Academics: Professional Training

Appellate Litigation Clinic

Professor Stephen Braga, Adjunct Professor Kevin L. Cope; 8 Credits

This yearlong clinic allows eight students to engage in the hands-on practice of appellate litigation through actual cases before various federal circuit and/or state appellate courts of appeals. The students are paired into teams and assigned to handle work on at least two appellate cases in those courts during the course of the year.

This work includes identifying the issues to be raised on appeal through factual analysis and legal research, preparing opening and reply briefs persuasively advocating for the client’s position on those issues and, in a number of cases, personally presenting oral argument on the issues to the appellate court. Because of the requirements contained in the student practice rules at the courts of appeals, this clinic is only open to third-year students.

All students in the clinic are expected to attend a weekly class where key topics of appellate practice and procedure are taught, along with group discussion of issues relating to the cases then pending in the clinic generally. Student teams also engage in working supervision meetings with the clinic director specifically on preparation of the appeals they will be handling for the clinic’s clients. Finally, all students have the opportunity to participate in multiple moot courts designed to enhance their argument skills. Through this process, students receive real professional training in the arts of oral and written advocacy, as it is practiced in some of the highest courts in the nation. The clinic’s caseload is expected to include both civil and criminal cases, as well as cases involving government agencies.

Razavi and ValentineStudents Win Appeal at 4th Circuit

Dean Razavi '10 and Ellen Valentine '10 racked up their first win at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals before graduating from law school. The students, both enrolled in the Law School’s Appellate Litigation Clinic at the time, were assigned to help an inmate who appealed his 15-year sentence on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Both Valentine and Razavi worked on the brief, while Razavi represented inmate Nicholas Omar Tucker at oral argument. Tucker had filed his appeal pro se before the case was picked up by the clinic.

“Unlike moot court, where a fake issue is isolated for discussion and argument, this was a real case, with a real individual,” Razavi said. “Questions came from every direction that, in rounds and rounds of practice, none of us had ever anticipated. It was such an engaging dialogue that, 30 seconds in, I forgot I was in a courtroom of people and thought that I was just trying to explain the law to the three judges in front of me.”

The 4th Circuit sided with the students and the case was remanded to the district court for resentencing.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to work on a real case. It gave us such a huge sense of responsibility,” Valentine said. “Making sure I finished the brief while also juggling my other classes, pro bono projects and various other commitments made me realize the balancing act that practicing attorneys are faced with everyday.”