Arguing Before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals — Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic

lizrademacherby Liz Rademacher, Class of 2016

I’ve had lots of great experiences at William & Mary Law School over the past three years, but the most rewarding—and most challenging—experience of them all was arguing my very first case in front of a court. And not just any court. I’m talking about the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal appellate court just a step down from the U.S. Supreme Court. I can honestly say that I never would’ve thought I’d argue a case in front of the D.C. Circuit before I started law school, but William & Mary made it all possible for me through its excellent clinical education program.

This journey started in August, when I joined William & Mary’s Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic. Although the clinic focuses mainly on First and Fourth Amendment cases, the issues in our cases are wide-ranging and groundbreaking. The students in the clinic work in pairs throughout the year to monitor and manage our case load.

In September, the clinic began representing a veteran from D.C. in a Fourth Amendment case. Police searched our client’s home after he mistakenly called a suicide hotline, thinking it was an emotional support hotline for veterans with PTSD. Although our client explained his mistake to the hotline operator, the operator called 911.  After going outside his apartment to talk to police, the police put our client’s hands in zip ties and took him to a hospital. Afterwards, police searched his home twice, opened locked containers, and found unregistered guns. Our client was then arrested and charged for having the guns, but the charges were dropped after another court suppressed the evidence as a result of Fourth Amendment violations. Afterwards, our client brought a civil rights lawsuit against the police officers and D.C. government. His case was dismissed by a district court because the judge held that the police had acted reasonably even without a warrant. Dissatisfied with the outcome of the case, the clinic stepped in to handle the appeal. My partner and I were assigned to the case.

courthousefrontOn appeal, we argued that the police acted unreasonably by doing the searches without a warrant and without our client’s consent. For months, my partner and I researched the D.C. Circuit’s precedent regarding similar warrantless searches. In December, we learned that our case would be argued in April. With several deadlines looming in front of us, we decided I would be doing the oral argument and began writing our first brief. In February, the D.C. government submitted their own brief, which we had two weeks to respond to in a second brief. By March, it was time to start practicing giving the argument. I poured over the hundreds of pages of the record in our case and, with the help of the other students in the clinic and professors from the law school, did multiple moot arguments. With each practice round, I got more and more confident and my answers to tricky questions got smoother and more concise.

But it didn’t really hit me that I would actually be arguing the case until the morning of April 18 in the courthouse, when I sat down at the counsel table and saw the three judges on my panel walk into the courtroom. What followed was a volley between the judges and me about the legal issues surrounding our case and the facts on the record. Before doing the argument, I was scared that I would feel too nervous to answer their tough questions. But after doing so many practice rounds, getting peppered with the judges’ questions felt less like sitting through an interrogation and more like slipping into a spirited conversation. Before I knew it, the red light in the courtroom came on, and my time was up.

Whether or not we end up winning on appeal, arguing the case was the most fulfilling part of my law school career. I got to do something that most real attorneys never get to do, and I got to do it before even graduating. It was tougher than anything I’ve done before, but I was well-prepared and learned so much. I’m so grateful that I got this opportunity, and so grateful to have been part of a law school community that was so supportive throughout the whole experience!

Read more here.

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Joint Journal Competition

borkby Emily Bork, Class of 2018

Spring is in full bloom here in Williamsburg! Coming from Buffalo, New York, I am not used to seeing flowers budding and the grass sprouting so early in the season, so it is wonderful to enjoy the sights and smells of an early Spring! With the last few weeks of the semester upon us, exam season is also in the air as my fellow classmates and I prepare for our final set of 1L exams. For most of the 1L class, our summer won’t officially kick off though until the following Friday after exams as we will be participating in the annual Joint Journal Competition (JJC).

