Fellowship with Veterans Benefits Clinic

by Laura Manchester JD ’17 and Katlyn Moseley JD ’17

manchestermoseleyLaura Manchester (left) is a IL student originally from New Jersey.   Laura graduated from the University of Baltimore in 2013 with highest honors with a degree in Jurisprudence, and spent last year working and traveling before coming to William & Mary.  She is a member of the inaugural Leadership Institute and is a graduate research fellow at the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic. 

Katlyn Moseley (right) is also first-year student. Katlyn is originally from North Carolina and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2014 with a degree in history and political science. She is a member of William & Mary’s National Trial Team and a fellow in the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic.

The Lewis B. Puller, Jr., Veterans Benefits Clinic Fellowship initially attracted us to William and Mary Law School because it offered first year law students the opportunity to impact the lives of the community, something that many law schools reserve for second and third year students.  The Puller Clinic provides free legal services to veterans who need help filing and appealing disability claims.  Working as a fellow in the clinic has been a rewarding and educational experience that any law student would be lucky to have.

Fellows have a diverse range of responsibilities, ranging from legal research for supervising attorneys, to performing administrative tasks to help the operation run smoothly.  This past semester, we had the opportunity to sit in on veterans’ interviews and in-reach programs with supervising attorneys, help launch and contribute to the veterans benefits blog, conduct outreach efforts, and network with veterans clinics at other law schools and organizations to help improve the lives of veterans and their families.   Some unanticipated benefits of working at the Puller Clinic are the connections we have made with the supervising attorneys and other clinic students. These individuals have proven to be an exceptional resource for both of us, sharing their knowledge on everything from veterans law, navigating your first year of law school, and effectively conducting research. The students and faculty that comprise the Puller Clinic community have made this fellowship a truly amazing experience.

We encourage anyone who has an interest in the mission of the Puller Clinic, or any of William and Mary Law School’s many other clinics, to apply for a fellowship and gain the numerous benefits that come with this wonderful opportunity.

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.

Global Flight Relief Externship

rileyby Abby Riley, Class of 2016

Abby is a 2L from Adams, Tennessee. She went to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where I got a B.A. in English and a B.S. in Political Science: International and Comparative Studies. At William & Mary, Abby am a member of the Environmental Law & Policy Review and am secretary of the International Law Society. 

My externship at Global Flight Relief, the non-profit humanitarian arm of a private aviation corporation, was valuable to my legal career in surprising ways. What I expected was a semester during which I would build on the legal skills I had developed during my first year at William & Mary and at my legal internship over the summer. I thought I would hone my skillset in an area that interested me (non-profit work in developing countries). I figured I would learn something about planes. It only took a few hours the first day of work to know that I was going to get much more than I originally anticipated.

An externship allows students the opportunity to work in legal settings for academic credit during the fall or spring semester. For me, this meant that once a week I would lift my nose from my textbooks, trade classroom casual for business casual, and head into the real world instead of Evidence class. The first day this happened, I honestly was a little terrified. Rightfully so, as it turns out – within my first few hours I had a crash course in business associations, non-profit law, and tax law, none of which I had ever taken in school before. People had always told me that law school doesn’t teach you all aspects of the law, but rather how to think like a lawyer. You learn how to analyze and work through problems because you won’t always know the answers right off the bat. It’s almost like getting tossed in a pool, and in sink or swim situations like my first day of work at Global Flight Relief, I was infinitely grateful that my William & Mary professors had prepared me to swim.

Over the next few months, my way of thinking about non-profit organizations entirely changed. I began to understand the extent that the Internal Revenue Code dictates a non-profit organization’s formation and activities. Beyond the fundamentals, I encountered very practical issues that humanitarian actors working in foreign countries face constantly. How does an aviation non-profit carry on its humanitarian missions when there is an outbreak of Ebola? What legal and healthcare structures must it interact with? What laws will affect payment requirements in an airline hangar contract with Tanzania?

