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 to raise the caliber of legal representation to children and families in child welfare cases across the state.
Each TST program has a rigorous 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. Trial Skills Training is intended to assist attorneys who currently represent the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) or who are currently accepting appointments on a child welfare docket and meet the criteria set out below. Attorneys currently seeking appointment to a child welfare docket list or who are not actively accepting appointments are not eligible for this training.
To receive notice about Trial Skills Training and other training opportunities, please sign up to receive Resource Letters from the Children’s Commission.
Acceptance criteria require, in part, that Texas attorneys who wish to participate in TST complete an application and receive a recommendation from their primary or appointing judge. In addition, attorney applicants must meet the following minimum criteria at the time of their application:
- Attorneys representing parents and/or children must have substantially participated in at least two contested Adversary (262) Hearings.
- Attorneys representing DFPS must have substantially participated in at least three contested Adversary (262) Hearings.
Attorneys who have not completed the minimum number of contested Adversary Hearings set out above do not qualify for this training.
Please also note that attorneys representing parents and/or children as first chair or co-chair in more than twelve contested final bench trials and/or more than two jury trials would be considered overqualified for this training. Attorneys representing DFPS who have substantially participated as first chair or co-chair in more than fifteen contested final termination bench trials and/or more than two jury trials would be considered overqualified for this training. Also, attorneys who have served as second chair on more than four contested final jury trials would be considered overqualified for this training.
Substantial participation includes, but is not limited to, preparing for the contested hearing, presenting an opening statement (if applicable), conducting direct and cross examination of witnesses (other than to obtain locating information or identity information for your client), making and responding to objections, and/or making a closing argument (if applicable). Serving as a co-chair includes dividing trial duties roughly equally and/or substantially participating in the activities outlined above.
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 DFPS on the child welfare 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.
Preference may be given to those applicants who have the above level of experience and who devote a minimum of 25% of their law practice to child welfare cases. The Children’s Commission will contact each applicant’s judge to inquire about the applicant’s suitability for the TST once the application period has closed.
For more information about the TST program, please review the information below.
The Fall 2023 TST Application is now open. To receive notice about Trial Skills Training and other training opportunities, please sign up to receive Resource Letters from the Children’s Commission.
Upon the close of the application period, the Children’s Commission will initiate contact with each applicant’s primary or 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. Applicants will be notified by the Children’s Commission no later than a few weeks following the close of the application period about whether they are accepted into the Trial Skills Training.
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 personal obligations).
Please contact CCTraining@txcourts.gov with any questions about the Trial Skills Training program.
The three-day Trial Skills Training is hosted by the Children’s Commission and is presented by a volunteer faculty comprised of highly experienced 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. Judge McCraw also serves as a Children’s Commission Jurist in Residence and Training Committee Chair. Fourteen TSTs have been hosted by the Children's Commission since its inception in October 2013.
TST is based on a fictional child welfare 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. The use of live witnesses is an integral part of the program, and participating witnesses include DFPS CPS Caseworkers, Pediatric Fellows and/or Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, and Parent Therapists. Participants are expected to review the case file, prepare initial trial strategy, and may be assigned prerecorded lectures to view in advance of the course dates.
The course offers approximately 17-20 live MCLE hours, including ethics hours, and an opportunity for participants to claim up to 3 self-study MCLE hours. The Fall 2022 TST, which consisted of a virtual Pretrial and two in-person Trial days, included 17.75 live MCLE hours, with 1.50 MCLE ethics hours. Participants were provided an additional 3.0 MCLE self-study hours through pre-recorded lectures assigned in preparation for the live training.
By the conclusion of the in-person or virtual training, participants will complete the following activities:
- participate in a mock voir dire of the fictional Texas CPS case (in-person TST only);
- hear 11-18 lectures on trial skills specific to Texas CPS cases;
- observe those skills successfully demonstrated by faculty;
- participate 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;
- practice 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);
- receive critiques from faculty about participants’ skills during the small group practice sessions; and
- receive 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
- receive general feedback from faculty in up to two plenaries discussing skills, style, and personal demeanor of participants observed during each of the small group practice sessions at the virtual TST offerings.
