The Children's Commission's Trial Skills Training (TST) is a unique and effective hands-on training designed to improve the litigation skills of child welfare law attorneys in order to raise the caliber of legal services to children and families in child protection cases across the state.

Each TST program has a competitive application process and is limited to 21 attorneys who are less-experienced, divided evenly by client base: state, parent, and child attorneys. Acceptance criteria require in part that Texas attorneys who wish to partake in the curriculum complete an application and be recommended by their presiding or appointing judge as suitable for the three-day, intense, hands-on training in practical litigation skills.

Trial Skills Training is offered once a year. Eight TSTs have been hosted by the Children's Commission since its inception in October 2013. The opening of the application period is shared with judges across Texas who hear CPS cases via the Jurist in Residence letter and also announced in the Attorney Resource Letter. The TST program is based on a fictional CPS fact pattern, with a complete case file covering all Texas-specific statutory hearings building up to final trial. The curriculum includes lectures and demonstrations from trained faculty comprised of senior attorneys and judges, along with litigation exercises in the CPS context which are followed by personal critiques and coaching.

The Training offers approximately 18.50 MCLE hours, including ethics hours. The Children’s Justice Act covers the cost of participants who represent the state in CPS proceedings.

The next TST will be held in late July, 2018. The Children's Commission has announced details for the training via communiques to judges and attorneys. To sign up to receive general announcements, including information for TST, please subscribe here.

Note: The application for the July 2018 Trial Skills Training is now closed. 

The Children’s Commission is pleased to announce the availability of a hands-on Trial Skills Training (TST) specific to Texas child welfare cases for state, parent, and children’s attorneys in July 2018. The three-day Training is hosted by the Children’s Commission and is presented by a volunteer faculty comprised of highly respected judges and attorneys from across the state. The Training is directed by Michael Massengale, First Court of Appeals, Houston, Texas, and Judge Piper MCCraw of the 469th Judicial District Court in Collin County, Texas.

Unique, realistic, and effective, the Training is based on a fictional CPS case and breaks down the teaching of litigation skills by lecturing, demonstrating, strategizing, and practicing in all areas of trial. This includes Voir Dire, Case Theme and Theory, Opening Statement, Direct Examination, Cross Examination, Foundations, Objections, Impeachment, Experts, and Closing Argument. Live witnesses are an integral part of the Direct and Cross Examination practice sessions and they include CPS Case Workers, Pediatric Fellows, and a Therapist.

The TST is designed for the less-experienced child welfare practitioner. Less experienced generally means that prior to applying to the Trial Skills Training, applicants who represent children and parents will have completed two to three contested Adversary Hearings and/or two to three final termination trials as first chair, and applicants who represent DFPS will have completed at least three contested Adversary Hearings and/or three to five  final termination trials as first chair. Attorneys who have acted as first or second chair for eight or more final termination trials would be considered to be overqualified for this Training. Preference will be given to those applicants who have the above level of experience and who devote a minimum of 25% of their law practice to CPS cases. Each participant must also have the support of his or her primary or appointing judge. The Children’s Commission will contact each applicant’s judge to inquire about the applicant’s suitability for the TST once the attorney has submitted a complete application.

At the conclusion of the Training, trainees will have:

  • participated in a mock voir dire of the fictional CPS case;
  • heard 14 lectures on trial skills specific to CPS cases;
  • observed those skills successfully demonstrated by faculty;
  • participated in seven strategy sessions with faculty on how to craft the theme and theory of their case and how to develop witness examination questions and argument;
  • practiced their litigation skills seven times within their peer group (four of these practice sessions use live witnesses who play the role of lay or expert witnesses from the fact pattern);
  • received critiques from faculty about participants’ skills during the small group practice sessions; and
  • received several 1:1 coaching sessions to discuss skills, style, and personal demeanor via review of videotaping done during several small group practice sessions.

Our faculty roster includes:

  • Judge Piper McCraw, 469th District Court, Training Committee Chair
  • Justice Michael Massengale, Court of Appeals, First District of Texas, Moderator
  • Evan R. Clift, Clift And Associates, PC
  • Judge Gary Coley, 74th District Court of McLennan County
  • Judge Melissa DeGerolami, Child Protection Court of South Texas
  • Anna Ford, Director of Regional Litigation, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
  • Rob Galvin, Attorney for Parents and Children in Travis County
  • Charles Griffin, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
  • David Halpern, Assistant General Counsel of Texas A&M Systems
  • Clint Harbour, Office of the Attorney General
  • Tracy Harting, CWLS, Attorney for Parents and Children in Williamson County
  • Doug Lowe, Former Anderson County District Attorney
  • Manny Rodriguez, Attorney for Parents in Bexar County
  • Judge Michael Schneider, 315th Juvenile Court of Harris County
  • Jack Sigman, Attorney for Parents and Children in Travis County
  • Jackie Sparks Martin, Assistant District Attorney, Dallas County
  • Diane Sumoski, Director of the SMU Dedman School of Law’s Child Advocacy Clinic
  • Michele Surratt, Special Litigation Attorney, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Lubbock
  • Elizabeth Watkins, Regional Attorney, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Tyler
  • Trevor Woodruff, Deputy Commissioner of Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
  • LaRu Woody, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, St. Edward’s University, Austin
Included in the program at no cost to the Trainee:

