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Practice makes perfect

Steven Nelson sets aside real-life litigation for one day every year for a mock trial that attracts hundreds of attorneys from around the state.

The attorney with von Briesen & Roper SC selects a real case, collects the transcripts and evidence and then hands the information to seven plaintiff and seven defense lawyers. Each attorney manages a different aspect of the lawsuit and presents the consolidated case before an audience of their peers.

It’s an opportunity for those in the legal community to step back from the day-to-day and learn from their colleagues.

“The lawyers like the fact that they can watch quality lawyers doing great examinations of expert witnesses,” Nelson said.

For 22 years, Nelson has been the driving force behind the annual Institute of Trial Practice, which is put on by the American Board of Trial Advocates-Wisconsin Chapter and sponsored by the State Bar of Wisconsin.

Mark Young, the chapter’s past president, said the institute is “one of the premiere seminars dealing with the civil jury trial.”

“We are very proud of the program,” said Young, of Habush Habush & Rottier SC, “and all of that has to do with Steve’s extraordinary efforts and his organizing, planning and strategizing.”

ABOTA is made up of plaintiff and trial lawyers whose goal is to preserve the integrity of the jury system, Nelson said.

As one of the early members of the Wisconsin Chapter, he suggested hosting the one-day trial, using a real judge and jury.

Nelson’s own practice reflects the two groups of people who make up the organization. He focuses on construction litigation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, personal injury work and some commercial litigation.

Although he leans more toward defense work, he does find himself on the other side of the aisle.

He found a way to bring both sides together with the annual trial. The result has been nearly two dozen programs showcasing the skills of Wisconsin’s top trial lawyers.

As part of the program, attorneys can talk to the jurors and the judge about what was effective, what was not effective and what they thought overall.

“It’s incredibly helpful to trial lawyers,” Nelson said, “particularly young lawyers who don’t get as many chances to try cases the way we used to.”


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