The things that surprised me the most, however, were the things I learned about myself (a visit from a delegation from Turkey was a close second). I learned that I absolutely love contract drafting. I learned that I can effectively research business structures, even though I am not at all business-savvy. I also learned what I’m not so great at – I can report well in writing, but verbally summarizing my findings to my supervisor was something that was more difficult for me. Fortunately, I now have a year and a half to improve before I’m tossed into the job market.

In sum, the externship was a great variety of learning experiences. While not all law students choose to extern, I found it to be a formative part of my legal education. I not only learned about the law, but about myself as a future lawyer as well.

And yes, I did learn a little about planes in the process.

1L Interviewing, Part 2: GPIIP

brownby Cathy Brown, Class of 2017

As I mentioned in my last blog post, this is the time of year when interviewing is at the forefront of 1Ls’ minds.  The summer internship search is in full swing, and my peers and I are becoming seasoned interviewees with a variety of potential summer employers.  My classmates have engaged in on-campus interviews and Skype interviews; some have even packed their business suits in their carry-on luggage to interview with organizations closer to their hometowns over spring break.  However, the largest-scale interview opportunity by far was the Government & Public Interest Interview Program, or GPIIP.

The University of Richmond Law School hosted the 13th Annual GPIIP this year.  This program is a collaboration between William & Mary Law School, University of Richmond School of Law, and Washington & Lee School of Law and was available for students at all three institutions.  At the beginning of the spring semester, students received a large list of government and public interest employers who are looking to hire legal interns for the summer.  Each of these organizations sent a representative to GPIIP to sit at a booth for the day and interview candidates for their summer positions.  Students could apply electronically for the opportunity to interview with as many organizations as we’d like.  Each interview slot lasted twenty minutes.

Therefore, this program is efficient for both employers and students; employers could see many interested internship candidates throughout the day, and students could conveniently interview with a wide variety of organizations that piqued our interest without needing to travel across the state to these groups’ offices.

Twenty minutes is not a long time to convince someone that (1) you’re interested in working for them, (2) you’d be a good fit for their organization, and (3) you’re the best candidate for the job.  However, I put my interviewing experience and tips from William & Mary’s Office of Career Services to good use and had a very informative and memorable conversation with a representative from a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. that really interested me.  I had done my research ahead of time, so I knew all about the organization’s goals and past achievements and who would be interviewing me.  This helped a lot, since it meant that my interviewer didn’t have to waste precious time going over this basic information with me.  I had also reflected on my past work experience and my reasons for being interested in this employer so I would be prepared for potential questions.  Finally, of course, I prepared some questions of my own for the employer to show that I was genuinely interested in their organization.  This preparation paid off, since the organization contacted me about having a second interview just a couple of weeks after the GPIIP event.

GPIIP was an efficient and helpful way part of my summer internship search, and I felt very prepared for the interview thanks to the Office of Career Services and Legal Practice Program’s efforts earlier in the semester.

Learn more about our Student Bloggers here.

Experience with the Veterans Benefits Clinic

kathleenby Kathleen Zaratzian, Class of 2016

Kathleen Zaratzian is originally from Santa Barbara, California. She earned her B.A. from U.C. Berkeley with majors in English and Environmental Policy.  She is a member of the William & Mary Law Review.  She was a member of the Lewis B. Puller Veterans Benefits Clinic during the Fall 2014 semester.  Next summer she will be interning at the California Attorney General, Department of Natural Resources.

Last fall, I participated in the Lewis B. Puller Veterans’ Benefits Clinic where I assisted veterans with their claims for disability benefits to the Department of Veterans Affairs through various stages of the appeals process.  Most of my clients were injured during their military service, and since leaving the military, they developed medical conditions secondary to their service injury. By law, this justified disability benefits, but they were denied compensation.

I knew going into law school that I wanted the experience of working in a clinic.  I wanted to do this for all of the obvious reasons – it looks great on a resume, teaches you practical legal skills, and is a welcome break from traditional law school classes.  Although I didn’t know much about the Puller Clinic going into it, I had heard nothing but glowing reviews from former students.  After my experience, I am very happy to have had the opportunity and found it to be the most rewarding experience in law school so far.  I recommend, without any reservations, participating in the Puller Clinic.

