Trial Skills Training
The Children's Commission's Trial Skills Training (TST) is a unique, realistic, and effective interactive training designed to improve the litigation skills of Texas child welfare law attorneys in order to raise the caliber of legal services to children and families in child protection cases across the state.
Each TST program has a competitive application process and is limited to 21 less-experienced attorneys. The participants are evenly divided into three groups, comprised of children’s attorneys, attorneys who represent DFPS, and parents’ attorneys. Acceptance criteria require, in part, that Texas attorneys who wish to participate complete an application and receive a recommendation from their primary or appointing judge as suitable for the three-day training event.
The next TST will be held in April 2022, and the opening of the application process will be announced on this webpage and through the Children’s Commission’s Resource Letters to Judges and Attorneys in Fall 2021. To sign up to receive announcements from the Children’s Commission about Trial Skills Training and about other upcoming attorney education and training events, please subscribe here.
The three-day Trial Skills Training (TST) is hosted by the Children’s Commission and is presented by a volunteer faculty comprised of highly respected judges and attorneys from across the state. The Training is directed by Judge Piper McCraw of the 469th Judicial District Court in Collin County, Texas.
TST offers approximately 17-20 MCLE hours, including ethics hours. Ten in-person TSTs and two virtual TSTs have been hosted by the Children's Commission since its inception in October 2013. The Fall 2021 virtual offering included 20 hours of MCLE and 1.25 ethics hours. The opening of the application period is shared with judges across Texas who hear child welfare cases and is also announced to attorneys who practice child welfare law.
This unique, realistic, and effective, TST program is based on a fictional CPS fact pattern with a complete mock case file covering all Texas-specific statutory hearings building up to final trial and breaks down the teaching of litigation skills by lecturing, demonstrating, strategizing, and practicing in all areas of trial for both in-person and virtual courtroom practice. This includes Voir Dire, Case Theme and Theory, Opening Statement, Direct Examination, Cross Examination, Foundations, Objections, Impeachment, Experts, and Closing Argument. Live witnesses are an integral part of the Direct and Cross Examination practice sessions and witnesses include CPS Case Workers, Pediatric Fellows and/or Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, and Parent Therapists.
The curriculum includes lectures and demonstrations from seasoned faculty, along with strategy sessions per attorney group, followed by practice litigation exercises (some of which are recorded so that attorneys can see and hear their courtroom demeanor), followed by critiques and coaching conducted by the TST faculty. Participants are expected to review their case file and may be assigned prerecorded lectures designed to complement the live training experience.
The TST is designed for the less-experienced child welfare practitioner. “Less experienced” generally means that prior to applying to the Trial Skills Training, applicants who represent children and parents have completed two to three contested Adversary Hearings and/or substantially participated in two to three final termination trials as first chair, and applicants who represent DFPS have completed at least three contested Adversary Hearings and/or substantially participated in three to five final termination trials as first chair. Attorneys who have substantially participated as first chair for eight or more final termination trials would be considered overqualified for this Training.
Preference will be given to those applicants who have the above level of experience and who devote a minimum of 25% of their law practice to CPS cases. Each participant must also have the support of their primary or appointing judge. The Children’s Commission will contact each applicant’s judge to inquire about the applicant’s suitability for the TST once the attorney has submitted a complete application.
At the conclusion of the in-person or virtual Training, trainees will have:
- participated in a mock voir dire of the fictional Texas CPS case (in-person TST only);
- heard 11-18 lectures on trial skills specific to Texas CPS cases;
- observed those skills successfully demonstrated by faculty;
- participated in six to seven strategy sessions with faculty on how to craft the theme and theory of their case and how to develop witness examination questions and argument;
- practiced their litigation skills six to seven times within their peer group (four of these practice sessions use live witnesses who play the role of lay or expert witnesses from the fact pattern);
- received critiques from faculty about participants’ skills during the small group practice sessions; and
- received three 1:1 coaching sessions at in-person TST offerings to discuss skills, style, and personal demeanor via review of recordings done during several small group practice sessions OR
- received generalized, anonymous feedback from faculty in up to two “Screen Actors’ Tips” plenaries discussing skills, style, and personal demeanor of participants observed during each of the small group practice sessions at the virtual TST offerings.
Our faculty roster includes:
- Judge Piper McCraw, Board Certified in Family Law and Child Welfare Law, 469thDistrict Court, Children’s Commission Training Committee Chair and Trial Skills Training Moderator
- Evan R. Clift, CWLS, Attorney for Parents and Children in Denton County
- Judge Gary Coley, 74thDistrict Court of McLennan County
- Judge Melissa DeGerolami, Child Protection Court of South Texas
- Anna Saldaña Ford, Chief Legal Counsel, SJRC Texas & Belong
- Rob Galvin, Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, Attorney for Parents and Children in Travis County
- Judge Charles Griffin, Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, Gulf Coast Children’s Court
- David Halpern, Assistant General Counsel of Texas A&M Systems
- Clint Harbour, Office of the Attorney General
- Tracy Harting, CWLS, Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, Attorney for Parents and Children in Williamson County
- Doug Lowe, former District Attorney, Anderson County
- Judge Cheryll Mabray, Child Protection Court of the Hill Country
- Jackie Sparks Martin, Assistant District Attorney, Dallas County
- Jack Sigman, former Attorney for Parents and Children in Travis County
- Diane Sumoski, Director of the SMU Dedman School of Law’s Child Advocacy Clinic
- Michele Surratt, Managing Attorney, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Region 9
- Mauro Valdez, Supervising Attorney, CPS Unit, Bexar County District Attorney’s Office
- Elizabeth Watkins, Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, Family Justice Division Director, Williamson County Attorney’s Office
- Mark Zuniga, Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, Managing Attorney, Office of Parental Representation in Travis County
Included in the program at no cost to the Trainee:
- All accepted applicants will receive approximately 17-20 hours of free MCLE (including ethics hours).
