking about. What do you mean you need a person for a motion to suppress. Like, I don’t just stay in here and talk about it? Like, that’s what they did in the cases.
Davina: I know, I know, I know. And, you know, you don’t even know what you don’t know. That’s the sad thing. You don’t know what you don’t know. You have an appellate advocacy program. And I want to talk about that because that again, introduces this other level that, alright, so you may go for years, maybe you’d have any trial practice. But how often do we get to do appeals and appellate work, you know what I mean? And oftentimes people will hire a different attorney or get referred to a different attorney if they want to appeal. And so I imagine that is a really good program for attorneys who’ve been practicing a while and maybe want to give their career, or, you know, advance their skills.
Tania: Right. So we’re, that is the one program we’re still building out and I’ve been looking at it from exactly that aspect, meaning, especially with what we’re dealing with right now, a lot of lawyers can’t afford to farm out their appeals anymore, you know? But a trial lawyer doing an appeal, it’s kind of like, you know that saying where they said, if you have yourself for a client, you’re, yeah, an attorney who has themself for a client, Yeah, something like that. So it’s kind of the same thing. A trial lawyer doing an appeal can, it can pose significant risks is how I’m going to put it. For a couple of reasons.
One, as the trial lawyer, you’re so invested in this thing. You might not be able to see the forest for the trees anymore. And you have to be able to pull back and look at it and say, okay, objectively, how do I argue to this three-judge panel if you’re in Florida, that what was done was wrong? Or how do I say what was done was right and defend my verdict, you know? And from a trial lawyer perspective, we are taught the theater of law. We’re taught the presentation of the story, how to deliver, you know, essentially a one-act play to a fact finder.
That’s not appeals. So I’ve been trying to build out how to help the trial lawyer pivot because that’s essentially what you have to do for an appeal if you’re going to do it yourself and you’re not going to farm it out to an appellate lawyer. I have been blessed to be both so that I have the experience as a trial lawyer and the experience as an appellate lawyer, which I got a real funny, or arguments during I tell you in a second. But everybody can’t do that. Everybody can’t make that shift to become an objective counsel where you have to write persuasively, but you absolutely have to deal with all sides of the argument.
You have to deal with your side, opposing counsel side, and whatever the heck the law clerks are going to tell the judge they need to ask you about. It’s not even just two sides that you’re managing anymore like you were at trial. So now you have to be able to look at all of that. So one of the things I want to build out is an oral argument workshop where people can come and actually practice because those 15 minutes can go by very quickly if you don’t have a plan. And when people start asking you questions, you’re like, which way is up? Ground, please open up. So my first oral argument, right, was in front of the second DCA, of all frickin DCAs.
And there, and it’s a, it’s the second time this case is going up on appeal. It’s a premise liability case where it’s man versus palm tree. Obviously, man in his ankles lost. Palm tree won. But it was not great. And they went up first on appeal on motion for summary judgment and lost, in that the summary judgment got reversed. That summary judgment should have stayed, but I digress. So now we go through to trial and lose. And now it’s up on appeal again, and we’re like, all right, we got all the facts out.
And when you look at all the facts, it’s still not gross negligence because that was what our issue was. So here I am, Davina, and I’m giving my first oral argument and I’m so excited. I got family there and, because my mother goes to everything and I love her to death. I do. She goes to everything. So she’s there, I’m in Tampa. I got friends watching online and all sorts of stuff and in my head I am trying to remember which word is not a word irrespective or irregardless.
Now, I know it’s irregardless, I know it is but the panic set in and I’m trying to sound all proper, I’m trying to sound all educated and listen, I’m pulling out everything that is an SAT word that I can find which is mistake number one, okay? And on the screen live and in color in front of the second DCA, I was like, irregardless, Your Honor. And after I said it, I was like Jesus. Did I just say that? Okay, well, you gotta ride with it now. It’s like, Okay, great. And yes, we lost, you know, because It’s one of those things that a lot of people don’t understand. In order to get a judgment reversed, takes a lot of work, especially a jury verdict.
So it’s understanding all of that. And I’m trying to build that out. I’m trying to build out an oral argument workshop. I’m trying to build out just the appellate process and how it works. And I think that I’m going to put online because that is more conducive to be in more lectures and hands-on, and trying to help people where they’re like, you know what, for the next six months to a year, or however long we need to manage this thing, I can’t afford to farm out my appeal. I need to keep this money in house.
