Law students get chance to work on court cases

Paul Hughes LAW ’08’s law school homework this year could alter the outcome of U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Hughes and 12 of his Law School classmates will participate in a new program launched this year to offer students hands-on experience writing briefs and arguments in real-life legal cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The clinic, a full-year class intended to provide balance for the school’s traditionally theory-centric curriculum, follows in the footsteps of several similar Supreme Court clinics recently opened at other top-ranked law schools.

“The ability to work on real-life cases was a key reason I wanted to attend Yale Law,” Hughes said. “Before coming, I had studied some of the most important precedents established by Yale clinics under the leadership of [Law School Dean Harold Koh], particularly in human rights law. I very much hoped to participate in such precedent-setting, … high-impact cases in a meaningful way.”

Stanford Law School was the first of its peers to launch a clinic both dedicated to Supreme Court litigation and integrated formally into the school’s curriculum. For more than a year, Stanford students have assisted in precedent-setting cases before the high court, such as Georgia v. Randolph, which resulted in a ruling barring law enforcement officers from entering homes in which at least one occupant objects to police entry.

Law professor Dan Kahan, who coordinates the clinic at Yale, said despite a late arrival on the scene, the Law School’s program will quickly earn a name for itself because of the extensive Supreme Court litigation experience of both Yale professors and outside attorneys who will be teaching students through the clinic.

Although Yale Law School faculty have been assembling ad hoc clinics at the school for decades, the new program is the first to be officially promoted as part of the school’s curriculum. In the early 1990s, Koh led a team of student lawyers to the Supreme Court to fight on behalf of Haitian refugees, and earlier this year, a team of law students worked on the ultimately successful side of the highly publicized Guantanamo Bay detainee case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.

Andy Pincus ’77, a lecturer for the clinic, lawyer at the Washington, D.C. firm Mayer, Brown, Row & Maw and former assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General, said he regrets not studying more of the practical side of litigation while in law school, a feeling that inspired him to get involved in the new program.

For the first class that he taught this semester, Pincus and his law firm colleague, Charles Rothfeld, who will also supervise the clinic, chose four cases currently pending before the Supreme Court and asked students to write legal memos advocating or discouraging the hearing of these cases, from the perspective of a high court justice or clerk.

“As a lawyer, you view the law through the lens of practicing, and teaching is a totally different perspective,” Pincus said. “It’s just refreshing to be able to look at things differently.”

Michael Kimberly LAW ’08, another clinic participant, said the program is an ideal opportunity for students who enjoy the ordinary Yale law curriculum — known to be heavy on big-picture content and light on the “nuts and bolts” — to put their thoughts into tangible action.

“We spend a lot of the time at Yale learning the doctrine and the theory and the substance of the law,” said Roman Martinez LAW ’08, another student in the clinic. “But we don’t, in the ordinary curriculum, get the chance to actually do it.”

Kimberly said that cases to be brought before students in the class, divided into groups of two to three, include a wide range of constitutional and statutory issues, from anti-trust and Commerce Cause litigation to questions about the Bill of Rights.

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