Southwestern Law School Los Angeles, CA

News Release

Southwestern Practicum Students Win Two Appellate Cases June 18, 2014
Southwestern Practicum Students Win Two Appellate Cases

Students participating in Southwestern's Appellate Litigation Clinic completed a very successful year, winning both of the cases they argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In April, the court granted Southwestern's client's petition for review and remanded it to the Board of Immigration Appeals with instructions to vacate the order removing him from the United States. Professor Gowri Ramachandran, who teaches the practicum, explained that students Justin Felton, Stephanie Hyland-Zacarias, Annie Levitt and Menachem Striks put together a superb opening brief and reply brief, and they all helped Felton excel in his oral argument. Adjunct Professor Andrew Knapp, who co-teaches the practicum, served as supervising attorney on the case.

"The experience was very gratifying," Levitt said. "After three years of focusing on academics, it was great to get into a case with a real person and know that the outcome would be a critical stage in their life. It turns out that the experience was then also a critical stage in my law school career as it finally put many of the things I had learned in class into practice for the first time."

Then, in June, practicum students scored a second victory when they secured a reversal and remand in a case in which their clients, who are patients at a state mental health hospital, had their personal electronic devices confiscated and banned. The court held they had stated a claim that the policy is excessive and therefore amounts to punishment, which is unconstitutional because the clients involved in the matter are not prisoners, but rather patients. Students Kathryn Podsiadlo, Christine Polito, Talia Leibovic and Jessica Nadler worked diligently on this case, with Podsiadlo successfully arguing before the panel of judges.

"I am thrilled that this really seems to be the first time a court has recognized there is a valid claim (under a punishment theory) regarding electronic devices in civil confinement," Podsiadlo said. "It was incredible to be part of that process."

Professor Ramachandran, who served as supervising attorney, explained that this was a difficult case. "It was the amazing written and oral advocacy of our students that turned it into a winner," she said. "Our students' excellent representation really made a difference!"

While it is common for law students to prepare briefs and argue hypothetical appellate problems in their classes or in front of jurists at competitions, few have the opportunity to stand before sitting judges to fight for real people facing potentially life-altering challenges. Southwestern's Appellate Litigation Practicum offers students an opportunity to work with a professor in litigating pro bono appeals in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals - up to and including oral argument before the court.

"The practicum was a great opportunity to put all the theories taught in law school into practice," Nadler said. "You never really appreciate the significance of standards of review or the importance of preserving an issue for appeal until you are given a record and told to run with it."

Cases for the practicum are chosen from the list provided by the Ninth Circuit's pro bono office, which appoints lawyers to represent pro se litigants - those filing appeals without legal counsel - and encourages law school clinics (or practicums) to take on these cases.

Students in this practicum receive hands-on training in legal research and writing, as well as substantive law as it applies to the cases. They participate in every step of the process, including review of the file; meeting with the client; assessing possible arguments; researching case law; proposing arguments; drafting, revising, and proofing the opening brief; reviewing the answer brief; drafting, revising, and proofing the reply brief; and negotiating possible settlement. The course meets once a week to discuss the research and writing tasks for the upcoming week, as well as talk about litigation strategy in general. Unless a case is won on the briefs or settled, oral argument is guaranteed, and one student is selected to present the case before the Court.

While enrollment is by invitation, interested students should contact Professor Gowri Ramachandran or Adjunct Professor Andrew Knapp.