Davina: Right. It’s huge, yeah. Tell us about so that people understand this is not just you, someplace doing this. You actually have a team as well to help you with these programs and teach. You’ve got a lot of different experience that you bring to bear. So tell us a little bit about your team.
The Skilled Advocacy Team
Tania: So my staff, believe it or not, didn’t I just tell you my mother goes to everything? My mom, she assists as on-site staff when I do the workshops. But the faculty, that’s all trial lawyers from that jurisdiction. So for each and every single workshop, I will reach out to lawyers in the community and try to get people who have been practicing for a significant amount of time to have a significant amount of trial experience, especially jury trial experience, that can serve as faculty, because the key thing is getting feedback you can use. I don’t use somebody who can’t teach you how to get there because that’s useless to you.
You know, you need somebody who can tell you why what you’re doing is wrong because they’ve been doing it for 10, 15, 20 plus years. Our faculty ranges, sometimes I have one friend of mine who assists when I’m in Miami. She is a senior judge and she is on the faculty at FIU Law. And she’s got more trial experience than anybody put, any of us at all on all sides of the bench. So I try to get experienced faculty. Believe it or not, I do run this as a solo in that I am the main person that does everything. Like I said, my mom does on-site help.
And I have director of operations which will assist me with, you know, getting the vendor locations, getting everything set up with our lunch vendors because we usually provide everything from soup to nuts, except when we’re in certain locations like the University of Miami because food is readily available, but I try to make sure they don’t have to worry about anything from the moment they walk in there. The only thing they have to do is take in the information and use it. That’s it.
Davina: Right. So When people are hiring this company to help them, I mean, they’re getting you because a lot of the, that’s one of the issues with a lot of programs and things that you sign up for now, particularly online, oh, I’m gonna get this person, they’re gonna teach me and, you know, that the brand or whatever. And then you get in, it’s like, No, they’re not. They’re the face of the brand, but they’re not the ones here their hands-on teaching you, get to work with you with all of your experience, skills when they go to your program.
That’s great. All right, so you and I talked a little bit briefly before we started because we’re talking, we’re recording this at, you know, while we’re all on lockdown, quarantine from this COVID-19 pandemic that is going on. And so naturally, everybody is having to start thinking about, you know, how do I continue my business, you know, when we can’t all meet together right now and meet in person.
And you were sharing with me that you actually last, the end of last year had already begun to start taking a lot of your programs and materials online and you’re continuing that effort, but you’ve already got some materials up. So we want to hear about that and talk about your programs so that people can maybe use some of this time to access and start to get a feel of what it’s like to work with you. And then we’re, we’re all released back out into the sun, they can try out one of your in-person, you know, programs maybe in the fall or something. So tell us about that.
Tania: So yes. So like we were talking about earlier, towards the end of last year, I started to at least think through the template of how do I put these programs online because one of the main things that I get every time I do a live workshop is at least one person calls me and says, will it be available online? And the answer was always No, because there’s a performance component to the workshop.
So I got the question so often that I said, Okay, all right, they would not get the full live experience where you’re going to get up and actually practice the skill. But how do I get the information online? And I sat down and came up with a plan. And, you know, between COVID-19 and Jesus it’s now starting to come through fruition because our objections course is going to go live on Teachable on Monday. And what we’re doing is you will have the PowerPoints forever, and you will have the information. You’ll get to see my wonderful smiling face welcoming you to the course.
But we’re going to put the objections course online, the hearsay course online, and it’s going to take me a little while but I’m going to get the Trial Advocacy Bootcamp online. And then what I’m going to do is probably add in a support mechanism so that you can either just do the course at your own speed, however it is you want to do it, or you can do the course and have weekly Q&As with me.
Because like you said, I am the product in a way, in that I am the person delivering the information and I always want people to feel like they’re not out here by themselves, that it’s not that I’ve totally evaporated and I’m just this faceless, nameless company, you know? I really do care about people and care about lawyers being better. So I’m thinking about adding in weekly Q&A component with the programs so that they can reach out to me.
And yeah, when we’re released back into the sun, I also do trial consulting where I can sit with people and help them. And actually, the strategy session, I can do virtually right now, because our strategy session is where you get four hours of my time, but you really get more than four hours of my time because you get two hours of my time with us talking through your case, and figuring out where it is that you want to go, what your theme and theory is going to be, how to get your evidence in, what’s not coming in, and you just need to let that go. What may be able to come in if you really grease it up real good, you know?