JJC is a week-long competition program for 1L students who wish to join one of William & Mary’s five academic journals by serving as a staff member during their 2L and 3L years. As part of the competition, students are required to submit both a short written paper, or Comment, of a legal issue and also complete an editing exercise. The competition is designed to evaluate students’ strengths in both their written work as well as their abilities to properly review writings for citation and grammar checks.

journalsWilliam & Mary’s five academic journals are:

  • William & Mary Law Review
  • William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal
  • William & Mary Environmental Policy Review
  • William & Mary Journal of Women & the Law
  • William & Mary Business Law Review

Students who are selected to work on journals as a staff member are responsible for writing a paper called a Student Note during their 2L year. The Student Note not only satisfies William & Mary’s writing requirement for 2L students, but also has the added bonus of possible publication! Students who serve on journals also complete citation and other editing checks of scholarly articles that are submitted to the respective journal for publication. Credit hours are additionally available to students working on their Note and students who serve on an editorial board for their respective journals during their 3L year.

Although this year’s JJC will no doubt present some challenges, I am looking forward to this annual rite-of-passage as I hope to serve on a journal for the rest of my time here at William & Mary. I look forward to this year’s JJC and the opportunity to be a part of the fellowship, teamwork, and collaboration of our journals!

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Oral Arguments- Legal Practice

kingby Garrett King, Class of 2018

A few days ago, I found myself in William & Mary’s Courtroom arguing before a practicing attorney against a Motion to Dismiss for improper 1332 Subject Matter Jurisdiction. After arguing for 20 minutes, while constantly being interrupted for questions, the opposing counsel and I were dismissed, allowing the judges to deliberate their holding.

As part of William & Mary’s Legal Practice program, students are required to give oral arguments in front of practicing attorneys, who serve as judges during the fake trial. We are each graded on our argument’s presentation, including the ability to pivot our speech to satisfy each judge’s needs and questions. Although I am not allowed to disclose the actual facts of the fake legal dispute (in case they use the same fact pattern in the future), I can talk about the argument and about preparing to speak in the Courtroom.

A week ago, my adjunct professor held practice oral arguments at her law firm’s Williamsburg office. During the argument, she brought in a guest, who is an actual state judge in Virginia. After the 20-minute argument, we received feedback and advice for how to improve our presentation’s logical flow and effectiveness. The judge told me that I did a great job presenting the material; however, she had great constructive criticism. This advice is something you simply don’t learn from a book but rather through experience. After the practice oral argument, our class had a week to prepare for our graded oral arguments. In the practice argument I argued for the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, but during the graded argument, I tried to persuade the judge to deny the defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.

The real oral argument occurred on campus inside the Courtroom. Our adjunct professor played the role of judge. Although many people don’t know this, when you are presenting an argument in court before a judge, you will be interrupted with questions. In fact, the judge may ask you to fast forward to a certain portion of your argument. Therefore, you should not simply memorize the material, but rather have the ability to flexibly adjust the argument to fit the judge’s needs. Additionally, the judge may pose very detailed questions about the fact pattern, or even regarding cases used as evidence.

An actual argument is composed of three parts: (1) The movant’s argument; (2) the non-movant’s argument; (3) the movant’s rebuttal. In this case, I was the non-movant because I was trying to defeat the defendants’ motion to dismiss. Therefore, my friend Josh, whom I was arguing against, gave his argument first. I tried to simply rebut his argument, so much of my argument depended on what Josh mentioned in his presentation. In addition to being flexible, you also have to prepare for every possible scenario, because you simply don’t know what the other party will say.

When it was my turn to speak, I felt prepared, but before I began the judge wanted me to address a very specific issue within the case. I had planned using that point at the end of my argument, so within the first minute, my argument had been turned on its head. However, I quickly recovered and simply interwove the other arguments behind the judge’s question. Additionally, during the argument, you want to highlight a “theory of the case” or a theme regarding your client’s actions. During the presentation, I was constantly emphasizing the legal theme and trying to create sympathy for my client.

After my argument ended, the rebuttal was given. Then, the judges dismissed us and heard the next set of oral arguments. Although I don’t know what my grade is, or even the winner of the argument, I do feel confident that this experience will help me in the future.