All accepted applicants will receive approximately 18 hours of free MCLE (including 1.5 hours of ethics) as well as complimentary breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks during all three days of training. Participants who do not live in San Marcos, Texas will be eligible for reimbursement of hotel expenses in accordance with the reimbursement guidelines outlined below. The course requires out-of-town participants to spend three nights in a hotel in San Marcos.

Non-reimbursable expenses for TST Trainees:

Round trip travel to San Marcos, and meals purchased outside the hours of the TST, such as dinner, will not be reimbursed.

Information about specific reimbursement requirements are provided below.

The next Trial Skills Training will be held July 25-27, 2018. Space is limited to 21 participants. The participants are evenly divided into three groups of seven, comprised of children’s attorneys; attorneys who represent DFPS; and parents’ attorneys. Applications must be received by midnight on Thursday, April 5, 2018.

Training Location:

Embassy Suites
1001 E. McCarty Lane
San Marcos, Texas 78666

To apply for the July 25-27, 2018 Trial Skills Training, please complete the application found at the following: 

The application deadline is midnight on Thursday, April 5, 2018 midnight on Wednesday, April 11th. The Children’s Commission will initiate contact with each applicant’s appointing judge to confirm that the applicant is suitable for the training. Applications are not considered complete until the Children’s Commission receives confirmation from the applicant’s primary or appointing judge that the applicant is a suitable candidate for the training and from the State Bar of Texas that the applicant is in good standing. Applicants can be assured that judicial responses to these inquiries are typically very prompt.  Attorneys will be notified no later than Tuesday, May 1, 2018 about their acceptance into the July 2018 Trial Skills Training.

Due to the small number of participants which the training can accommodate, early applications are strongly encouraged.

In addition to the practice/experience criteria listed above, applicants must be:

  • Licensed to practice in Texas;
  • In good standing with the State Bar of Texas;
  • Currently accepting court appointments or representing the state on the CPS docket; and
  • Supported by their presiding or appointing judge to participate in the Trial Skills Training.

Applicants will be chosen based on the minimum criteria listed above as well as additional desired criteria provided in their application response, taking into account the equal representation of all three groups of attorneys, and geographic diversity.

Applicants, please note:  Trial Skills Training requires a commitment to three very full days and there will very little time during the day to check email or work on your regular caseload. Please refrain from applying if this is not possible with your workload (or with your family life) at this time.

If you should have any questions about the above information, please email

This program is federally funded and is thereby governed by the reimbursement policies of the Children’s Commission and the Supreme Court of Texas. All travel expenses will be paid in accordance with the following policies. Expenses eligible for reimbursement are set out below. If you have any questions, please contact Patrick Passmore at (512) 463-4924 or

Complimentary breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks are provided during all three days of training. Participants who do not live in San Marcos, Texas will be eligible for reimbursement of hotel expenses in accordance with the reimbursement guidelines outlined below.

The course requires out-of-town participants to spend three nights in a state-approved hotel in San Marcos. However, round-trip travel to San Marcos, and meals purchased outside of the hours of the training, such as dinner, will not be reimbursed.


Please refer to for daily maximum lodging allowances. The single occupancy rate plus applicable taxes for your hotel room will be reimbursed for arrival on the night before the first day of a conference or meeting through the last day of conference or meeting. Additional room nights, guests and incidental expenses are not reimbursable.

You should provide a detailed invoice from the hotel that includes your name (not a spouse or roommate), the room charges per night, and a zero balance that shows payment. The single occupancy rate of $91 plus applicable taxes for your hotel room will be reimbursed for arrival on Tuesday, July 24, 2018, and departure on Friday, July 27, 2018.

All reimbursement claims must be submitted within 45 days of the event. The deadline for submitting reimbursement forms for this program is Monday, November 26th, 2018. Please allow 30 days from the date we receive your form for processing. Failure to complete this form properly may result in delayed reimbursement.