Cat Guerrier ’21 Receives Outstanding Clinical Student Award

Graduate Lauded for Helping Youth Client Facing Prison
Cat Guerrier

Cat Guerrier ’21 participated in the Holistic Juvenile Defense and Federal Criminal Sentence Reduction clinics. Photo by Dan Addison/University Communications

July 12, 2021

Cat Guerrier ’21 has been named this year’s University of Virginia School of Law recipient of the Clinical Legal Education Association’s Outstanding Clinical Student Award.

Students are nominated by their law school’s faculty for excellence in clinical field work and for exceptionally thoughtful, self-reflective participation in an accompanying clinical seminar.

As a student in the Holistic Juvenile Defense and the Federal Criminal Sentence Reduction clinics over the past school year, Guerrier said she learned how inequitable the criminal legal system can be.

“Both clinics demonstrated that lawyering can be messy, particularly defense work,” she said. “It requires hours of research, discussion and writing. Providing holistic defense requires getting to know your clients and their unique needs. Sometimes it requires realizing that the law is not on your client’s side, making negotiations critical. Or it requires coming up with novel and creative arguments. In short, you have to be willing to adapt in order to do right by your client.”

Among her successes, Guerrier and the Holistic Juvenile Defense Clinic team were able to get charges dismissed, following a period of probation, against a student who had an outburst in class while being harassed by another student and was referred to court for making a threat in school. In the Federal Criminal Sentence Reduction Clinic, she filed a motion to end a client’s supervised release six years early, which a judge agreed to.

Professor Crystal Shin ’10, director of the Holistic Juvenile Defense Clinic, said Guerrier was also assigned “our toughest case” of the semester, helping to represent a client facing commitment to juvenile prison.

Guerrier delved into thousands of pages of records to condense the client’s trauma history, family background and special education needs into an eight-page dispositional advocacy letter, with which Guerrier urged the court to consider alternatives to detention. In her advocacy before the court, Guerrier raised racial and ethnic disparity concerns in the juvenile legal system and outlined the long-term consequences associated with a single juvenile felony conviction.

Although the clinic was unable to avoid detention for the client, Shin said both the client and his mother expressed sincere appreciation for Guerrier’s advocacy on his behalf.

“Cat aspires to become a prosecutor in the future, and I feel safer knowing that someone as thoughtful, compassionate and committed to anti-racist principles as Cat will serve the community in that role one day,” Shin said.

Guerrier will first clerk for U.S. Judge Stefan Underhill of the District of Connecticut.

“All in all, I am so thankful for both clinics,” she said. “Professor Shin and [Federal Criminal Sentence Reduction Clinic Director] Lisa Lorish are tremendous role models, and I am confident that I am better lawyer by virtue of their guidance.”

Virginia’s 22 clinics, many of which offer contact with clients, build experience with real-world problems. Students also advance their skills through courses in public speaking, trial advocacy, professional responsibility, and legal research and writing, as well as extracurricular moot court and mock trial competitions.

“The clinic faculty voted to award the CLEA Outstanding Clinical Student award to Cat because her work demonstrated the best traits in a student attorney — zealous, tireless advocacy, and a holistic and creative approach to meeting the client’s needs,” said Professor Sarah Shalf ’01, director of clinical programs. “We are proud of her work.”

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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