Southwestern Launches the Amicus Project
Everyone needs friends, perhaps even more so in court. Launching in the Fall of 2013, the Amicus Project at Southwestern is a first-of-its-kind pro bono outreach program that will enable law students to gain practical experience by preparing amicus - or "friend of the court" - briefs for cases in which an amicus brief is needed. An amicus brief allows a person or entity that is not part of a case, but has an interest in the matter, to file a brief for the court to take into consideration.
A central component of the Amicus Project is the Amicus Project Practicum (APP), a course that provides students with the opportunity to work individually on an amicus brief under the supervision of a law professor or practicing attorney. Professor Michael Epstein, director of the Amicus Project, and other involved faculty will select the cases, which may arise out of any jurisdiction. (The need for amicus briefs typically arises at the appellate level.)
Professor Epstein was inspired to create the Amicus Project by his own experience as a law student when, as an intern at the Media Access Project in Washington, D.C., he had the opportunity to draft an amicus brief for a telecommunications case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Because he was not yet a lawyer, he could not sign the brief; however, the lawyers who did sign it credited him as a writer. That is the plan for the Amicus Project at Southwestern Law School - to have students write amicus briefs and be recognized in the body of the brief for their integral contributions.
The project has both academic and professional benefits. "The hybrid nature of the program gives students a real-world opportunity while they're still in law school," Professor Epstein said. "It also provides a service to the profession, especially in the wake of cutbacks to public interest funding and increasing demands on law firm pro bono representations. We're hoping that this, in a modest way, will help fill a void left by the economic downturn, and at the same time, give students a meaningful skills-building experience at the very start of their career."
Professor Epstein will pair the practicum student with the appropriate supervisor for each case that is selected. Licensed attorneys/experts in specific areas of law are also encouraged to become supervisors. "The great thing about the Amicus Project is that it is available to all types of cases with a public interest element," he explained. "Cases can be before federal or state courts, and run the gamut of criminal or civil legal issues. This type of subject-matter flexibility allows the Amicus Project to better serve the pro bono community."
Students must apply to be considered for the two-unit, graded Amicus Project Practicum, and will be selected based on academic excellence and professional commitment. The APP is open to full-time students after their first year and to part-time students after their second year. Students interested in the APP must have a demonstrated interest in a specific area of the law, a strong academic record and proven writing ability.
Once the student completes the practicum, the supervisor will have the opportunity to file the brief in association with the Amicus Project; the student writer will be given written credit within the brief, as permitted by court rules.
According to Dean Austen Parrish, "The Amicus Project provides a tremendous opportunity for our students to have a real impact on the community while they continue to develop and refine their professional lawyering skills."
Case referrals and sponsorship are welcome. Interested case sponsors, supervisors and prospective students will find additional information at www.swlaw.edu/amicusproject. Students interested in participating in the Amicus Project Practicum can also find detailed course and application information on the Course Specific Information page of the Portal.