Top Ten Lessons Learned in the Appellate Clinic

by Claire Wheeler JD ’15 and Danny Yates JD ’15 

Danny Yates is a 3L from Richmond, VA. He attended William & Mary for undergrad, and next year Danny will be clerking for Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons on the Supreme Court of Virginia.  Afterward, he will working at a large law firm in Richmond.

Claire Wheeler is from Silver Spring, Maryland. She earned her B.A. from Harvard College. In addition to being a member of the Appellate & Supreme Court Clinic, Claire is a member of the Public Service Fund Board, the Alternative Dispute Resolution competitive team, Environmental Law & Policy Review, and has served on both the Executive Board and as Chair of Undergraduate Recruitment for the Black Law Student Association. Claire will begin working as an Associate at Venable LLP in Washington, DC in the fall of 2015.  

wheeler yatesWe first heard about the William & Mary Appellate Clinic last year when a friend from the 3L class said that she would be arguing before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  Oral argument before a three-judge panel of federal appellate judges is an experience that only a small handful of litigators enjoy, and is an even rarer occurrence for law students.  After observing intense oral arguments before a panel of Fourth Circuit judges in William & Mary’s McGlothlin Courtroom, we found the opportunities the Clinic provides to be even more enticing (and slightly terrifying).  A few months later, we were impressed upon discovering that the Fourth Circuit panel unanimously agreed with our friend–and the Clinic had won its appeal!

The Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic is one of nine clinical programs offered at William & Mary Law School.  These clinics allow law students, under the supervision of practicing attorneys, to represent real clients in legal disputes involving everything from veterans’ benefits to coastal policy to domestic violence.  Specifically, the Appellate Clinic provides pro bono representation in federal courts of appeals and before the Supreme Court.  Our cases typically address constitutional questions and our clients have ranged from convicted felons to small business owners.

The past two and a half years at W&M Law have been a constant cycle of reading cases, analyzing statutes, and discussing policy issues.  However, the Appellate Clinic has revealed to us what it really means to be a good lawyer.  As members of the Clinic, we’ve had the opportunity to learn the basics of appellate advocacy as well as the intricacies involved in representing clients on appeal.  From teamwork, to brief writing, to mooting for oral argument, we could not imagine better preparation as we move closer to trading in our backpacks for briefcases.

Below are the top ten lessons learned in the Appellate Clinic:

10. When drafting a brief, headings are extremely important.

Although it may be hard to believe, judges, just like law students, sometime resort to skimming a brief.

9. Put two spaces after every period.

We must admit that we are not sure whether there should be one or two spaces following a period at the end of a sentence; however, under the guidance and instruction of our professor, Tillman J. Breckenridge, an expert appellate lawyer at the international law firm of Reed Smith LLP, the answer is always put two spaces.

8. Do not use the phrase “begs the question” unless the point you are making actually raises a question.

This may be just another “pet-peeve” of our professor, but his underlying message is to write in a clear and concise manner.  Lawyers have a tendency to be verbose, and Professor Breckenridge is conscientiously making us more persuasive writers.

7. The statement of facts is the most critical section of any appellate brief.

It’s human nature to want to know who should win right off the bat, and it’s easier to win hearts if you’ve already won judges’ minds.

6. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, but somehow brief writing is never complete without formatting issues and computer glitches.

We have encountered our fair share of “technical difficulties” over the past few months as we worked to draft briefs, respond to motions, and compile appendices.  Often we found that formatting can be the most time-consuming aspect of the brief-writing process.  Nothing is more frustrating than spending hours working away on filing just to have your word processor freeze up and cause you to lose everything!  Both of our computers have crashed at various points in the past few months–making us true believers in the saying that you should always “back up your back up.”

5. It is “darn near impossible to win a case at oral argument, but it is easy to lose one.”

In class, we regularly listen to and critique oral arguments with the goal of improving our own oral advocacy skills.  Professor Breckenridge taught us that oral argument is not something to just “get through.”  Rather, use your few minutes at the podium to “move the ball forward.”  Oral argument requires extensive preparation.  You must know the record cold, and you must try to anticipate every question the judges might ask.  At the end of the day, appellate advocates often describe three arguments: the argument you plan to make, the argument you actually made, and the argument you wished you made.  However, the most important thing to remember is to answer questions clearly, honestly, and with a thought as to how our case fits into the overarching law.

