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New Northwestern Law Clinic Involves Students in Supreme Court

August 8, 2006 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel

CHICAGO --- A new clinic that offers students rare opportunities to work on cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, under the supervision of a leading law firm, will be established at Northwestern University School of Law, effective with the start of the academic year. 

“Through this clinic, our students will be able to participate in Sidley Austin's pro bono Supreme Court practice on all aspects of advocacy before the court,” said Thomas F. Geraghty, associate dean for clinical education and director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic at the School of Law. “We're thrilled that our students will have the privilege of working under the supervision of Carter Phillips, one of the country's leading Supreme Court practitioners, as well as with other partners and associates from Sidley Austin.”

For the last 12 years, the Supreme Court pro bono practice of Sidley Austin LLP has been improving the quality of advocacy before the court by helping federal defenders and private counsel think strategically about which cases should be taken to the court and how they should be presented. The Sidley practice mainly works on criminal cases with lawyers representing primarily indigent defendants.

Working with Sidley lawyers in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, clinic faculty will provide thorough knowledge of the Supreme Court and its unique procedures, with a heavy emphasis on helping students develop sophisticated research and writing skills. The focus will be on the types of cases that attract the Supreme Court's attention and the kinds of arguments that capture the votes of a majority of the justices.

“From day one Northwestern law students will be involved in the challenging work that goes into advocating before the U. S. Supreme Court,” said Carter Phillips, Sidley Austin partner and longtime court veteran. “They will be involved in strategic discussions and research on case selection, and they will help write cert petitions, the pleadings that can make the difference in whether or not the court will review a particular case.

“And students will play significant roles in all that goes into preparing advocates to argue before the court. They will help draft briefs and conduct research on a myriad of issues, including the most interesting and controversial issues of law.”

David Van Zandt, dean, Northwestern University School of Law, added: “Anyone who is a court watcher knows of Carter Phillips, who recently was feted at a celebration that marked his 50th time arguing before the court. The experience our students will gain from his affiliation with this clinic is unprecedented.”

The cases that Sidley lawyers work on are developed in conjunction with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, various offices of the Federal Public Defender and private counsel throughout the United States.

“This is a very exciting opportunity for students to get involved in the most prominent legal work in the country,” said Jeffrey Green, the Sidley Austin partner who is responsible for the design of the clinic. “What the students will do will live in the law far beyond the litigation.”

For the classroom component of the clinic, students will receive weekly or bi-weekly instruction on the working of the Supreme Court, appellate writing and advocacy, effective presentation of issues to the court and oral presentation. Guest lecturers will include federal defenders, defense counsel and current and former government attorneys.

Topics: University News