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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 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 attorneys who wish to improve their contested hearing practice skills. 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 actively 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.

The Fall 2024 Trial Skills Training Contested Hearing Practices Pilot (TST Contested Hearings Pilot) will take place virtually on September 18, 2024, and in person on September 25-26, 2024, in Dallas, TX.

The application period for the Fall 2024 TST Contested Hearings Pilot is now closed. Applications must be received by midnight on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, to be considered.

For more information about the TST Contested Hearings Pilot, please see below.  

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 the TST Contested Hearings Pilot complete an application and are in good standing with their primary judge. In addition, attorney applicants must meet the following minimum criteria at the time of their application:

  • Attorneys must be licensed to practice in the State of Texas;
  • Attorneys must be in good standing with the State Bar of Texas;
  • Attorneys must currently represent DFPS or must be actively accepting appointments to represent parents and/or children on a child welfare docket;
  • Attorneys must commit to view up to four webcasts, all of which are eligible for Texas Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) credit, in preparation for the training and to complete pre-test and post-test surveys designed to assist the Children’s Commission in gauging the effectiveness of the Pilot and of the training materials assigned; and
  • Attorneys must commit to attending and actively participating in all three days of the TST Contested Hearings Pilot.

Applicants will be chosen based on the minimum criteria listed above as well as additional criteria provided in their application responses, taking into account the selection of an equal number of participants for all three groups of attorneys, skill set of the applicant pool, and geographic diversity.

Preference may be given to those applicants who meet the above criteria and meet one or more of the following additional criteria:

  • have been practicing child welfare law for less than 5 years; and/or
  • devote a minimum of 25% of their law practice to child welfare cases.

The Children’s Commission will contact each applicant’s primary judge to inquire about the applicant’s suitability for the TST Contested Hearings Pilot prior to inviting individuals to participate in the program.

For more information about the TST Contested Hearings Pilot, please review the information below.

The Fall 2024 TST Application is now closed.  

To receive notice about future Trial Skills Training offerings and other training opportunities, please sign up to receive Resource Letters from the Children’s Commission.

Trial Skills Training was designed to improve the litigation skills of Texas child welfare law attorneys in order to raise the caliber of legal representation to children and families in child welfare cases across the state. Since its inception in October 2013, fifteen TSTs with a focus on jury trial preparation have been hosted by the Children’s Commission and presented by a volunteer faculty comprised of highly experienced judges and attorneys from across the state. In September 2024, the Children's Commission will host the Trial Skills Contested Hearings Pilot. 

This training is moderated 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. 

The Contested Hearing Practices Pilot is based on a fictional child welfare fact pattern with a complete mock case file and provides training by lecturing, demonstrating, strategizing, and practicing litigation skills in a mock contested adversary hearing and a mock contested final bench trial. The use of live witnesses is an integral part of the program, and participating witnesses include DFPS Caseworkers, Pediatric Fellows and/or Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, and Parent Therapists. Participants are expected to review the case file, prepare an initial strategy, view assigned prerecorded lectures in advance of the course dates, and complete pre-test and post-test surveys designed to assist the Children’s Commission in gauging the effectiveness of the TST Contested Hearings Pilot and of the training materials assigned.

The Fall 2024 TST Contested Hearings Pilot will consist of one day of virtual instruction and two in person days of instruction focused on contested hearing practices. During the in-person portion of the TST Contested Hearings Pilot, participants will participate in mock hearings designed to provide hands-on practice of the litigation skills covered in the course. The course offers approximately 15-20 live MCLE hours, including ethics hours, and an opportunity for participants to claim up to 3 self-study MCLE hours. Additionally, participants may claim up to 4.25 hours of MCLE to view required webcasts in preparation for the training.

By the conclusion of the training, participants will complete the following activities:

  • view 4-5 assigned webinars related to child welfare courtroom practices;
  • attend 8-10 live lectures on contested hearing practice skills specific to Texas child welfare cases;
  • observe those skills successfully demonstrated by faculty;
  • participate in strategy sessions with faculty on 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 four 1:1 coaching sessions during the in-person TST days to discuss skills, style, and personal demeanor via review of video recordings taken during several small group practice sessions.