- In-person trainings include complimentary breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks during all three days of training. Participants who do not live in San Marcos, Texas will be eligible for reimbursement of hotel expenses in accordance with the reimbursement guidelines outlined below. The course requires out-of-town participants to spend three nights in a hotel.
Non-reimbursable expenses for TST Trainees participating in in-person TST offerings include round trip travel to San Marcos, and meals purchased outside the hours of the TST (such as dinner).
Information about specific reimbursement requirements is provided below.
The next Trial Skills Training will be a virtual offering held in Spring 2022. This training is limited to 21 participants. The participants are evenly divided into three groups of seven, comprised of children’s attorneys, attorneys who represent DFPS, and parents’ attorneys. Applications must be received by midnight on the deadline date indicated in the application.
Virtual Training occurs on the Zoom platform. Links to the training will be sent to accepted TST participants closer to the training date.
In-person Training location (please note, there are no in-person TSTs scheduled at this time):
1001 E. McCarty Lane
San Marcos, Texas 78666
The Spring 2022 Trial Skills Training application will be made available in Fall 2021. Please check back frequently for the application and submission deadline.
The Children’s Commission will initiate contact with each applicant’s primary appointing judge to confirm that the applicant is suitable for the training. Applications will not be considered until the Children’s Commission receives confirmation from the applicant’s primary or appointing judge that the applicant is a suitable candidate for the training and from the State Bar of Texas that the applicant is in good standing. Applicants can be assured that judicial responses to these inquiries are typically very prompt. Attorneys will be notified by the Children’s Commission no later than a few weeks following the close of the application period about their acceptance into the Trial Skills Training.
Due to the small number of participants selected for each training, early applications are strongly encouraged.
In addition to the practice/experience criteria listed above, applicants must be:
- Licensed to practice in Texas;
- In good standing with the State Bar of Texas;
- Currently accepting court appointments or representing the state on the CPS docket; and
- Supported by their primary or appointing judge to participate in the Trial Skills Training.
Applicants will be chosen based on the minimum criteria listed above as well as additional desired criteria provided in their application response, taking into account the equal representation of all three groups of attorneys and geographic diversity.
Applicants, please note: Trial Skills Training (both in-person and virtual) requires a commitment to three very full and interactive days and there will be very little time during the day to check email or work on your regular caseload. It is strongly recommended that participants refrain from calendaring hearings and meetings, when possible, or to find coverage related to their caseload for these three days. Past participants have found it helpful to set up “out of office” email notice for incoming emails and/or to provide vacation notifications during the TST. Please refrain from applying if this is not possible with your workload (or with your family life) at this time.
If you should have any questions about the above information, please email CCTraining@txcourts.gov.
This program is federally funded and is thereby governed by the reimbursement policies of the Children’s Commission and the Supreme Court of Texas. When applicable, all travel expenses will be paid in accordance with the following policies. Expenses eligible for reimbursement related to in-person TSTs are set out below. If you have any questions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Complimentary breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks are provided during all three days of in-person training. Participants who do not live in San Marcos, Texas will be eligible for reimbursement of hotel expenses in accordance with the reimbursement guidelines outlined below.
The in-person course requires out-of-town participants to spend three nights in a state-approved hotel in San Marcos. However, round-trip travel to San Marcos, and meals purchased outside of the hours of the training, such as dinner, will not be reimbursed.
The virtual course does not require travel or hotel accommodations, but it is strongly recommended that students participate from a location that has a reliable internet connection and minimal distractions. Participants cannot be reimbursed for any out-of-pocket travel, hotel, internet, or food expenses incurred at the election of the participant for the virtual course.
For in-person TSTs, please refer to www.gsa.gov for daily maximum lodging allowances. The single occupancy rate plus applicable taxes for your hotel room will be reimbursed for arrival on the night before the first day TST through the last day of TST. Additional room nights, guests, and incidental expenses are not reimbursable.
You should provide a detailed invoice from the hotel that includes your name (not a spouse or roommate), the room charges per night, and a zero balance that shows payment. The single occupancy rate plus applicable taxes for your hotel room will be reimbursed for arrival on Day One of TST, and departure on Day Three of TST.
All reimbursement claims must be submitted within 45 days of the event. The deadline for submitting reimbursement forms for this program will be set out here for in-person Trial Skills Trainings. Please allow 30 days from the date we receive your reimbursement request form for processing. Failure to complete this form properly may result in delayed reimbursement.