I have no military experience myself or in my immediate family, although I have many friends and classmates at William & Mary Law School who do.  However, I like helping people.  That’s one of the reasons that I came to law school.  My work was even more rewarding since everything I did during the semester pushed a veteran’s case closer to receiving the amount of disability benefits that he/she is entitled to and helped each veteran navigate a difficult and confusing process.

veterans2During the semester, I oversaw three clients’ cases independently and shared another with a partner.  We worked mostly independently on our cases, but we met weekly with the supervising attorney, Professor Aniela Szymanski, to develop our case strategies and identify legal issues.  Each week during class, a set of partners presented problematic cases to brainstorm and problem solve as a firm.  The substantive work included: interviewing and communicating with clients, writing letters and briefs to the VA,  reviewing and analyzing medical and military personnel records, and researching veterans’ law issues.

What stands out the most about my experience in the Puller Clinic are the relationships that I built with my clients during the semester.  Although a semester is a short period of time, we developed strong relationships by working closely with our clients on very personal issues such as traumatic events, physical and psychological conditions, and financial hardship.  In the face of an incredibly frustrating and drawn-out bureaucratic process, the clients I worked with carried themselves with incredible graciousness and integrity.  I was constantly impressed by their optimism and gratitude for everything I did, even on claims that have been pending for many years.

veteransAnother great experience with the Puller Clinic was an in-reach program held on Veterans’ Day.  Each student in the clinic was assigned two veterans, and we reviewed their documents. Next, a team, composed of an attorney and two students, met with the each veteran for about an hour.  This was a fantastic opportunity to give back to the veterans in our community on Veterans’ Day.

Whether or not you have experience in Veterans Law or an interest in practicing it in the future, the Puller Clinic is a very rewarding experience for anyone who enjoys using their legal training to advocate for people and help them get what they deserve but don’t have the resources to fight for on their own.

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.

Experiences with the Family Law Clinic

Raffaeleby Nick Raffaele, Class of 2015

Nick Raffaele is originally from Clearwater, Florida. He earned his B.B.A. from the University of Miami in 2012 with majors in Political Science and Business Law. After graduating and sitting for the bar exam, Nick will be joining Phillips and Peters, PLLC to practice family law in Norfolk, Virginia.

Students looking to gain hands on experience in the legal field of their choice should look no further than William and Mary Law School’s Clinic program. As someone involved in domestic law, W&M actually offers two clinics directly related to my interests: the Family Law Clinic and the Domestic Violence Clinic. I began my Clinic career by enrolling in the Family Law Clinic for the fall 2014 semester, and the experience and networking I gained have proven invaluable. Of course, getting course credit in the process is quite convenient.

My supervisor at the family law clinic was Darryl W. Cunningham, Esq., and we worked out of the Williamsburg office for the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia. He was a fantastic mentor, who was clearly passionate about his work and always seemed enthusiastic to teach his profession to his students. The Clinic experience was a perfect blend of independent exposure to and measured instruction in case management, client service, and litigation strategy. Each student was given about three files to manage, and we all met once a week to discuss our cases and give each other advice on how to proceed. Mr. Cunningham would also give lessons on different aspects of family law each week, such as the stages of a divorce lawsuit, the principles that govern custody/visitation disputes, and calculating child support.

The clinic was a fantastic opportunity to step away from the doctrinal aspect of legal education and gain truly practical experience. Throughout the course of the semester, we had chances to appear in court using Virginia’s Third-Year Practice Certificate. We also spent plenty of time meeting with clients, drafting pleadings, and communicating with opposing counsel. In fact, networking opportunities presented by the Clinic led to my offer of employment after graduation. I am very much looking forward to working with Mr. Cunningham again during the spring 2015 semester as part of the Domestic Violence Clinic.

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.

Read about Nick’s 2013 summer work here.