Trial Skills Training faculty includes:
- Judge Piper McCraw, TBLS Board Certified in Family Law and in Child Welfare Law, 469th District Court, Children’s Commission Jurist in Residence, Training Committee Chair, and Trial Skills Training Moderator
- Judge Gary Coley, 74th District Court of McLennan County
- Judge Charles Griffin, TBLS Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, Gulf Coast Children’s Court
- Judge Michelle Moore, 314th District Court of Harris County
- Judge Elizabeth Watkins, TBLS Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, Child Protection Court of the Concho Valley
- Anna Saldaña Ford, TBLS Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, Chief Legal Counsel, SJRC Texas & Belong
- Rob Galvin, TBLS Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, Attorney for Parents and Children in Central Texas
- David Halpern, Assistant General Counsel of Texas A&M Systems
- Clint Harbour, Assistant Attorney General, Texas Office of the Attorney General
- Tracy Harting, CWLS, TBLS Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, Attorney for Parents and Children in Williamson County
- Amanda Lockhart, TBLS Certified in Child Welfare Law, Attorney for Parents and Children in Brazos County
- Doug Lowe, former District Attorney, Anderson County
- Kellie Price, TBLS Certified in Child Welfare Law, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Special Projects Attorney
- Belinda Roberts, TBLS Certified in Child Welfare Law, Assistant Attorney General, Texas Office of the Attorney General
- Jackie Sparks Martin, Assistant District Attorney, Dallas County
- Jack Sigman, former Attorney for Parents and Children in Central Texas
- Diane Sumoski, TBLS Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, 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
- Mark Zuniga, TBLS Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, Attorney for Parents and Children in Travis County
The next Trial Skills Training will be held in Fall 2023. Applications must be received by midnight on the deadline date indicated in the application.
This interactive, intensive, three-day Trial Skills Training (TST) specific to Texas child welfare cases for DFPS, parents’ attorneys, and children’s attorneys will include a virtual “Pretrial” curriculum and a two day in-person “Trial” curriculum. Participants are expected to review all case material and may be assigned prerecorded lectures prior to the training in preparation for discussion on the live training dates.
Virtual Trial Skills Training will take place on September 13, 2003 on the Zoom platform. Links to the training will be sent to accepted TST participants closer to the training date.
In-person Trial Skills Training will occur in Central Texas (Austin, Texas or surrounding areas) from September 20-21, 2023. Hotel information for the Fall 2023 TST will be posted soon.
Included in the program at no cost to the Participant:
- All participants will receive approximately 17-20 hours of free MCLE (including ethics hours). In addition, participants will have the opportunity to claim up to an additional 3 hours of self-study MCLE.
- In-person training days include complimentary breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks. Participants who do not live in the city where the hotel is located will be eligible for reimbursement of hotel expenses in accordance with the reimbursement guidelines outlined below. This training requires out-of-town participants to spend up to three nights in a hotel.
Non-reimbursable expenses for TST Participants include round trip travel to the hotel hosting the in-person portion of Trial Skills Training and meals purchased outside the hours of the TST (such as dinner).
Information about specific reimbursement requirements is provided below.
This program is federally funded and is 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 email@example.com.
The in-person portion of this course requires out-of-town participants to spend up to three nights in a state-approved hotel. Participants who do not live in the city where the hotel is located will be eligible for reimbursement of hotel expenses in accordance with the reimbursement guidelines outlined below. However, round-trip travel expenses to the hotel, additional travel expenses to and from the hotel incurred during the in-person training, and meals will not be reimbursed.
The virtual portion of the TST 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 portion of the TST course.
For the in-person portion of TST, invited participants will be provided a link and deadline to secure their lodging at a rate negotiated and secured by the Children’s Commission at the host hotel. Participants are required to reserve their room prior to the reservation deadline for the secured room block. Failure to reserve a room by the indicated deadline may result in a higher room rate, and any amounts paid above the negotiated room rate for lodging will not be reimbursed.
If you miss the hotel reservation deadline, please refer to www.gsa.gov for daily maximum lodging allowances. The rate listed for the training location will be the maximum allowed for reimbursement. The participant will not be reimbursed for any amount that exceeds the listed maximum lodging rate plus applicable taxes.
Participants should provide a detailed invoice from the hotel that includes the participant's 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 up to three nights during the training dates.
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 once the application period has opened. 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.