Law Students Arguing in the Fourth Circuit – My Experience in the Appellate & Supreme Court Clinic

sniderby Abby Snider, Class of 2016

Even though the Fall 2015 semester is just warming up, students in the W&M Appellate & Supreme Court Clinic are hard at work. The Appellate & Supreme Court Clinic provides an awesome opportunity for 3L students, as it enables them to represent clients in appellate cases. Clinic students choose cases, write motions and briefs, and even present oral arguments in Circuit Courts across the country. It is an amazing opportunity for any lawyer, let alone a third year law student, to be able to argue in front of a Circuit Court. The clinic, taught by Professor Tillman Breckenridge, focuses its attention on unique or controversial First and Fourth Amendment issues of law.

On September 16, 2015, my clinic partner, Amber Will, argued in front of the Fourth Circuit. The case she argued is about whether evidence of drugs found in our client’s car was lawfully obtained by police officers. In the weeks leading up to her argument, I helped Amber prepare her argument by talking through hypotheticals, attending moot arguments with professors who specialize in Fourth Amendment law, and making plans for us to travel to Richmond. All too quickly, it was the day of the argument.

Amber and I walked into the Fourth Circuit, nervously wandering the hallways searching for attorney check-in, where we had planned to meet Professor Breckenridge. It felt imposing (but so cool!) to be in the Circuit Court. When we checked in with the courtroom clerk, she wished Amber luck, saying “I hope you do better than the last law student who argued in my courtroom – he passed out at the podium!”

The argument scheduled before Amber’s was an immigration case, about whether an illegal immigrant should be granted asylum because he was targeted by Honduran police to be a drug runner. It was really neat to hear this argument and realize that I had a solid grasp of the issues in the case – my Immigration Law class was coming in handy. The argument raced by, and suddenly it was time for Professor Breckenridge to introduce Amber to the panel.

Amber absolutely killed her argument. She had articulate answers for every judge’s question, and they did not go easy on her. She outshone all the other lawyers that we heard argue, not only because of her solid, organized grasp of the law, but because she learned every detail of the record, down to the second the client’s traffic stop ended. Afterwards, in the Fourth Circuit, the judges come down to shake the lawyers’ hands. All the judges paused when greeting Amber, congratulated her, and emphatically told her what a great job she did. Immediately after the argument, it finally sunk in what an invaluable experience it was to get involved with appellate cases and to argue in Circuit Court. We went out for a celebratory lunch in Richmond, then drove back to Williamsburg – and straight back to classes.

Update December 15, 2015: On December 14, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a published opinion in U.S. v. Williams in favor of the appellant, represented by William & Mary Law School’s Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic. The opinion (open .pdf) was a unanimous decision, authored by Judge Robert B. King and joined by Judges Barbara Milano Keenan and Henry F. Floyd. Read the full story here.

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