We asked Camille M. Abate, Adjunct Professor of Clinical Law at Brooklyn Law School and Founder and Master Trainer of The Foundation for Excellence in Trial Advocacy, what has inspired and motivated her throughout her career. This author spotlight gives a glimpse into her interests in law and what brought her to where she is today.
What or who motivated you to study law?
[CMA] I was an art major in college! I loved to draw and to sculp in both clay and stone. But while I was at NYU studying art in the 1970’s I also became very politically active. NYU was a hotbed of protests, marches, and taking over the school at that time. Hippie mothers pushed strollers through Washington Square Park. I developed a passion to save the world, or at least make a difference.
After college, while working at an advertising agency, I continued my political activities and also kept a journal. As I was writing in my journal one fine day in Washington Square Park, it suddenly dawned on me that the best way to save the world was to become a lawyer for the public interest. So that’s what I did! And it was the absolutely best decision I ever made.
Did you have a favorite professor in law school? If so, who was the person and what made them stand out?
[CMA] I had many great professors, but not one favorite.
What law school course did you enjoy the most?
[CMA] The criminal defense clinic was the life-altering experience for me in terms of what I wanted to do in the law. I had planned to be like Ralph Nader, and I thought I would hate criminal defense, because I never could stand the sight of blood! But instead, I found myself dealing with human beings who were desperately struggling, in trouble, and frightened. It was intensely personal for me. The power of what I could do to shield and protect accused individuals through the law overwhelmed me.
What are your primary areas of writing and teaching? What fascinates you about these areas of law?
[CMA] I write and teach about trial advocacy, advanced criminal practice, and litigation skills generally. In the courtroom, you see the human drama at play – you see human conflict, human pain, and you learn how to use the law to resolve the conflict. Your humanity and authenticity are as critical as your legal knowledge. Your ability to relate to judges and jurors, and to tell the story of your client’s dilemma or injury persuasively, will govern whether you make a positive difference in a case, whether civil or criminal. In the courtroom, passion and preparation go together!
Do (or did) you have a mentor, or someone that has inspired or encouraged you in your writing or teaching?
[CMA] My greatest mentors have been my very first supervisor at the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Division in Brooklyn – a tough Vietnam Vet who stuck with me in the trenches and taught me how to fight in court – and my husband, also a very brilliant lawyer and someone who has continually lauded and encouraged me to grow: first as a supervisor of practicing lawyers, then as a writer, and then as a teacher of law students.
What motivated you to write a textbook?
[CMA] When I first began teaching trial advocacy and a seminar on advanced criminal practice, I looked for a textbook on trial advocacy that was clear, practical, and written from the point of view that a student’s preparation and skill could make a difference in contested cases. I was disappointed – all of the books I reviewed were written by lawyers who practiced for only a very short period of time; not one author had practiced longer than ten years! I had 30+ years of practice and countless trials and hearings in my background, and so when asked to write a more modern, 21st century text, I jumped at the chance.
What has been the most influential or pivotal moment in your career?
[CMA] When I went out on my own after 11 years at the Legal Aid Society, I took on cases other than criminal, and in both federal and state jurisdictions. I discovered that the larger world of litigation was a world that I could not only master, but prevail in. I was one of the few female lead partners actively litigating cases to juries, and I grew in confidence and breadth of experience.
What changes in legal education excite you?
[CMA] I am thrilled that experiential education is now a requirement in law schools. I believe that getting into the field of practical law and legal experience, outside of just the theory of law, gives students an added dimension and understanding. I am excited to see the results of this great and positive change.
What advice do you have for today’s law students?
[CMA] Don’t be afraid in the courtroom. Stop thinking about yourself; it’s not about you. It’s about the person or entity you represent. The true professional knows that, and will do whatever it takes to get the job done for the client, irrespective of personal fear or insecurity. You can do it. You’re better than you know.
How do you hope to be remembered by your students or law school?
[CMA] Knowledgeable, passionate, devoted to the students’ growth as lawyers.
What are your interests outside of law?
[CMA] Fine art, particularly during the Renaissance and Impressionist periods, although I do like modern sculpture as well. I also enjoy opera and classical music – my husband is a semi-professional singer. We also love hiking and camping.
Camille M. Abate is the author of the new Wolters Kluwer coursebook, Advocacy Excellence: The Jury Trial.