Student Commentary

Federal Appellate Litigation Clinic | A Student Experience

Representing an indigent immigrant in a deportation appeal before the Third Circuit was the absolute highlight of my three years at Temple Law. As I prepare to begin my legal career, I am incredibly grateful to have learned the following:

What Legal Teamwork Looks Like: As law students, we are used to writing our papers and taking our exams independently. Collaborating with Professor Levy and Professor Epstein taught me what it means to be part of a legal team. I learned how lawyers divide different tasks and support each other’s research and writing. This experience further showed me how to respectfully navigate differences. While we all shared the common goal of obtaining relief for our client, there were often varying opinions about the best way to get there. Professor Levy and Professor Epstein taught me how to let the client’s best interests drive the discussions and decisions about the right course of action to pursue.

How to Prepare for an Appellate Argument: One of the most crucial lessons I learned from Professor Levy and Professor Epstein was the importance of preparing for your panel. The Third Circuit released the names of the three judges that would make up my panel a little over a week before my argument. Once we had that information, we spoke with lawyers who had argued before each of these judges to learn about their questioning styles, arguments that had persuaded them, and strategies that had fallen flat. We crafted an opening line that we hoped would set the right tone for our panel, brainstormed lists of questions, and practiced answers to the counterpoints I was sure to be asked about. I mooted with panels of law professors, moot court team members, immigration attorneys, government lawyers, and my law school friends.

Professor Levy and Professor Epstein also taught me to never overlook the minutia. I visited the federal courthouse where my argument would be held to observe my panel in another immigration appeal and see the physical courtroom where I would argue our case. I saw how the timekeeping system worked and made sure the materials that I planned to bring up with me fit on the podium. Knowing these minor logistical details made sure there were no surprises on the day of my argument. I am grateful to have learned not only the necessity of meticulous preparation but also how to do it.

The Importance of Pro Bono Work: Our client was incredibly kind, thoughtful, and smart, but because he could not afford a lawyer, he was unable to fight his deportation case or navigate the complex bureaucracies that prevented him from obtaining the evidence he needed. This experience underscored the tremendous advantages in resources, problem-solving abilities, and attention that legal representation brings, and it renewed my lifelong commitment to pro bono representation of indigent clients.

There were inevitable moments when I wondered whether our client would be better off if Professor Levy or Professor Epstein, two experienced appellate attorneys, argued the case. As with many things, action was the antidote to my feelings of doubt. While I could not control the fact that I had never before argued in a federal appellate court, there were plenty of elements that I could control and use to strengthen our case. I directed my energy towards comprehensive research and thoughtful brief-writing. I set up alerts to track pending Supreme Court cases that could potentially impact our decision. I arranged for moots with additional panels of professionals and students. I reread the record until I had memorized our most important evidence verbatim and knew the record cites by heart. Clinical students will have the same time, support, and resources, and those who are interested in this incredible program should not let anxiety deter them from applying.

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