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W&M Honor Council and Exams

borkby Emily Bork, Class of 2018

It’s hard to believe that my first year of law school is quickly coming to an end! Although I can’t deny that I’m feeling the stress of the looming exam period, I have taken comfort in the supportive W&M community of my peers and professors. Throughout my exam preparation, I have realized that everyone here genuinely wants their fellow classmates and students to do well on their exams. Our community is rooted in a deep desire to provide students with an opportunity to do their best and be given a fair chance to succeed.

The W&M Honor Code embodies this sense of fairness and justice among the law school community and works to uphold the dignity of W&M’s mission of educating Citizen Lawyers. The Honor Code is rooted in instilling a sense of moral responsibility in all W&M students as we are called to refrain from lying, stealing, and cheating both within our interactions at the law school and also outside the law school as aspiring attorneys.

The Honor Council is made up of student justices from among each of the three classes who work to enforce the Honor Code and educate students as to the Honor Code’s application in various aspects of law school life, especially final exams. I was fortunate to attend an Honor Council info session on how the Honor Code relates to exam-taking policies.

Many students have open book exams and are allowed to use their own class notes and outlines during exams. Additionally, students often have self-scheduled exams in which they can take the exam at home at their own convenience. If an exam is not self-scheduled but rather must be taken during a specific time period at the law school, professors often leave the room during the duration of the exam. Questions are typically raised concerning what can and cannot be used during exams. Fortunately, the Honor Council is more than willing to provide students with an overview of some of the default rules regarding exam-taking.

For example, if an exam is open-book, the default rule is that a student is allowed to use any outline he or she has prepared for that class as long as the student has had a substantial hand in making the outline. Although professors can change the default rule for their particular classes, the Honor Council info session was a good way to start thinking about these policies. We are all encouraged to think about how the Honor Code relates not only to this semester’s final exams, but also to our goal of becoming Citizen Lawyers.

At W&M, we are called to be honest with our exam taking so as to ensure the integrity of both the exams themselves as well as the integrity of our school. One of the things that I love most about W&M is our dedication to each other as a community, and the Honor Code is just another example of how we are called to uphold and preserve this community of trust.

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Great Speakers Visit W&M Law

kingby Garrett King, Class of 2018

William & Mary Law School hosts fantastic speakers throughout the academic year. One example is a guest lecture by Erwin Chemerinsky who is the 2nd most cited legal scholar in the nation. He is the current Dean of the University of California-Irvine Law School and a prominent constitutional law scholar. He attended Harvard Law School and has argued several cases in front of the United States Supreme Court.

In his talk, Mr. Chemerinsky spoke about several topics including his recent book “The Case Against the Supreme Court,” where he suggests that the Supreme Court has failed to fulfill its obligation to the country. He uses the Dred Scott v. Sanford and Korematsu v. United States as examples where the Supreme Court failed to protect the Constitutional Rights of minority populations. Mr. Chemerinsky suggests that the court should take an active role in promoting social justice, especially to promote equality amongst the population. Additionally, he suggests several changes to the Supreme Court including an 18-year term limit and live television broadcasts of oral arguments. Mr. Chemerinisky asserts that these changes would minimize political interests in the court, and help promote social change through their decisions.

In addition to his book, Mr. Chemerinisky also spoke about his involvement with Civil Rights litigation, including the representation of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner who is still being detained. He urged William & Mary students to become civil rights advocates by accepting pro bono work and becoming members of local organizations such as the ACLU. Although his opinions are considered controversial, the main point of this blog post is not the lecture’s substance, but rather his presence on campus.

Being the oldest and one of the most prestigious law schools in the nation, William & Mary has the ability to attract famous speakers to campus. Moreover, William & Mary’s modest size allows students to actively engage with the speaker by asking in-depth questions regarding the law. In the lecture, students were able to raise their hand and ask Mr. Chemerinisky about alternative theories to his legal opinions, which he subsequently addressed. This level of engagement is rare.

