The Courtroom as a Classroom: TPI's Innovative Curriculum

TPI emphasizes hands-on learning and skills training. The curriculum covers everything new lawyers need to succeed in trial practice, including:

  • The fundamentals of client retention
  • Analyzing legal and factual claims
  • Developing theories and themes of the case
  • Drafting relevant pleadings (complaints, answers, production requests; interrogatories, deposition notices, motions to compel, motions for summary disposition)
  • Arguing the case before sitting judges
  • Effective use of courtroom technology in the pretrial and trial stages, including TrialDirector training.
  • Jury selection (voir dire)
  • Professional decorum and ethics

TPI courses are taught by seasoned litigators who bring their real-world experiences into the classroom. Students actively participate in class, where actual litigation problems are used with accompanying texts on skills and examples.

The Geoffrey Fieger Trial Practice Institute curriculum was designed with a systematic learning objective. Students must take each class in sequence and as scheduled, and all TPI courses are required: Pretrial I (3 cr); Pretrial II (2 cr); Trial I (3 cr); Trial II (3 cr); Trial Practicum (1 cr); Advocacy as a Performing Art (1 cr); Expert & Scientific Evidence (2 cr); and Technology Enhanced Trial Advocacy (0 cr). Students are also required to take Criminal Procedure (3 cr). In addition, students should pursue practical litigation experience through the MSU Law Clinical Programs, an externship, or a summer internship.

TPI also hosts an annual lecture series, litigation training lunches, and networking opportunities with practicing attorneys, alumni, and judges.

Trial Practice Institute Program Course Requirements
First SemesterSecond Semester
  • Pretrial I (3 cr)
  • Pretrial II (2 cr)
  • Trial Presentation (2 cr)
Third SemesterFourth Semester
  • Trial I - Civil Trial (3 cr)
  • Trial II - Criminal Trial (3 cr)
  • Scientific Evidence & Legal Technology (3 cr)

Also required: Evidence - (3 cr/4 cr), and Criminal Procedure - (3 cr)

Pretrial I & II

In the first semester of TPI, Pretrial I (3 cr) outlines all initial attributes of trial practice. The course requires a complete work-up of an actual case, including interviews with parties and non-parties, discovery, depositions, and thorough preparation and argument for/against summary judgment.

The second semester course is Pretrial II (2 cr), which emphasizes oral skills through taking and defending comprehensive depositions. Students also participate in a facilitative mediation program to fully familiarize them with alternative dispute resolution practices. Finally, students develop opening and closing skills for the trials they will conduct in year 2 of TPI.

Trial I & II

In the second year of TPI, students take Civil Trial I (3 cr). They prepare or defend a civil case from the beginning of the dispute through trial before a civil jury. Sitting judges preside over the trial, which takes place either in the Law College courtroom or in local courtrooms.

The TPI experience concludes with Criminal Trial II (3 cr). Students work on the full case - from the alleged event through a complete jury trial. They undertake all aspects of criminal trial procedure, with experienced trial lawyers and judges providing support and feedback throughout. A preliminary examination hearing is conducted before appropriate court officials and is transcribed. Students conduct their trials based on the development case with the record they have created.

Expert & Scientific Evidence

In the second year of TPI, students complete a forensics course taught by a prosecutor, Expert & Scientific Evidence (2 cr). The class exposes students to the scientific techniques and the procedures used in the courtroom, including fingerprint and DNA technology, as well as other scientific procedures and the protocols required under Daubert/Kumho Tire.

Theatrical Skills - Advocacy as a Performing Art

First-year TPI students take a theatre class (1 cr) taught by theatre professors. Students explore persuasive communication skills and effective non-verbal communication. The class enphasizes gestures, voice modulation, positioning for greatest success before a jury, and general confidence in advocating.

Technology Enhanced Trial Advocacy

TPI students learn how to use evidence presentation technology with confidence and efficiency, saving litigants and the courts time and money. Technology Enhanced Trial Advocacy, a seven-week lab, provides full training on TrialDirector software, use of courtroom presentation software, and iPads in litigation. MSU Law's in-house courtroom technology platform is the template used by the Federal Courts in the Eastern and Western Districts of Michigan and by other Federal and State jurisdictions on an increasing basis as courtroom technology is implemented throughout the country.

Substantive Law Courses

As part of the certification process, students are also required take Criminal Procedure (3 cr).