4. Sometimes your client can make your job a lot tougher.

Sometimes clients can be demanding or have unrealistic expectations.  We’ve learned that it helps to put yourself in their shoes, and to strive to communicate clearly.

3. Cooperation and teamwork are best for your client and your sanity.

Although our workload for the Clinic can be intense, we are fortunate to be paired with terrific partners.  Unlike most other law school classes where group work is virtually nonexistent, the Clinic relies on a team-oriented structure.  We are eight third-year students, paired into four sets of partners.  We comb through federal dockets for cases presenting constitutional issues or civil rights violations, and then decide as a group which ones to take on.  Casework is divided among the partner groups, and all brief writing is a two-person effort.  Teamwork is an integral part of our daily work in the Clinic, and it demands flexibility in accommodating different stylistic preferences, organizational methods, and personalities.

2. Credibility is your most important tool as a lawyer.

You spend years building it, but it can be lost very easily.  In just a few short months, Professor Breckenridge has taught us many nuances of appellate advocacy–from brief writing techniques to oral argument advice to general practice tips through his weekly “musings on professionalism.”  However, the advice always comes back to the importance of credibility and character.

1. If you don’t enjoy the work you’re doing, you’ll burn out quickly.

At times, our participation in the Clinic has required us to burn the midnight oil and make some sacrifices.  We spent part of Thanksgiving Break compiling a brief on the merits of a client’s First Amendment challenge to alcohol advertising regulations.  Additionally, on the first day of Christmas break, the two of us drafted an emergency motion in a federal criminal case involving an illegal search and seizure.


Nonetheless, these experiences have sharpened our time management skills.  As Professor Breckenridge constantly reminds us, “once you graduate and start practicing, you will never again have as much free time as you did in law school.”  As we head into the new year, and our final semester of law school, we are thrilled to continue with the Clinic.  We look forward to putting into practice many of the skills we have learned over the past six months as we zealously represent future clients.

This blog post is part of a series featuring student experiences in William & Mary Law School’s nine clinics. To view more clinic posts, click here.

Phi Alpha Delta is Back!

greenby Kelly Green, Class of 2017

America’s oldest law fraternity, Phi Alpha Delta, has been revived at William & Mary Law School. Phi Alpha Delta (or PAD) provides a mix of fraternal camaraderie and professional benefits. Since the fall, over forty students have joined the George-Wythe Chapter, with membership continuing to increase as word spreads throughout the School.

Part of this growth can be attributed to the national prestige and major networking benefits associated with PAD, but a significant portion is due to successful programming. PAD kicked off its comeback last semester with a bonfire on a chilly Friday night, featuring hot cocoa and s’mores, and continued with a bowling night and a Super-Bowl watch party.

However, Phi Alpha Delta is undoubtedly more than a social organization. This semester, PAD is focusing on academics and alumni relations. Numerous law supplements have been collected in an effort to establish a bookshelf in the library to assist members with their studies. There are also several review sessions planned for first-year students looking to solidify their understanding of second-semester classes.

By far the most interesting event this semester is initiation at the United States Supreme Court on March 4, 2015. A group of future PAD members will be travelling with the rest of the membership to get initiated in Washington, DC. Members will also go on a private tour of the Capitol and meet several well-connected PAD alumni. The initiation should also feature at a Supreme Court Justice.

All in all, Phi Alpha Delta coming back is an excellent thing for students at William and Mary Law School. It features a uniquely diverse blend of programming and resources that will prove beneficial for students now and in the future.

 pad 2

Learn more about our Student Bloggers here.