To further prove my point, I also attended another guest lecture given in a small classroom, which featured prominent attorney Kathleen Sullivan talking about her involvement with gay rights litigation. Ms. Sullivan, regarded as one of the most sought after lawyers in the nation, is the former Dean of Stanford Law School and is currently a major partner at Quinn, Emanuel, Urquart, & Sullivan. She was once considered a favorite for being appointed to the Supreme Court by Barak Obama. Throughout her legal career she has fought for Gay Rights, and played a critical role in overturning several discriminatory laws.

While experience may be telling you that Ms. Sullivan likely gave a hour long lecture and then left the room to applause, you would be wrong. Her discussion resembled a conversation that included dozens of questions from the audience. I even asked her for advice about tailoring a winning argument for a Supreme Court case. Although this was before Justice Scalia’s recent passing, Ms. Sullivan said the key to winning a case was persuading the proverbial “swing vote” of the court. Today, this vote would be Justice Kennedy.

Although you can likely go on YouTube and look for lectures given by Kathleen Sullivan, nothing trumps an in-person discussion where you can interact with her opinions. This experience is common at William & Mary, and I highly encourage future students to take advantage of these opportunities.

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JD/MBA Information Session

kingby Garrett King, Class of 2018

On January 28, I attended an information session regarding William & Mary’s JD/MBA joint degree program. In this program, a student can earn both a Juris Doctor and Masters in Business Administration in four years. Usually it takes three years for a JD and two years for a MBA. With the joint-degree program, you shorten the total time, and tuition, required to earn both degrees.

At the information sessions were representatives from both William & Mary Law School and the Mason School of Business. For current law students interested in the program, the curriculum is designed so that you take classes for the first two years at the Law School, the third year at the business school, and the fourth year a combination of courses from both schools.

There are many reasons why a student may pursue a joint degree. Some students attend law school to receive analytical training but intend to work for a business after graduation. For these types of students, a JD/MBA program could strengthen a student’s job profile by giving him the business training necessary to succeed at a corporate position. It’s important to have strong reasons for getting a dual degree as there can be a downside to the joint degree for law students wanting to enter law practice. Our Office of Career Services staff is available to counsel students who are considering also pursuing a MBA.

Although this program would be a tremendous opportunity, this would mean being in school an extra year, which should be viewed as a large commitment. I am currently undecided about the program, but I have a year to decided whether to apply. Regardless of my decision, law students are allowed to take certain courses in the business school and apply those course credits towards obtaining a JD without being in the joint-degree program. These cross listings encourage law students to take classes offered within various William & Mary graduate schools. This interdisciplinary approach would likely be beneficial for a student simply to observe how other graduate schools operate on a daily basis.

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Wolf Law Library

kingby Garrett King, Class of 2018

If you can imagine this, I spend most of my time in the library. The building was renovated a few years ago, so even though William & Mary may be the oldest law school in the country, the library is very modern. The library consists of 3 main sections: (1) the hang out/leisure area, (2) the study tables, and (3) the study carrels.

The hand out/leisure area consists main of chairs and small tables to eat food or drink coffee. Many people come here simply to read emails or relax when they have free time, but not enough to start studying. The library also provides newspapers and magazines for those who simply want to get away from a computer screen.

4619414744_4a972dc265_mAdditionally, the library has a separate section with several long tables that are used for studying. These tables, like in other libraries, are in an open room with outlets and lamps throughout the table. For those who like studying with people, this is your place. This section of the library is in a room with panoramic windows that allow you to look outside at the scenery. Plus, these rooms have a ton of natural light, which is always preferable when studying.

Finally, the library also offers dozens of library carrels. While you might think that carrels are standard to all libraries, trust me these are not. Each carrel is big enough to hold two people, and their stuff. Plus they have two outlets and an upper portion to store books or school materials. I spend a majority of my time in this section because I like the “closed feeling” that a carrel provides, as opposed to the open concept at the study tables.