Trial Skills Training faculty includes: 

  • Hon. Piper McCraw, TBLS Board Certified in Family Law and in Child Welfare Law, Judge of the 469th District Court, Children’s Commission Jurist in Residence, Training Committee Chair, and Trial Skills Training Moderator 
  • Hon. Gary Coley, Judge of the 74th District Court of McLennan County
  • Hon. Robert Falkenberg, Associate Judge of Child Protection Court of South Texas
  • Hon. Charles Griffin, TBLS Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, Associate Judge of the Gulf Coast Children’s Court 
  • Hon. Michelle Moore, Judge of the 314th District Court of Harris County
  • Hon. Elizabeth Watkins, TBLS Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, Associate Judge of the 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
  • 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 Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, Attorney for Parents and Children in Brazos County
  • Doug Lowe, former District Attorney, Anderson County
  • William “Drake” Mikeska, TBLS Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, Managing Attorney, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Region 8
  • Kellie Price, TBLS Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Special Projects Attorney
  • Tiffany Reedy, Managing Counsel, Child Protective Services and Disability & Elderly Law Divisions, Harris County Attorney’s Office
  • Belinda Roberts, TBLS Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, former Attorney for Parents and Children in Central Texas
  • 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
  • Laura Valdes, Assistant District Attorney, CPS Unit, Bexar County District Attorney’s Office
  • Mauro Valdez, Supervising Attorney, CPS Unit, Bexar County District Attorney’s Office
  • Mark Zuniga, TBLS Board Certified in Child Welfare Law, Staff Attorney, Texas Justice Court Training Center

This interactive, intensive, three-day TST Contested Hearings Pilot is specific to Texas child welfare cases for attorneys representing DFPS, parents, and children and includes a one-day virtual curriculum and a two-day in-person curriculum. 

Accepted participants will be sent training materials and a link to the TST Contested Hearings Pilot landing page approximately three-to-four weeks prior to the training. Participants are expected to review all case materials, prepare initial case strategy, and view assigned prerecorded lectures prior to the training in preparation for discussion on the live training dates. Additionally, participants will be assigned pre-tests and post-test surveys designed to assist the Children’s Commission in gauging the effectiveness of the Pilot and of the training materials assigned.

The virtual portion of Trial Skills Training occurs on the Zoom platform. Links for the Zoom training will be sent to accepted TST Pilot participants closer to the training date.

The in-person portion of the Fall 2024 Trial Skills Training will occur in Dallas, Texas. Hotel information will be shared with invitees.

Included in the program at no cost to the participant:

  • All participants will receive approximately 15-20 hours of free MCLE (including ethics hours). In addition, participants will be assigned to watch up to 4.25 hours of free MCLE in preparation for the TST Contested Hearings Pilot, which will be built upon during the live training, and 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.

Upfront costs to the participant that may be eligible for reimbursement include:  

  • Hotel expenses for participants who do not live in the city where the event hotel is located will be eligible for reimbursement in accordance with the reimbursement guidelines outlined below.
  • Travel expenses related to attending the in-person portion of the Trial Skills Training Contested Hearings Pilot are reimbursable subject to the reimbursement guidelines outlined below.

Note: This training requires out-of-town participants to spend up to three nights at the event hotel.

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 commission.accounting@txcourts.gov.  

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 event hotel is located will be eligible for reimbursement of hotel expenses in accordance with the lodging reimbursement guidelines outlined below. Additional travel expenses will be eligible for reimbursement in accordance with the travel reimbursement guidelines outlined below.  

The virtual portion of the TST Contested Hearings Pilot 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 Contested Hearings Pilot.

Lodging:

For the in-person portion of the TST Contested Hearings Pilot, invited participants will be provided a link and the deadline to secure their lodging at a rate negotiated and secured by the Children’s Commission at the event 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.

 Participants who miss the hotel reservation deadline should 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.

Travel:

Reimbursement of expenses incurred by participants during travel to and from the in-person portion of the TST will be reimbursed up to $500, and must conform to the travel guidelines set out by the Commission. Those seeking reimbursement are advised to review the travel guidelines prior to making any travel arrangements in order to ensure that travel expenses can be considered.  

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.