1L Interviewing, Part 1: The Alumni Mock Interview Program

brownby Cathy Brown, Class of  2017

Have you ever felt nervous before an interview?  One of my college friends was always petrified of the interview process, afraid of embarrassing herself or being unable to think of an appropriate answer to a tricky question on the spot.  Consequently, I’ve been involved with quite a few mock interviews over the past few years, posing as the interviewer the night before her meeting to help her practice and allay her fears.

This semester, however, I had the opportunity to practice honing my own interviewing skills when the Legal Practice Program partnered with the law school’s Office of Career Services (OCS) for the Alumni Mock Interview Program.  This program began with representatives from OCS giving a presentation on interviewing techniques in every 1L’s Legal Practice class.  In class the following week, we watched some demonstration videos illustrating examples of successful interviews and those that missed the mark.  After watching the clips, we had the opportunity to critique them as a class.  We also split into pairs and practiced interviewing with a classmate so we could practice fielding difficult questions in a friendly atmosphere.

Finally, the program culminated on January 30th, when each member of the 1L class was assigned to have a mock interview with a William & Mary Law School alum.  To make the experience as rewarding as possible, the Office of Career Services assigned students to an interviewer from a field that matches our potential legal interests.  For example, I’m tentatively interested in practicing family and elder law at a small firm, and my alumni interviewer – who started his own small firm – specialized in juvenile dependency.  To make conditions as realistic as possible, students were asked to dress professionally and conduct some preliminary research on the interviewer’s work.

Admittedly, I was a little nervous before going into my interview; however, my interviewer was extremely friendly and clearly excited to be back at his alma mater, helping to train the next generation of lawyers.  After a nice twenty-five minute conversation and a few minutes of helpful feedback, he sent me on my way, feeling more confident in my ability to be professional and express myself in the interview setting.

This mock interview program couldn’t have come at a better time, since my classmates and I are beginning to be called in to interview for summer internship positions.  Next week, for example, I head to Richmond for an interview at the Government & Public Interest Interview Program (expect an update on that in my next blog post!).  Although I’m sure I’ll still have butterflies in my stomach before the interview, at least I can go into the program knowing that William & Mary has given me a unique opportunity to develop interviewing skills, and has given me the tools I need to succeed.

Learn more about our Student Bloggers here.

Experience with the Domestic Violence Clinic

askrenby Jill Askren, Class of 2015

Jill Askren is originally from Vero Beach, Florida. She earned her B.A. from the University of Central Florida, double majoring in Political Science and Economics. As a 3L, she serves as a Lead Articles Editor for the William and Mary Law Review and as the Scholarly Series Coordinator for the Institute of Bill of Rights Law: Student Division. 

I had the opportunity to participate in the Domestic Violence Clinic during my 3L fall semester. This was a great experience as the clinic gave me a chance to work with actual clients, not just the hypothetical clients used in law school courses. The clinic’s focus was on advocating for protective orders for individuals through the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia. We started the semester by learning more about domestic violence and how it is such a widespread problem. A representative from a local domestic violence center then came and talked to us about the best ways to interact with clients and how to understand their situations.  We also practiced conducting client interviews and cross-examinations so that we would be prepared when we received our cases.

The matter to which I was assigned involved cyberstalking. I met with the client and with my clinic advisor to discuss the issues and come up with questions along with opening and closing statements. When I got to court, I was a little nervous because I had never before presented a case to a judge. But once I got started, it got easier, and the client received the protective order. The other students in the clinic worked on cases involving a range of domestic violence issues, and we were given the opportunity to share our experiences at the end of the semester and learn about each other’s work.

I am grateful that William and Mary offers students the chance to participate in clinics. In my past internships and externships, I had not been so involved in a case from start to finish. Plus, with my Third-Year Practice Certificate, I was able to question witnesses and give statements in court. But beyond the practical experience, clinics allow students to examine societal issues and work to help those in our local community.  These are all valuable skills for when we start practicing law. My only regret is that I will not be able to see how the clinic grows next year now that it has received a grant from the Department of Justice to expand its reach.

This blog post is part of a series featuring student experiences in William & Mary Law School’s nine clinics. To view more clinic posts, click here.

