Stanford Clinic Scores Supreme Success
When Stanford Law School launched its Supreme Court Litigation Clinic in 2004, it was the first in the nation to let students immerse themselves exclusively in case work for the high court. And just four years later the clinic has landed a full 10 percent of the 70 cases on the court's calendar this term. "Everyone is working at 125 percent capacity right now," says Pamela Karlan, the clinic's codirector.
Karlan cofounded the clinic with veteran Supreme Court advocate Thomas Goldstein of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, D.C., and in 2006 added a second professor, Jeffrey Fisher, with significant Supreme Court experience. Fisher, a rising talent in the Supreme Court bar, came to the clinic with two landmark criminal-law victories under his belt: Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), which strengthened a defendant's right to confront his accusers in court, and Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), which barred judges from increasing a criminal's sentence based on facts not found by a jury.
All this experience has paid dividends. At press time, the Stanford clinic had won more than half its cases before the high court, including victories that made it easier for older workers to sue for federal age discrimination (Smith v. City of Jackson, 544 U.S. 228 (2005)), and for Americans facing bankruptcy to protect their IRAs from creditors (Rousey v. Jacoway, 544 U.S. 320 (2005)).
Goldstein plays a pivotal role in helping the Stanford clinic secure work, aggressively searching for cases with results that conflict with other lower-court decisions-a key factor in persuading the Supreme Court to get involved.
A half dozen other law schools have since created Supreme Court clinics, but Stanford remains the clear leader, according to Georgetown University law professor Richard Lazarus. "Every time I turn around, they seem to have their name on another petition or brief," says Lazarus.
The clinic's 15 students play an important role too, acting as much more than research assistants, according to Karlan. "We're trying to have them actually lawyer the cases," she says, noting that students do substantial work on writing briefs and preparing for arguments.
In fact, Karlan hopes to persuade the high court to change a rule that bars students from being identified in the clinic's legal filings. "The students," she says, "do so much of the work that they deserve to hold up a copy of the brief and say, 'There's my name.' "
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