4619413954_00becf28ed_mWhile these are the three main sections of the library, there are also additional features worth highlighting. At night, I really like using a white board to memorize material/simply write it down to understand it. So I usually reserve a group study room. Each student has access to a website that allows you to reserve a separate group study room in increments of four hours per day. These rooms hold anywhere from 6-10 people, and are typically used by TAs during office hours. Although the rooms are technically for group studying, many individuals, including myself, reserve them just for solo studying. These rooms give me a change of scenery after spending all day sitting at a carrel.

In addition to these academically related features, the library also has a student lounge with a ping-pong table and pool table available 24/7. Although many people think that law school academics are competitive, they haven’t played ping-pong with a group of law students. My friends get really competitive with playing, but ultimately, the games are all in good fun because they give us a chance to relax and take a break from school. With finals upon us, this room not only helps us unwind, but also allows us to be more efficient studiers by allowing us to recharge ourselves during the final leg of this law school grind.

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Looking Back on the First Semester’s Finals

willisby Blake Willis, Class of 2018

Wow, just like that December, and finals are already here and flying by. Its crazy to think that only a few short months ago, I was sitting in my first law school class, not totally sure of what I had gotten myself into, and now finals are done, and its certainly true what they say… Law school will change you.

Even within the first few months of being in law school, its clear that most students undergo a change. The environment that law school places students into provides a new lens to view the world through, and new tools to understand what they are looking at. The way you think has changed, the way you speak, read, argue and analyze have all changed and will continue to do so over the rest of your time in law school and afterwards (or so they say).

While its true that law school comes with a lot of stress, and even more work, its also true that it comes with a lot of fun as well. Being at a school like William & Mary offers a unique opportunity to really experience a lot. Its unique location offers easy access to a number of cities, such as Richmond and Washington, DC; its alumni network is second to none with alumni coming back what seems like every week to speak at an event, help with job searching, or teach a class; and its student community is a close-nit group, with a diverse background – every day, you will be challenged by them – and ultimately you will benefit from it, especially come finals time.

statuesBefore coming to law school, and before actually taking a law school final, I (like most, I think) had heard the horror stories of what they were like – long hypotheticals that don’t seem to have any sort of definite answer and writing until the very last second. While this is true in part, finals are not as bad as the stories make them seem. While they are certainly long, and can put your brain through a mental gauntlet, they are no more than what you have been prepared for all semester. The truth of the matter, at least at William & Mary, is that your professors WANT you to do well. They want to challenge you, but they also want to see you succeed.

Yes, law school exams are stressful, you will inevitably spend hours creating an outline, reviewing it, and using it to take old practice exams, preparing. But don’t stress too much—its important to remember that over stressing and over studying for a final are not good ways to prepare. Having some faith in your abilities as a student, and in the preparation that you have received throughout the semester will go a long way in helping to keep you sane, and in helping you to prepare effectively. Ultimately, every student had their own way of preparing for finals, and you will have to find out what works best for you; but no matter what that is – remember (like the rest of the semester) its important to keep some balance – take time for your self and relax. By the end of your first semester, you’ll see how much you’ve already accomplished.

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The Inevitability of Exams

newtonby Dakota Newton, Class of 2018

Thanksgiving is over, and finals, once so comfortably distant, are now just a week away. Hopefully, you put the time over the break to good use and have returned to W&M both mentally rested and feeling ready for finals.

Just before the break, the J. Reuben Clark Law Society hosted an exam-prep boot camp for 1L students. 2L and 3L students shared their tips and tricks for outlining and studying for exams. I would like to pass on two of the tips for what to do once your outline is complete.

First, look at your outline and pull out the big ideas. Identify the handful of key legal concepts that have continued to pop up over and over again throughout the semester. Write them down in bullet-point form on note cards. Then find a willing listener with no legal experience.* Teach them the key concept using simple language and as few words as possible. This will help you to understand the essence of the concept by forcing you to rephrase it into normal English. You will also save time during the exam because you will already know what you want to say.