Michael Toner Talks Elections

lennonby Kate Lennon, Class of 2017

On March 2nd, law students interested in Election Law were able to enjoy a lunchtime talk with Michael Toner. Mr. Toner is a current partner at Wiley Rein and the former FEC Chairman. He was also the Chief Counsel to the Republican National Committee and General Counsel to the Bush-Cheney 2000 Presidential Campaign. The discussion began with Mr. Toner speaking about the changes in election law and finance in regards to recent Supreme Court cases, as well as what changes to Court’s make-up could mean for the future in Election Law. Mr. Toner discussed that this is a time of deregulation, but if some of the more conservative justices retire, we could see more increased regulation again in the next ten years.

Michael Toner

Michael Toner, former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC)

As the discussion moved into a question format, the topic turned more towards the future of campaigns. Mr. Toner explained that we no longer live in a world where a successful presidential candidate can get by on a few million dollars in donations. With President Obama breaking records with donations in the $750 million range, Mr. Toner predicted a 2016 election campaign potentially breaking the billion-dollar mark. He found this to be particularly likely with candidates like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush potentially taking significant roles in the 2016 election.

It was clear from the start that Mr. Toner was personally fascinated with Election Law. He stated at one point that he chose his career path because he was able to combine his two interests in law and politics into one job. His enthusiasm about the topic spread through the room and really drew the attention of the professors and students. As a first year student, the novelty of having such interesting and accomplished speakers here at our school has not yet worn off. I am not sure that it even will at all. Every day at the law school is a new experience, and lunchtime speakers like this one are just one of the many avenues for these experiences.

Learn more about our Student Bloggers here.

Puller Veterans Benefits Clinic

Yakubisinby Chris Yakubisin, Class of 2016

Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, Chris graduated from Duquesne University with a B.A. in journalism. He is currently a staff member of the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal and works as a Graduate Research Fellow at the Law School.

During my first week of law school classes, my criminal law professor cautioned the class not to forget that the people we read about in our casebooks are real people. It is important to remember this for many reasons, but I feel that my professor’s comment was meant to serve as a reminder that an attorney must do more than know the law.

Indeed an attorney’s responsibilities are many and each contributes in some way to the inevitable moments of panic that all law students face. While the most obvious and well-known contributor to these “panics” is knowledge of the law (certainly everyone has some anxiety before exams), perhaps the lesser known responsibilities are the most important. Attorneys must have empathy for their clients, be reliable and organized, and be an effective communicator and advocate. In order to make it through law school, all law students will learn to be organized, they will learn to write, and they will learn at least some kind of responsibility.

However, it is possible to go through law school with very little interaction with clients, or little time keeping experience. To put it another way, opportunities to develop your practical skills may not be easy to come by in a casebook. This is not what I was thinking of when I the enrolled in the Puller Veterans Benefits Clinic, though. I knew the Clinic was the first such program to be certified by the Department of Veteran’s affairs, and I knew I would have the opportunity to work with veterans, but I didn’t know that I would have the chance to develop such a wide variety of legal skills by participating in the program.

Students in the Clinic were grouped into teams of two, and each team was responsible for six clients. Since each client is unique, every student experienced the Clinic’s work in a unique way; however, certain things were the same for all of the teams. For example, each team had to communicate with their clients regularly, gather and organize records, account for their time spent doing work for clients, and interview a new client.

The basic things like keeping time helped develop practical skills throughout the semester, and it wasn’t always easy to account for time, but doing these necessary and perhaps tedious tasks were worth it to be able to participate in such a rewarding program.

Sometimes while doing hours of reading about federal income tax, or civil procedure, one can forget about why they want a law degree, or how a lawyer can help people. Being able to spend a few hours each week working for real people, really helping them, was extremely rewarding. Being able to do real legal work, rather than simply read about it was something I looked forward to doing outside of class. Rather than having to wait until the end of the semester to get a grade and see how much you learned, the clinic offered many successes throughout the semester.

While the claims process for veteran’s benefits claims is slow and complicated, small victories were possible throughout the semester. Thinking about them now, it seems silly that things like adding a dependent to a claim, or retrieving records form the VA are “victories,” but in the world of veteran’s benefits, even a menial administrative task can be difficult to accomplish. Often veterans are told that such things can take up to nine months, so, when you get it done in a couple weeks, you feel like you’ve really accomplished something.