Halfway There!

lizradby Liz Rademacher, Class of 2016

On January 15, William & Mary Law celebrated a tradition that I’ve been looking forward to celebrating ever since my 1L year: the Halfway Through BBQ. Every year, the Law School throws a barbecue complete with all the fixings for 2L students who have just finished the first half of law school. After making it through our first three semesters here, my classmates and I felt like there was plenty to celebrate!

Over pulled pork sandwiches and generous helpings of baked beans and freshly-made applesauce, second-year students enjoyed catching up with each other. We chatted about what the second half of law school held in store and took some time to reflect on how far we’d all come since that first day of class a year and a half ago.

While people roasted marshmallows over a fire to make s’mores in the crisp winter air outside on the patio, I was struck by just how quickly my time in Williamsburg has passed. In my short time here, I’ve taken thirteen classes, worked as a summer intern in Washington, DC, become a Law Review staff member, done an externship in Richmond, and so much more. My classmates have won moot court tournaments or started their own organizations; they’ve worked as student attorneys at clinics and performed their own independent academic research. I’ve seen many of my classmates get engaged or get married—a few have even had their first children! And through all these milestones and changes, the entire Law School community has been a constant source of support and strength.

So much has happened since law school began, and I’m excited to see what new adventures and opportunities the second half of this journey will bring my classmates and me. Cheers, Class of 2016, we’re halfway through!

Learn more about our Student Bloggers here.

Love and the Law: Not Mutually Exclusive

graham bryantby Graham Bryant, Class of 2016

Every Valentine’s Day, we here at Get Wythe It! like to highlight couples from the Law School who met, became engaged, or were married during their time at William & Mary. Some examples can be found here, here, and here. This past year, we learned that just over one quarter of all William & Mary alumni across the university’s various campuses are married to one another. I’m nothing short of thrilled to say that I will soon count myself among that number.

I’m a 2L, and last semester I proposed to my longtime girlfriend Mary Seward, a first-year biology master’s student in the School of Arts and Sciences on the main campus. Mary and I have known each other for years, but we began dating the summer before I began my undergraduate career at William & Mary.

Because Mary did her undergrad just down the road at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, we spent many of our courting days on the William & Mary campus and walking the byways of Colonial Williamsburg.

View More: opted to stay at William & Mary for law school, and Mary joined me at the College by pursuing her biology graduate work here as well. In addition to our dates across the historic campus and surroundings in Williamsburg, we’ve spent a number of fond evenings together in the law library getting our respective projects done.

I proposed to her this fall at the Cascades waterfall in the western part of Virginia, but when the time came for our engagement photoshoot, I could think of no better surroundings than Williamsburg, my backyard for five years now.

View More: campus and Colonial Williamsburg were particularly appropriate for us, not only because of their sentimental meaning for Mary and myself, but also because the wedding ceremony itself is set for August 2016 in the historic Wren Chapel in William & Mary’s Sir Christopher Wren Building. Mary and I all but bleed green and gold, so we can’t imagine a better venue.

I’m now halfway through my time at William & Mary Law School, but I couldn’t be more excited about what lies ahead: three semesters, the bar exam, my wedding, and then we’ll see what life has in store. None of this would’ve been possible without William & Mary, where Mary and I have both met our closest friends, deepened our relationship, and gained the educations needed for a successful future life together.

Learn more about our Student Bloggers here.

Appellate & Supreme Court Clinic Experience

by Brian Focarino, Class of 2015

Brian Focarino is originally from Fairfax Station, Virginia. He earned his B.A. from William & Mary with majors in government and linguistics, and his M.Sc. in linguistics from the University of Edinburgh. Brian is a member of the W&M Appellate & Supreme Court Clinic and serves as Executive Editor of the Law School’s Business Law Review.

brianfocarinophotoAs a third year, I have the good fortune of being selected to participate, alongside seven other 3Ls, in William & Mary’s yearlong Appellate & Supreme Court Clinic.  Long-time appellate advocate Tillman Breckenridge, who serves as Counsel and leader of Reed Smith LLP’s appellate practice in Washington, D.C. and Virginia, directs the Clinic.  Our Clinic, one of nine on offer at the Law School, introduces eight students to appellate practice in the federal Courts of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court.  Throughout the course of the fall and spring semesters, the class is broken into teams of two, working to identify cases suitable for the clinic and preparing briefs, petitions, and other filings in cases involving the First and Fourth Amendments with the help of attorneys from Reed Smith.  For our cases currently pending in the federal courts of appeals, teams are also given the exceptional opportunity to present oral argument when the court allows for it.  The Clinic meets once per week, with each meeting divided into two parts: instruction time and case time.