Second, think long and hard about what judges your professors are really fond of. Every professor has one or two judges whose opinions they consider the gold standard of legal analysis. Once you have identified the judges, re-read the cases that they wrote the opinion for and break down their method of analysis. File these methods away in your legal toolbox for reference when you feel like there is something you might not quite be getting during the exam.

Hopefully these tips will be of some use as you prepare for exams over the next two weeks. Good luck!

*Parents are good options. They appreciate time on the phone with you, and you get to study. It’s a win-win situation.

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Hearing from an Alum in Criminal Law

newtonby Dakota Newton, Class of 2018

One of my favorite things about law school is listening to stories from the practicing attorneys and other speakers that professors and the school invite to campus. All of these people have good stories to tell, but I especially enjoy stories from the people who work in criminal justice. Nothing beats a good murder case, especially when the murderer was never caught.

On October 29, Professor Marcus invited Eddie Nickel, an Assistant Commonwealth Attorney from Richmond and 2007 graduate of the Law School, to talk with a group of 1Ls from his Criminal Law class. Eddie talked about his work as a prosecutor generally, the sort of cases he generally deals with, and how he manages to work through the seventy-plus cases that land on his desk each week (good judgment and long hours, if you are curious). He also discussed the full extent of his involvement as a prosecutor, which extends far beyond what I had ever thought.

Eddie’s job begins with talking to the police officers who are on patrol, so he can understand what challenges they are facing with previous offenders. On top of that, Eddia has a massive caseload, daily court appearances, data collection, recidivism analysis, and policy recommendation. So, if you are an excellent juggler and want to bear the responsibility of keeping the Virginia criminal justice system effective and equitable, then this may be the job for you.

Eddie Nickel

Eddie Nickel

After impressing us with his wide range of skills and prodigious work rate, Eddie settled into the stories, specifically a story of a suspected murderer in Richmond who has successfully evaded multiple convictions over the past quarter century but could be sentenced shortly if Eddie’s office is successful next month.

Overall, it was an excellent experience and a tantalizing glimpse of the careers that are just a few short years away.

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See Eddie’s W&M Valentine’s post from 2011 here.


Professional Skills in the Legal Practice Program

kingby Garrett King, Class of 2018

One criticism of law schools are that much of the information and subject material learned simply doesn’t translate into the professional arena. Put simply, law school gives you the foundation to become a successful attorney but doesn’t actually provide you with the training necessary to be a practicing attorney.

At William & Mary, the Law School places extraordinary emphasis behind the Legal Practice Program. The program includes legal writing, legal research, and professional skills taught by a practicing attorney. Many attorneys have said that these courses are the most important classes at the school. While I could dedicate 10 blog posts to this program, today I will highlight the professional skills portion of the Legal Research & Writing Program.

The professional skills portion of the program is taught by a practicing attorney and is usually held one night per week. In this course we learn the practical aspects of being an attorney: how to interview clients, how to deliver oral reports to senior attorneys, and how to counsel a client on a legal matters. Although this sounds daunting, personally I think these classes are fun. For the interviews and counseling sessions, we even get to go to our professor’s law office to conduct the interview/report. While many people become nervous before these assignments, most are ungraded, and the professor gives you great feedback, so you can improve for the graded sessions at the end of the semester.

While I am not allowed to reveal the plot lines for any of the interviews (Just in case they are reused next year) I can say that the plots are all fun and informative. My Legal Practice class is actually one of my favorites because I am learning valuable skills from an expert attorney that are applicable in the professional world. Learning how to deal with a client, even if they are trying to push you off topic, is a skill that simply cannot be learned from a book but rather through hours of practice.

Yesterday, I had my last ungraded client counseling session and tomorrow is my graded client interview. Even though it is a graded assignment, based upon the feedback I’ve received in previous sessions, I am confident that I will do great!

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