Jayson WolfgangApril 2024 — Long before he became head of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s Harrisburg office and co-chair of its Insurance & Reinsurance Practice Group, Jayson Wolfgang ’91 was a student in the Advocacy I class taught by Penn State Dickinson Law Professor of Law Gary Gildin, the Hon. G. Thomas and Anne G. Miller Chair in Advocacy. The course prepares students for trials in the courtroom through simulated trial experience.

“I felt when I was doing those advocacy exercises in law school that this is what I was made to do, and I enjoyed it from that standpoint,” said Wolfgang. A few years later, after he had joined Buchanan, a partner at the firm was teaching as an adjunct for the class, and he asked Wolfgang to fill in. The younger attorney appreciated the opportunity, but, he joked, “I do not think I anticipated I would be doing it for another 25 years.”

Yet he did. Gildin asked Wolfgang to continue as an adjunct, and he stayed on for more than two decades. Earlier this month, he concluded his final teaching day, having decided the time was right to step away.

“I enjoy it. It is not that I do not want to do it. But I think the other nice thing about the adjunct faculty is that it has turned over,” said Wolfgang. “When I started teaching, the people I had as adjunct faculty while in law school were still doing it. Then they moved on to other things, and other people have come in. The variety of perspectives is a key to the success of this program. I think it is a good opportunity for someone else to have the chance to learn to do this and pass on a new perspective to the students.”

Gildin appreciates the commitment of Wolfgang and others like him who have strengthened the course. “This class would not be what it is without people like Jayson and the others willing to share their time and knowledge,” said Gildin. In addition to Wolfgang, this semester’s adjunct faculty includes Lori J. Ulrich ’89, Dean Piermattei, Hon. Christylee Peck ’01, John R. Ninosky ’96, Mary L. Klatt, John W. Frommer ’84, David Fitzsimons ’84, James Clancy ’88, Francis T. Chardo, and Brigid Q. Alford ’83.

Adjusting the course as time goes on

Wolfgang liked contributing to the evolution of the Dickinson Law Advocacy program, which earned the American College of Trial Lawyers Emil Gumpert Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Trial Advocacy recognizing public or private programs designed to maintain and improve the administration of justice. It is comprised of two courses: Advocacy, I taught by Gildin, and Advocacy II, taught by Dickinson Law Professor of Law and Harvey A. Feldman Distinguished Faculty Scholar Dermot Groome.

“Each student presents, each student gets feedback,” said Gildin.

He adjusts the course each year based on input from students and the adjuncts. “What a gift to me to be able to receive my own education from these people, both as I hear their feedback through the class and as they write me the things they see from the students. I get a free education from a brilliant set of lawyers and judges each year,” said Gildin.

One change has been modernizing students’ experiences to match what they will see in a real courtroom. Wolfgang and his firm assisted the law school with software and licensing procurement. He notes that the presentation of evidence has evolved because it can be done digitally now.

“You are able to put things up on large monitors and really blow them up, swing in, and highlight them. You can do all kinds of things — consistent with testimony and the Rules of Evidence, of course,” said Wolfgang. “I think technology is one of the more significant changes to impact trial advocacy in the courtroom and, therefore, in the classroom.”

The evolution of the Advocacy I and II courses

Gildin has taught Advocacy I for 45 years. It has ranged from six to 12 small group sections per week over that time, and Gildin sees outside assistance as a key part of the class’s success. “Bringing in practicing lawyers and practicing judges helps teach the science part of advocacy and offers a vast array of views of the tactical, or art, side,” said Gildin. He intentionally pairs different adjuncts with different classes each week, so students hear a variety of viewpoints.

Each student receives feedback from Gildin and the adjuncts. “That just could not be what it is without people like Jayson and all of the lawyers and judges who assist us,” said Gildin. He said he often receives emails from former students noting that they felt prepared for something that happened in their real-world practice because they experienced it in Advocacy I.

Groome teaches Advocacy II, the advanced section, which culminates in a mock-jury civil trial. As with Advocacy I, the course has been structured and changed over the years based on student feedback. Students meet their “client” during the first week of class, appear before real judges for pretrial motions, file documents beginning the litigation, and conduct depositions.

“The students in my class are pretty sure they want to work in a courtroom. They want to be a prosecutor or defense counsel,” said Groome, who enlists alumni to serve as coaches for the students.

The end-of-semester trial takes place in the courtroom at Dickinson Law, and everything is videotaped. “We have volunteers who serve as jurors, and they go and deliberate and come up with a verdict. Their deliberations are all recorded, so the students have the obligation to watch what people thought of them in their opening and all of that. It is painful, but most students can say that they really felt comfortable when they had a real trial,” said Groome.

Wolfgang is pleased to have been part of a program that grows along with students. “What I always tell them is, I hope you will take a pinch of what I say and a dash of what someone else says and develop your own recipe for how this works for you,” said Wolfgang. “Be self-critical enough to acknowledge that your way might not be the best way and be open to the possibility that other perspectives may have value. I find that translates to the daily practice of law because our clients get the best value — although they do not always realize it, and we do not always realize it — when what we are doing for them is the product of a deliberative process.

“By passing through a variety of adjunct faculty members and Gary, they get a smorgasbord of perspective that you just could not get under other situations. The experience is invaluable for any student considering trial work as a career path.”