First Amendment Clinic Returns

Gift From Thomas Jefferson Center Supports Relaunched Course
Supreme Court building
July 1, 2019

The University of Virginia School of Law will bring back its First Amendment Clinic for the 2019-20 academic year.

In the yearlong clinic, students work closely with Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press lawyers on timely and vital matters involving free speech and press freedom. Students will conduct legal research, meet with clients and co-counsel, and draft legal memoranda and briefs. Assignments may lead to appellate-level and trial-level litigation.

The clinic is supported in part by a gift from the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, which is donating its assets to relaunch the clinic. The center was founded by the late Robert M. O’Neil, former UVA president, Law School professor and longtime director of the clinic. UVA’s First Amendment Clinic is one of the oldest of its kind in the country and had been on a brief hiatus.

The relaunched First Amendment Clinic “will teach the next generation of lawyers and advocates to advance crucial values, and we are grateful to the Thomas Jefferson Center for its support,” Dean Risa Goluboff said.

This year’s instructors are Jennifer Nelson ’11 and Gabe Rottman. Nelson is a staff attorney with the RCFP and was an associate in the Washington, D.C., office of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, where she focused on complex litigation and congressional investigations. Rottman is the director of the RCFP’s Technology and Press Freedom Project, which integrates legal, policy and public education efforts to protect newsgathering and First Amendment freedoms as they intersect with emerging technological challenges and opportunities.

“Attorneys with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press will oversee students as they work in teams to provide free legal services to journalists and documentarians,” the instructors said. “Students will also have an opportunity to work on emerging issues in First Amendment and technology law, such as reporter-source protections and content regulation online.”

In the past, the clinic succeeded in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Justice Department and was featured in The New York Times. Clinic students also drafted amicus briefs in a U.S. Supreme Court case involving threatening social media posts and in an appeals court response to a state law barring doctors from engaging patients about gun ownership.

“Students will benefit from working alongside Reporters Committee attorneys and staff on ongoing legal and policy efforts on issues such as leaks and the Espionage Act, and new newsgathering techniques like drones and data journalism,” Nelson and Rottman said.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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