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Appellate Advocacy Clinic’s inaugural year a resounding success with students

June 19, 2020

The Appellate Advocacy Clinic focused on issues of economic justice in the criminal law contest.

In its inaugural year, students in the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School’s yearlong Appellate Advocacy Clinic handled a range of cases in state and federal court, with a particular focus on issues of economic justice in the criminal law context.

Professor Jean Galbraith teaches the clinic with Ilana Eisenstein L’04. Currently a partner at DLA Piper, Eisenstein previously served as Assistant to the Solicitor General in the U.S. Department of Justice, where she regularly briefed and argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The clinic allows our students to experience firsthand how appellate advocacy can impact issues of social importance while zealously representing our clients in court,” said Eisenstein.

Next year, Associate Dean for Curricular Affairs Eleanor Barrett L’04 will join Professor Galbraith and Eisenstein as another instructor.

“A major goal of the clinic is to emphasize appellate strategy, especially in the context of impact litigation — how to build a case, how to craft an argument, and the role that can be played by amicus,” said Professor Galbraith. “In practice, appellate representation isn’t solely about brief-writing. It’s also about making strategic decisions as part of a team focused on the interests of the client and — where we are representing an amicus — thinking about what distinctive perspective we can present to the court.”

Andrew Shi L’20, who participated in the clinic this past year, said that all of the work students did in the clinic “had two things in common: it pushed us to become effective litigators, and it exposed us to the importance of lawyering for the public good. Few programs at the law school integrate these values as well as the clinic.”

Haley Pritchard L’20 agreed that the clinic offers students an opportunity to give back by “fighting oppressive systems operating in our own city and state.”

Her work, for example, was focused on “advocating against unaffordable bail, costs, and fines in Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system, obstacles that negatively and disproportionately impact low-income people and people of color.”

In an amicus brief for the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, the clinic highlighted a developing body of social science research that shows that pretrial detention as a result of unaffordable bail disrupts families and communities and even leads to higher rates of conviction.

To supplement their own perspectives, Professor Galbraith and Eisenstein brought in an all-star cast of guest speakers: Teresa Sachs, Chief Counsel to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court; Andrew Christy of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; Aaron Marcus of the Defender Association of Philadelphia; Nancy Winkelman of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office; and Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center.

“This was one of my favorite parts of the clinic,” said Professor Galbraith. “It is remarkable how many great people were willing to join us for a class that started at 7:30 a.m.!” The clinic meets before traditional business hours to accommodate Eisenstein’s professional obligations.

The early start time shows no signs of having slowed clinic participants down. Shi recalls meeting with an immigrant client he was representing in federal appellate proceedings as a defining moment in his clinic experience.

“Our team of students packed into Professor Galbraith’s car at 7 a.m. on a Friday for the day-long road trip to the detention facility where our client was being held. After we checked through security, we met with him for a few hours, and he was visibly excited and grateful to see us. Meeting our client helped me understand that the work I was doing could have a real impact on someone’s life, someone who trusted us to help him navigate a complex and frustrating immigration system.”

Even when the COVID-19 crisis hit, students stayed focused on maximizing the clinic’s impact. Galbraith recalled that one student was all set to give an oral argument in March when it was canceled because of the pandemic.

“I had to call her to give her the news that the argument was off,” Galbraith said, “but she didn’t waste a second on her disappointment — she immediately jumped to thinking about the best interest of the client and whether we should file a statement supplementing one point we had made in the briefing. I was so proud of that reaction.”

After just one year, the clinic has already had a direct impact on students’ career trajectories. Pritchard, for example, will be beginning her career as a Legal Fellow at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, an organization she worked with closely as a clinic participant, where she will focus on reducing pretrial and probation-related incarceration in Pennsylvania.

Shi, who will begin his career with a job at a firm and a clerkship, said that he now feels more equipped to work on a team, interact with clients, and embrace the unpredictable nature of litigation.

“On a big picture scale, the clinic also confirmed what my law professors have been telling me since 1L: the law is a powerful tool for social change, and I can play a part in making change happen,” he said.

Read more about Penn Law’s clinical and externship opportunities.