During the first half of our meeting, we receive instruction on appellate practice.  We discuss the strengths and shortcomings of briefs, petitions and issues that have arisen in the Clinic’s cases.  We also listen to and critique oral arguments, writing and rhetorical techniques.  During this time we benefit from getting to learn first-hand from Tillman and several other Reed Smith attorneys, asking questions and debating the merits of particular strategies in sample cases as well the Clinic’s own.  Being able to interact closely with such an active and skilled member of the appellate bar allows each of us to learn much more than we would otherwise be able to from a casebook.  Likewise, students are given the opportunity to take the writing and advocacy lessons from Clinic instruction and put them to immediate use in our own briefs.  The second half of the Clinic involves discussing the merits and procedural posture of federal district court cases from across the country that are potentially appealable.  We also discuss developments in the cases we have decided to watch or pursue, including progress made on briefs on the merits, amicus briefs, petitions for rehearing or certiorari, appendices, and other filings.

This semester I have had the opportunity to work on cases at both federal courts of appeals and Supreme Court level.  Together with my partner Chris Kaltsas ‘15, I have fully outlined arguments on appeal in a case involving a male police officer’s unlawful seizure of nude photos located on a woman’s cell phone while she was being briefly detained in a police station.  I have also had the exceptional learning experience of preparing and filing my first petition for a writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court.  That case involved Clinic representation of a plaintiff seeking to proceed in forma pauperis who had requested that the required financial information filed in support of his petition be sealed and reviewed in private by the court. The plaintiff’s request was denied by the federal court of appeals, and we requested that the Supreme Court hear the case.  Our petition argued that forced disclosure of historically private, sensitive financial information subverts the very purpose of providing indigent services, forces indigent plaintiffs to jettison their privacy interest in financial information in order to access the courts, and has divided the federal courts of appeals.  We further argued that the public and press have no unqualified First Amendment right to access informational filings that serve a purely ministerial, rather than judicial function.  The ability to work alongside Reed Smith attorneys, as well as the plaintiff himself, to develop and refine our arguments throughout the semester provided one of the single best learning experiences I have had in law school.  The chance to start a petition from scratch at the beginning of the semester, and then seeing your petition on the Supreme Court’s website by the end of the term, is exhilarating.

I very much look forward to the interesting cases and issues the Clinic will handle during my final semester, and feel lucky for the opportunity to gain such hands-on experience and interact with such skilled practitioners before I enter the profession myself.

Here are Brian’s other posts: Law Firm in Silicone ValleyHalfway Through BBQThanks, and Meet a Member of the Class of 2015!

This blog post is part of a series featuring student experiences in William & Mary Law School’s nine clinics. To view more clinic posts, click here.

Externship with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

hubbardby Matt Hubbard, Class of 2016

I am originally from Richmond, Virginia, and I attended the University of North Carolina at Wilmington where I received a degree in Political Science. After graduating I was a staffer for a U.S. Senate campaign in Virginia and also a Director with YMCA Camps Sea Gull and Seafarer. I currently serve as an Assistant Symposium Editor for the William and Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review and am a member of the National Trial Team. 

This past fall semester I had the privilege of accepting a legal externship with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). I had looked forward to the externship program since coming to law school, eager for the opportunity to earn class credit while also receiving real life work experience. I hope to practice within the field of environmental law, and a semester with CBF presented an excellent opportunity to both gain experience in this area of law while also serving the important mission of a non-profit advocacy organization that has been working hard to protect the bay and its watershed for over 40 years.