So we try to figure out how to get your case to your factfinder the way you want it done. But the other two hours I spend going through your documents, going through your evidence, and that’s why I say they always get more than four hours of my time because it takes me way more than two hours to get a full handle on the case.
But what happens is in the two hours that we talk, I have been able to short circuit months of work that this poor attorney has been doing, put it in a nutshell and hand them their trial in a nutshell. And now all they have to do is flesh out the questions. So that is available online, our trial consulting strategy session where I can help you work through your case. One that I had, I think within the first 10 minutes, I changed her entire strategy and she was looking at me like how the heck did you do that? Because I’ve been doing this forever, one and two, you said one key statement where I was like, um, they have no case. She said, Wait, what?
Tania:They have no case, so
Davina: I’m sure once people participate in your program, they have, you know, you have your, you have a good community that you’re building. I know you have a Facebook presence and provide a lot of good information there. And I’m sure once they go through your program, you know, you don’t just abandon them after that first, they go through your program and you’re like don’t call me again. A way for them to keep in touch with you and reach out to you and continue to support them.
Tania: I do. I do.
Davina: Good. Tell us about that.
Tania: What I was going to say is one of the things I actually implemented because of that, because I would. I would get these follow up emails and follow up calls like, okay, Tania, I know you taught me this, but how does this work? I know you taught me this, but how does this work? And what I ended up creating was actually a subscription program where for essentially one and a half billable hours per month, get unlimited emails where you can ask me all your evidentiary questions. It’s like having an evidence guru in your email inbox, you know? And that’s probably what I should call it, Evidence Guru In Your Email Inbox.
Davina: Write that down. Start calling your trademark attorney right now.
Tania: But yes, so, you know, for 450 a month, you can ask me as many questions as you want via email, and we’ll get it figured out, you know? Because they did need some follow up because they still had not dealt with the myriad of things that I’ve done. And it’s almost like walking Lexus or Westlaw because instead of having to dig through it and burn your time that way, you can send an email and say, Tania, how does this work? Oh, that’s how you do it. You carry the one, divide it by two and here you go.
Davina: You see, especially if you have a small firm, you don’t have attorneys there that you can bounce things off and talk about, you know, it’s great when you have somebody that you could have on your team, you know, as part of a brain trust, you know, and house those kinds of questions. Alright, so tell us how we can find out more, especially those people who want to go ahead and try to get started on using some of your services now virtually and so that they won’t shame themselves when they go in person. You know lawyers do that. We study up before we go, right? Tell us how we can get in touch to find out more about you.
Tania: So we’re all over the internet. Our website is skilledadvocacy.com. And Skilled Advocacy is also our handle for Facebook. I believe that’s also our handle for Twitter. They’re telling me I need to get on Instagram. It’s been slow because I’m like Jesus, if I have one more social media that I need to manage, I don’t know if I’m gonna make it, but I’m coming.
Davina: Yeah, don’t worry about Tik Tok right now.
Tania: God, no, I just I can’t even I can’t. My mom has Snapchat which we laugh about all the time because she has Snapchat but I still have to do everything for her online. But yes, we do. We have the Skilled Advocate, we have skilledadvocacy.com. And then we have Facebook slash Skilled Advocacy, which is where we post a lot of our free tips and videos are on Facebook. We’re going to have the Teachable School.
The Teachable School is Lawyer Like a Boss. That’s the teachable school for the Skilled Advocate Company. That’s where all our online courses are going to be hosted right now. And they can also of course, just pick up the phone because, you know, at this point, people are actually willing to pick up the phone instead of doing Zoom or something else because you feel like you’re doing something different.
Davina: According to my recent poll in my group of women law firm owners, yeah, a lot of them would rather talk on the phone than do video.
Tania: Exactly. So they can give me a call at 561-293-8510 and I’m reachable in all those, all that media. Also, my direct email address is T as in Tania Williams, at skilledadvocacy.com.
Davina: Wonderful, wonderful. Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing that. And thanks for everything you share with us today because I think this is a terrific resource. What you’re doing is very powerful. And I’m sure you’re really transforming and changing the lives of a lot of attorneys out there, trial attorneys. So thanks so much for that good work. And thanks for being here today.
Tania: Oh, thank you for having me. Our tagline, and really, my creed is I am trying to make lawyers better advocates one skill at a time. That’s all we’re trying to do.
Davina: Yeah, I love it. Thanks, Tania.
Tania: Thank you, Davina.