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Frank Blechschmidt L’12 raises the bar

July 23, 2012

As Frank Blechschmidt L’12 discovered this summer, opportunity doesn’t always knock at a convenient time, but when it does it pays to answer.

Blechschmidt, who graduated from Penn Law in May, was enrolled in the Law School’s Federal Appellate Litigation Externship program during his final academic year. The program - offered through Penn Law’s Gittis Center for Clinical Legal Studies in partnership with the Dechert law firm - is an opportunity for students to get real-world experience handling a case on appeal, from drafting a brief to oral argument.

The program, which was created in 2009, recently earned Dechert the prestigious Beacon of Justice Award from the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

Earlier this month Blechschmidt appeared before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia and presented the oral argument in a pro bono immigration case.

Under the supervision of Dechert attorneys, Blechschmidt was acting as friend-of-the-court counsel on behalf of a man from India who was seeking asylum in the United States because of persecution he said he suffered for his Sikh beliefs.

“The immigration judge had denied his asylum claim because she determined that he was not credible at his merits hearing,” Blechschmidt said. “On appeal before the Third Circuit, we argued that the evidence supporting the immigration judge’s decision was not substantial enough to warrant the adverse credibility determination. We also raised a due process claim.”

Even though the appeals court eventually upheld the immigration judge’s decision and denied the asylum-seeker’s petition, Blechschmidt’s advocacy on the day of the proceeding earned the appellate judges’ respect. At the end of his rebuttal argument, Judge Thomas Ambro, a member of the three-judge panel hearing the case, concluded by telling Blechschmidt in open court, “As they say in South Philly, you done good.”

“The argument was an incredibly rewarding experience and will surely be one of the most memorable moments from my days at Penn,” Blechschmidt said. “I was glad I had the opportunity to watch my classmates Rich Slavin and Angela Briggs argue a different case in April. After watching them argue, I knew I couldn’t let the opportunity pass by if the Third Circuit granted oral argument in our case.”

It was the fact that Blechschmidt did seize the opportunity, flying back to Philadelphia from Chicago, where he was studying  for the bar exam, that impressed the Dechert attorneys he worked with and his professors at Penn Law just as much as the quality of his advocacy.

“Frank was extremely well prepared and cool under fire,” said Louis Rulli, practice professor of law and director of Penn Law’s clinical programs. “While the timing of this argument was not great in view of his bar study, I think Frank’s willingness to take time out to prepare for this argument and to present it when he did speaks volumes about his professionalism.”

“Frank was a pleasure to work with, and I’m very impressed that he took time out from his studies to handle this argument just weeks before the bar exam,” said Carolyn Feeney, a Dechert partner who worked with Blechschmidt on the case.

Blechschmidt takes the bar exam on July 24-25, after which he begins work as an associate in the Chicago office of Edwards Wildman Palmer.

“I am sure we will hear more wonderful things from Frank in the near future,” said Rulli, who along with professors David Rudovsky and Sarah Paoletti helped him practice and refine his arguments in a moot court presentation before the court appearance. “He made us all proud!”