My externship got off to an unique start when I arrived for my first day to find the office looking like a disaster zone after new carpeting had just been installed. It turned out to be the best possible way to begin the semester though, as there is no better way get to know people than moving heavy furniture together!  My supervisor, Peggy Sanner, is the Assistant Director and Senior Attorney for the Virginia section of CBF. She started me off with some standard legal research surrounding the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, or total maximum daily load, which is a set of pollution regulations developed by the EPA for all the bay states. As the semester continued my research and analysis projects became more diverse, and I was assigned more complicated tasks that were both more interesting and more challenging. My work wasn’t restricted to legal research, however, and some of my favorite days included meetings with members of the Virginia General Assembly, meetings at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to advise the drafting of regulations, and attending a speech about the bay given by Attorney General Mark Herring.

Eel Caught in a River Pot

Eel Caught in a River Pot

The highlight of my externship came when we invited several members of the Virginia Association of Counties to come aboard one of CBF’s educational vessels for a  tour of part of the lower James River. As a group we observed oyster beds, caught several varieties of fish, and examined crabs and eels collected from CBF river pots. A true appreciation for the value of the bay and its watershed can only be achieved by experiencing it, and it was powerful to watch the participants gain this understanding.

My externship has been one of the best parts of my law school experience so far, and I encourage everyone to find an opportunity that aligns with their interests and take advantage of this unique learning experience.

Before and after pictures of planted grass to serve as a runoff buffer on the lower James River

Before and after pictures of planted grass to serve as a runoff buffer on the lower James River

Elder Law Clinic: Serving a need and learning the law

graham bryantby Graham Bryant, Class of 2016

The law clinics at William & Mary Law School aim to give students opportunities to learn the nuances of certain areas of law through practical experiences in the field. This past semester, I had the chance to work with one of the Law School’s newer clinics: the Elder Law Clinic.

Elder law is a broad field that encompasses the issues affecting America’s growing population of older people. I was initially attracted to the clinic because I’m interested in trusts and estates (T&E) law, particularly estate litigation, but I soon realized that elder law is so much more than T&E. In the clinic, just like an elder law practice, we handled everything from guardianship and conservatorship proceedings to simple estate planning, from elder abuse situations to veterans’ benefits applications and Medicaid planning.

elder law

As you can imagine, elder law is rarely limited to a detached legal analysis. The “counselor” part of “attorney and counselor at law” plays a large role with elder clients, as they frequently bring issues and needs that the law alone is insufficient to meet. In this sense, elder law is much like family law. The attorney’s—or in our case, student attorney’s—judgment is as important as her background in the law itself because you never know what will walk in the door.

For instance, one of the cases I handled last semester involved a property law and potential fraud issue, neither of which were covered in the lecture part of the course designed to prepare us for the common elder law issues. Despite a lack of training, I was able to pull deeds from the courthouse, draft a new deed, and counsel my client in the best options for her property even though none of these tasks are considered usual elder law concerns. Under the tutelage of our excellent supervising attorney, Helena Mock, however, I and the other clinic students were able to handle almost any issues presented by clients in need.

That’s not to say it’s always an easy job. You can read a more complete account on our blog, but another of my clients last semester demonstrated why elder law attorneys need to understand the full context of their clients. On the surface, it seemed to be a simple estate planning case—drafting a will, power of attorney, and advance medical directive. But my client was completely bedridden, only spoke Spanish, and was currently under hospice care. My clinic partner and I read between the lines to infer that her family had contacted the clinic because both time and the family’s options were running out. We placed this client above our other responsibilities, including making night visits to the client’s home and the clinic office, and completed the estate planning documents in record time. One week later, our client passed away. Had the documents not been executed in time, the family would have been in a very difficult situation.

That case really illustrates why I wouldn’t trade my time with the Elder Law Clinic for anything. I learned more about what it means to be a lawyer working with my ELC clients than I have in ordinary lecture classes. If you want to expand your knowledge of a certain area of law while helping actual clients, one of William & Mary Law School’s clinics is far and away the best option for you. 