Looking back now, though, I don’t think about the innumerable phone calls, e-mails, and letters involved in the process. Rather, I think about the people I’ve helped and the impact working with the clinic has had on my life, and now, when I find myself dwelling in a moment of panic I can take some comfort in knowing that I’m already well on my way to being a practicing attorney, I’ve already got some experience helping people.

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.

Moot Court: Bushrod Tournament Results and Wise Words from Tom Goldstein, Silver Tongue Award Recipient

wentworthby Christie Wentworth, Class of 2017

The William & Mary Law Moot Court team just added nineteen new members following this year’s Bushrod T. Washington Moot Court Tournament. The Moot Court program, whose participants compete in tournaments around the nation, gives students an opportunity to develop and refine oral advocacy and brief writing skills. Bushrod tournament participants receive a cumulative score for the tryout period, and the eight competitors with the highest scores compete in a single-elimination tournament. The final round is open to students, staff, faculty and the general public and includes the presentation of the Edmund Randolph Silver Tongue Award. This year’s award recipient was Tom Goldstein, one of the nation’s most experienced Supreme Court practitioners and founder of the SCOTUSblog. Before the start of the final round, Goldstein spoke about oral advocacy in general and then outlined three main differences between Moot Court and Supreme Court arguments.

Tom Goldstein, Partner at Goldstein & Russell, P.C. and co-founder and publisher of SCOTUSblog

Tom Goldstein, Partner at Goldstein & Russell, P.C. and co-founder and publisher of SCOTUSblog

Goldstein, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and American University’s Washington College of Law, began his speech by advising students to be prepared, to realize that judges’ questions are not meant to attack, and to be cognizant of who the audience is. Depending on the context of the case, the court, and who these judges are, attorneys must bring a unique set of skills and focus on different aspects of the case.

In comparing oral arguments made before the Supreme Court and those prepared for Moot Court, Goldstein emphasized three points: style, the art of the possible, and the principle of relative advantage. First, he noted that form and style tend to matter more for Moot Court than they do for the Supreme Court. While this may seem counterintuitive, he pointed out that the Supreme Court justices are seeking concise answers to questions; content matters more than presentation.

With regard to his second point, “the art of the possible,” Goldstein advised oral advocates to think about the audience and to appreciate what the judges or justices are capable of deciding. He pointed out that the Supreme Court justices will be very familiar with the case and will already have an idea of which party will win or lose. Because it is unlikely that any of the justices will completely change his or her mind, it is important to maintain modest ambitions. For example, he stated that a realistic goal might be to convince 1-2 judges to shift their viewpoints by 20-30% on 1-2 points. While this may seem discouraging, an attorney that argues before the Supreme Court has the opportunity to influence how a client wins or loses and has the chance to shape the rule that results from the case. On the contrary, Moot Court judges tend to be more open to persuasion, will not be as familiar with the case, and may still be trying to decide who will win or lose. Moot Courters, use this to your advantage!

Lastly, Goldstein explained what he calls the “principle of relative advantage.” Think about what you know and what the judges or justices know and tailor your argument so that you can add something new to their perspective. As he mentioned in his second point, Supreme Court justices will already be familiar with the facts of the case and the arguments in the briefs. During oral argument, link points in a different way that will allow the justices to change their opinion about the case. In Moot Court, judges will read the problem and think about it, but likely will not have prepared to the same extent. This gives the oral advocate the advantage of knowing the case better than the judge and the ability to demonstrate control of the material by making connections and by weaving relevant cases and facts into the argument.

After Goldstein’s speech, the two Bushrod finalists—Gordon Dobbs and Victoria Jensen—employed some of this advice in their own oral arguments in a case regarding First Amendment rights in schools. The competitors each demonstrated mastery of the material and made convincing arguments before a panel of esteemed judges including Professor Grove, Professor Hamilton, Professor Larsen, Tom Goldstein, and Moot Court Chief Justice Chris Kaltsas. These judges determined 1L Gordon Dobbs to be the champion of this year’s Bushrod Tournament. Perhaps you will be one of next year’s competitors!

