University of Denver

The Skills New Lawyers Need to Be Successful

Former Senior Director

Ann Roan, State Training Director for the Colorado Public Defender's Office, advocates for more practical skills education within law school classrooms in order to ease the transition into the high stakes environment of the courtroom. Roan suggests recalibrating the instructional emphasis between doctrine and practice in a way that allows students to actually apply what they learn about evidence, jury selection, and procedural processes. Underscoring the importance of balancing doctrinal and experiential learning, Roan believes “You have to know the rules of the game before you can excel in the skills of the game.” She suggests that by engaging in practical skills learning in the classroom, students will build a "muscle memory" needed by the time they graduate, are hired, and reach the courtroom. Law schools that emphasize experiential education can provide their students with foundational skills that will help them translate between what they learned in school and what they need to practice: the ability to apply the rules and make informed, strategic decisions to benefit their clients.

In her Voices from the Field interview, Roan also discusses the training methods employed by the Colorado Public Defender's Office that mirror many of her suggestions for ways to improve legal education. Starting with a two day workshop entitled “Core Trial Skills” newly hired employees attend lectures in the morning and participate in trial practice in the afternoon. Following the workshop, new employees must bring one of their current cases to a six day "Boot Camp” that consists of strategizing, analyzing, and skills practice in a low pressure environment.

Roan stresses students must enter the profession informed, practicing at a high skill level, and with an understanding of the historical burden they carry to ensure the effective practice of law for their clients. Hear more of Ann Roans' suggestions for improving legal education in her full video interview below.

Ann Roan has been the State Training Director for the Colorado State Public Defender since 2004 and has been a public defender since 1990. She develops curriculum, oversees training, and teaches more than 700 lawyers, investigators, and administrative professionals. Before her appointment to that position, she spent 10 years as a deputy public defender in trial offices throughout the state, and six years practicing in the Public Defender's appellate division.