Our show begins with Karen discussing the breaking news of the verdict in the Chauvin murder trial (we taped the show the morning after the jury reached its guilty verdict). Karen discusses the cognitive dissonance she feels as a criminal defense attorney, believing that the jury reached a correct and just verdict but describing the awkward tension being a defense attorney but rooting for the prosecution. Karen discusses her views on what the defense attorney did well and where she believes mistakes were made. She talks about the decision not to put Chauvin on the witness stand.
After discussing the Chauvin trial, Karen goes on to describe her background and pathway to becoming a successful criminal defense trial lawyer. She joined the New York Legal Aid Society directly out of law school. Karen married a fellow trial lawyer, who she describes as her mentor and the best courtroom lawyer she has ever seen. Karen talks about how she initially tried to model herself on her husband’s courtroom style, but later became a better lawyer when she was able to find her own voice.
After trying cases for a number of years, Karen was invited to attend the National Criminal Defense College, which, at the time, was located in Macon, Georgia. Karen describes how the curriculum in Macon was eye opening for her and taught her a new vocabulary and approach to trying cases. When Karen returned to the Bronx she established a trial skills program based in part on what she had learned in Macon.
In her trial skills program, Karen began to develop innovative approaches to both trying cases herself and teaching trial skills. She brought in improv actors to help lawyers improve their ability to improvise and think quickly on their feet, which is particularly important during cross examination. She brought in storytellers to teach lawyers to become better at constructing and weaving compelling narratives. She even trained with a voice coach to improve how she used her voice in the courtroom.
More recently, Karen became the Dean of the National Criminal Defense College, which has now moved its headquarters to Karen’s home state of Rhode Island. Karen also works as the Legal Training Director of the Criminal Practice at the Committee for Public Counsel Services in Massachusetts, where she trains lawyers in trying cases.