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 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. 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. 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. Attorneys who have substantially participated as first chair for twelve or more final termination trials would be considered overqualified for this Training. Substantial participation includes 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). Additionally, attorneys who have not completed the minimum number of contested Adversary Hearings set out above do not qualify for this training.
The application for the Fall 2022 session is now closed. The next TST will be held in Fall 2023. For more information about the TST program, please review the information below.
To receive notice about Trial Skills Training and other training opportunities, please sign up to receive Resource Letters from the Children’s Commission.
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. Judge McCraw also serves as Children’s Commission Jurist in Residence and Training Committee Chair.
TST offers approximately 17-20 live MCLE hours, including ethics hours, and an opportunity for participants to claim up to 3 self-study MCLE hours. Fourteen TSTs have been hosted by the Children's Commission since its inception in October 2013. The Fall 2022 TST, which consisted of a virtual Pretrial and two in-person Trial days, included 17.75 live MCLE hours and 1.5 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. The opening of each application period is shared with judges across Texas who hear child welfare cases and is announced to attorneys who practice child welfare law through the Commission’s Resource Letters.
This unique, realistic, and effective TST program 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 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 in advance and may be assigned to view prerecorded lectures in advance 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 twelve or more final termination trials would be considered overqualified for this Training. Substantial participation includes 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). Additionally, attorneys who have not completed the minimum number of contested Adversary Hearings set out above do not qualify for this training.
Trial Skills Training is designed 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. 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. 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.
By the conclusion of the in-person or virtual training, trainees 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 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.
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 Melissa DeGerolami, Child Protection Court of South Texas
- Judge Charles Griffin, TBLS Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, Gulf Coast Children’s Court
- Judge Cheryll Mabray, Child Protection Court of the Hill Country
- 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
- Evan R. Clift, CWLS, Attorney for Parents and Children in Denton County
- Anna Saldaña Ford, 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, Attorney for Parents and Children in Travis County
- Jackie Sparks Martin, Assistant District Attorney, Dallas County
- Jack Sigman, former Attorney for Parents and Children in Central Texas
- 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
- Mark Zuniga, TBLS 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 the city where the hotel is located 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 the hotel hosting the Trial Skills Training, 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 held in Fall 2023. 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.
This interactive, three-day virtual 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 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 will occur in Central Texas (Austin, Texas or surrounding areas). Hotel information for the Fall 2023 TST will be posted soon.
The application is now closed. The deadline to complete and submit the Fall 2023 Application will be announced soon. Please check back frequently for updates.
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 whether they are accepted 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 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.
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) at this time.
Please contact CCTraining@txcourts.gov with any questions about the Trial Skills Training program.
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 days of in-person training. 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.
The in-person course requires out-of-town participants to spend up to three nights in a state-approved hotel. However, round-trip travel to the hotel and meals purchased outside of the hours of the training, such as dinner, will not be reimbursed.
The virtual 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 TST 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. For additional information related to the Children’s Commission’s reimbursement policies, please review the Commission’s Travel Reimbursement Guidelines.
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 the first day of the in-person TST, and departure on the final day of the in-person 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.