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This blog post is part of a series featuring student experiences in William & Mary Law School’s nine clinics. To view more clinic posts, click here.

Learn more about our Student Bloggers here.

Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Program

satiraby John Satira, Class of 2017

Individuals engaging in the study of law could certainly be described as a curiosity-driven and knowledge-seeking bunch. The William & Mary Law School community supports the intellectual curiosities of its students, faculty, and staff by hosting a wide variety of speakers to discuss various topics related to law. In fact, one of my many New Year resolutions for 2015 has been to attend more of the school’s speaker events. Thankfully, I was able to make strides toward accomplishing my resolution early, as educational speaker opportunities began as soon as winter break ended.

One especially interesting event I attended was a program to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. For those that need a quick history refresher, the Magna Carta was a charter signed by England’s unpopular King John in 1215 that asserted certain rights the monarchy could not remove from its subjects. The legacy of the Magna Carta has had a profound impact on “rule of law” legal theory, including an influence on the legal framework of early United States law.

After an introduction by Dean Douglas, three very distinguished speakers took turns discussing the Magna Carta from a variety of perspectives. The first was William & Mary’s own Professor Tom McSweeney. As one of the nation’s leading experts on the Magna Carta, Professor McSweeney spoke about how the Magna Carta’s impact was not limited to the 1215 document. In fact, McSweeney argued that the lesser-known later amendments to the Magna Carta defined the charter’s legacy more profoundly than the terms of the original document. Following Professor McSweeney, Professor A.E. Dick Howard of the University of Virginia Law School discussed the impact that the Magna Carta had on American constitutional theory, a topic that was particularly relevant to my constitutional law class this semester. Lastly, Sir Robert Worcester, chair of the United Kingdom’s Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Commemoration Committee, spoke about his own legal experience abroad and how the Magna Carta has maintained a global influence.

I thoroughly enjoyed attending the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary program, and I know I was not the only one. Many of my fellow students attended as well, and I was able to recognize a variety of professors and librarians also in attendance. It was great to see such an enlightening event get so much attention from the law school community, and I am very much looking forward to the next presentation I attend.

Learn more about our Student Bloggers here.

PELE Special Education Advocacy Clinic

ostdiekby Jane Ostdiek, Class of 2015

Jane Ostdiek is originally from Ellicott City, Maryland. She earned her B.A. from the University of Maryland, College Park in Studio Art. As a 3L, Jane is a member of the PELE Special Education Advocacy Clinic, William & Mary’s Moot Court Team, Law Cappella, and is Production Manager and a Director for Law Review, and Senior Notes Editor of the William & Mary Business Law Review.

 I’m happy to share my experiences working with the PELE Special Education Advocacy Clinic this year. (PELE stands for Parents Engaged for Learning Equality.) This semester was intense. The first day, we were given a list of clients, and over the fall I handled calls, IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings, researched a wide variety of issues, drafted a State complaint, and worked closely with our supervisor, Professor Shin, my partner, Melissa Klatzkow, and the rest of the Clinic members.

I’ve worked with legal clinics before, but my experience with PELE was unique. At my first meeting, I was incredibly nervous and afraid to say anything. As the semester progressed, I started getting comfortable with speaking, suggesting goals and advocating for my clients. Issues ranged from drafting goals and accommodations for a child’s IEP, enforcing IEPs and BIPs (Behavior Intervention Plan), dealing with staff harassing a child, IDEA violations, and more. We would also workshop our more difficult cases together—as a team, we handled a lot of serious cases and did a lot of good work.

When I was considering law schools, I picked William & Mary because I believed it would be challenging and bring the best out of me. I was right, and the PELE Clinic exemplifies why. The work was hard, hands on, and fast paced, but it was intensely rewarding. It is amazing to realize how you’ve grown and improved over the course of one semester. Not every case ends perfectly, but few things feel better than reading an email or a report card about how your legal work helped a child succeed.

This blog post is part of a series featuring student experiences in William & Mary Law School’s nine clinics. To view more clinic posts, click here.

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