By Andrew Cohen
Professor Lucinda Sikes was thrilled, though hardly surprised, that Ansel Carpenter ’20 and Emily Miller ’20 won the annual Continuing Education of the Bar Award for Excellence in Legal Research and Writing at Berkeley Law.
Both students in her Written and Oral Advocacy section last year “spent the necessary time to develop and refine their arguments,” Sikes says. “They fine-tuned and polished their prose after each draft, so that their final briefs were truly excellent.”
Heather Cameron, director of CEB’s Go To Market department, announced Carpenter and Miller as the winners and presented each with a certificate and $2,500 prize at a recent luncheon ceremony.
A joint committee of the University of the California and the State Bar of California, CEB provides practice guides, continuing education, and other professional resources to state bar members. It established the award to honor Berkeley Law students who demonstrate outstanding performance in the school’s Legal Research, Analysis, and Writing Program.
Carpenter, Miller, and 10 classmates became eligible for the award last spring after receiving Best Brief honors in their first-year sections. The other winners were Savannah Reid, Eric Jung, Liz Freeman-Rosenzweig, Bill Nguyen, Elise Baker, Paul von Autenried, Lauren Carroll, Victoria Huang, Sam Miller, and Eliza Green.
“My experience with Professor Sikes was incredibly valuable to me as a legal writer, speaker, and thinker,” Miller says. “I appreciated all the opportunities for individualized feedback and edits from her, our TA’s, and my classmates. Interacting with other writers in this way created a great learning environment for transitioning to the formulaic and sometimes non-intuitive world of legal writing.”
Like all Berkeley Law 1Ls, the Best Brief winners first completed the Legal Research and Writing class during their fall semester. The class teaches students how to read cases, research legal problems, choose precedent, and write legal memoranda on topics involving state and federal law.
During the spring Written and Oral Advocacy course, students learn more advanced research techniques and how to write a brief. After receiving a hypothetical case based on a federal issue, they research case law, write competitive briefs, and argue their position in a moot court setting.
On opposite sides
Last year’s case addressed a petition to release grand jury materials. A Berkeley professor, writing a book on the history of police treatment of minorities in the U.S., sought access to the testimony of a deceased police officer who testified during the 1992 grand jury proceedings in the Rodney King case. The government responded that secrecy interests justified the court’s denial of access to the requested records.
Representing the professor, Carpenter stressed the need “to illuminate an important but murky piece of history.” His brief concluded, “‘Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.’ A quarter century in the dark is enough.”
For Carpenter, the most challenging part of writing his brief was also the most gratifying.
“Finding clearer and more persuasive ways to say everything; going over every word to see if it could be better chosen and every line to see if it could be better constructed,” he says. “I recently looked at my first law school writing assignment. The difference between that and the final brief in quality of writing and clarity of analysis is pretty stark. I attribute so much of that to Professor Sikes—the impact she had was enormous.”
Representing the government, Miller focused on the historic tradition of keeping grand jury proceedings secret. Her brief argued that disclosing the testimony would add little to an already comprehensive historical record.
Doing so, she wrote, “would only serve to invade the privacy of unnamed officers who witnessed the event and endanger the ability of future grand juries to effectively investigate instances of police brutality.”
Two Berkeley Law alumni served on the award selection committee: Judge Holly Fujie ’78 of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, and Elaine Andersson ’82 of Lubin Olson and Niewiadomski.
The winners they chose “were able to reduce the dispute and its resolution to their essence,” Sikes says. “Their briefs were accurate, thorough, and nuanced. Not only did they persuasively advocate for their clients, but they anticipated and responded to the opposing arguments in an affirmative way.”