Learn more about our Student Bloggers here.

Experiences with the Coastal Policy Clinic

forrestby Jeremy Forrest, Class of 2015

Jeremy is is third-year student from Newport News, VA. He is a 2008 graduate of Hampden-Sydney College.

I knew as a 1L that I wanted to be a part of the Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic after reading about the clinic’s mission and talking to 2Ls and 3Ls about their work with the Clinic. Growing up along Virginia’s coast, I experienced firsthand the exact issues the Clinic addresses. I look forward to the opportunity to investigate difficult problems that have no easy solution.

The Clinic Director, Roy Hoagland, brought a wealth of knowledge to the clinic. Almost every week the clinic hosted a guest speaker who was part of the frontlines of creating and enforcing environmental policy in Virginia’s Chesapeake region. These speakers included state government officials, an EPA scientist, private attorneys, grantmakers, and a former legislator who championed much of Virginia’s environmental legislation over the past 30 years.

The past semester’s work was highlighted by the Clinic’s involvement with the Governor’s Commission on Climate Change. In September, the members of the Clinic attended the first meeting of the Commission at the Capitol in Richmond. Afterwards, we were able to attend a reception and meet with both Governor McAulliffe and the Secretary of Natural Resources (and W&M Law Alum) Molly Ward.

coastal policy

In early December, the Clinic hosted the second meeting of the Commission in Williamsburg. The Clinic organized a series of speakers including the head of the Norfolk Division of the Army Corps of Engineers, VIMS scientists, and Senator Kaine.

In addition to the Clinic’s work with the Commission, each member of the Clinic worked on projects individually. The focus of each of our projects was on exploring a discrete scientific issue and addressing how the issue could impact public policy. Some examples include the potential for governmental liability for failing to address the impacts of sea level rise; the effect of sea level rise on the efforts to measure Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts; and providing assistance to an effort to coordinate the region’s sea level rise adaptation efforts.

The Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic provides students with an experience of the kind of work environmental lawyers do on a daily basis. While most people think that the law is about going to court or drafting contracts, the Clinic shows the value of lawyering in the context of guiding public policy .

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.

Student Legal Services Provides Law Students an Opportunity for Hands-On Experience

keefeby TJ Keefe, Class of 2017

Given the many hours of  independent reading and researching that accompany a 1L experience, I sometimes lose track of how interpersonal the legal profession really is.  Although esoteric legal concepts frequently occupy my thoughts, I try to remember that the practice of law is really the act of solving real-world problems for real-world individuals.  In the spirit of this mindset, I decided to join William & Mary’s Student Legal Services team.

Blow Memorial Hall  (2)Student Legal Services  was established by William & Mary Law students who hoped to use their abilities to serve other members of the College community. The organization is entirely student-run, and relies on over thirty-five volunteers to staff its office on William & Mary’s main campus.  From room 316 in Blow Memorial Hall, Student Legal Service volunteers research whatever legal issues the students and staff of the College bring to the office. Cases involving landlord-tenant disputes or criminal citations are common, but the office has handled a much greater variety of cases in the past.

In order to provide the best assistance possible, the Student Legal Services team has an established system. Members of the campus community are encouraged to set up an appointment in order to discuss their legal questions confidentially. Once  a member of S.L.S.  team has documented the details of an community member’s legal problem on an intake form, volunteers draw on their researching skills to find all applicable laws. As law students who have not yet passed the Virginia Bar, S.L.S. volunteers are forbidden from providing clients with any recommendations beyond the explicit text of the law. Even so, clients often leave with a much clear sense of  what laws will be applied to their specific legal issues.

I would recommend S.L.S. to anyone interested in gaining some hands-on experience with the law. Although law school can be quite academic in nature, William & Mary’s Student Legal Services has definitely provided me with the refreshing opportunity to assist with real-world legal problems.

Learn more about our Student Bloggers here.

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.

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