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From Penn Law to the Solicitor General's Office: Ellis L'10 Awarded Bristow Fellowship

March 01, 2011

Jonathan Ellis L’10
Careers and Fellowships: Appellate Advocacy

Even among top students at Penn Law, Jonathan Ellis L’10 stood out. Upon his graduation in 2010, he was the recipient of the Peter McCall prize, awarded annually to the member of the graduating class who has received the highest grades during their three years at the Law School.

Currently serving since August in a clerkship for Judge A. Raymond Randolph on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Ellis was recently selected to be a Bristow Fellow in the Office of the Solicitor General at the U.S. Department of Justice.
These prestigious Fellowships are awarded to law school graduates with excellent academic records, typically after completion the of a one-year judicial clerkship, usually with a federal appellate-court judge.  In recent years, four Bristows have been selected each year.
The Solicitor General’s Office oversees and conducts government litigation before the United States Supreme Court.  According to the Department of Justice, Bristow Fellows help the Solicitor General’s Office draft briefs in opposition to petitions for certiorari - a document that a losing party of a lower court case files with the U.S. Supreme Court asking the Court to review the decision - and prepare recommendations for the Solicitor General regarding authorization of government appeals in the lower courts.
Fellows also assist staff lawyers in preparing petitions for certiorari and briefs on the merits in Supreme Court cases, work on special projects, and assist the Solicitor General and other lawyers in the office in the preparation of oral arguments in the Supreme Court. 
With the support of Penn Law faculty and administrators, Ellis applied for the Bristow Fellowship because, he said, he enjoys, “the difficult legal questions that are the focus of appellate courts and litigators.” During each year of his summer employment while at Penn Law, Ellis sought to work with appellate lawyers, “and it just furthered my interest in the practice,” he explained.
Since the Solicitor General’s Office is ultimately in charge of all appellate litigation on behalf of the United States, the Bristow Fellowship seemed like a natural fit for Ellis and “a fantastic opportunity,” he said.
Ellis’ participation in the inaugural year of Penn Law’s new Supreme Court Clinic helped prepare him for the position. “When Penn started its Supreme Court Clinic over my second summer, I jumped at the chance to be involved.  And I was lucky enough to be selected.”
He worked in the Supreme Court clinic with fellow students and director Professor Stephanos Bibas, taking the co-requisite Supreme Court Practice Seminar with Professors Amy Wax and James Feldman.  “With Professor Bibas, I got great insight into what practice is like before the Supreme Court,” Ellis noted. “And with the two veterans of the Solicitor General's Office teaching the seminar [Wax and Feldman], I was also able to learn how that office works.”
Building on his experience in the Law School’s Legal Writing program, Ellis said, “One thing I focused on during law school was developing my writing ability. I was a computer programmer in my ‘first life.’  Writing wasn’t a big focus during my undergraduate education. At Penn Law and during my summer firm employment, the advice I’ve heard over and over is if you want to learn how to write well, you need to read good writing. And the professional consensus is that the Solicitor General's briefs contain some of the best legal writing around. So, I'm excited to work with those writers, to learn from them, and to contribute to the work of the office.”
Ellis was very active within the community at Penn Law.  “I was involved with the Law Review as associate editor and PENNumbra Editor,” he explained. “I was a member of the Christian Legal Society, serving as president my second year. And I was involved with the Federalist Society.”
Even during his first year at Penn Law, Ellis was involved with both the post-acceptance committee that runs the weekend for prospective students, and also worked with the Admissions office throughout the rest of his time at the Law School, meeting with prospective students, and participating in panels and other activities. 
“I'm very happy I ended up at Penn,” he said.  “I was able to get to know a great group of classmates my first year, and many more in later years. I really enjoyed that.  The small class size and even the physical layout, with the courtyard and surrounding buildings, create a great environment. And Dean [of Students Gary] Clinton does a fantastic job of fostering the sort of community that makes Penn Law a great place to study.”
In the classroom, Ellis particularly enjoyed courses with “Professors [Stephen] Burbank and [Matthew] Adler, who engaged us with the Socratic method and explained the most complicated matters in ways students could understand. Professor Adler’s class is particularly helpful with my work for Judge Randolph – the docket at the D.C. Circuit is made up largely of administrative law cases.”
Ellis advises current students that “there are many different paths to take at Penn, depending on where you want to go and what you want to do.”  Students, he said, would be well served to “get to know your professors, go to lunch with them, visit during office hours, and develop relationships with these folks who want to teach you and who want to be helpful as you go through your career. I ended up having lunch or coffee with nearly all my professors; it was a fantastic opportunity to pick the brains of these men and women who are so accomplished, so well regarded, and so learned in the law.”