A common complaint among first-year law students is that they sometimes feel insulated from the actual practice of law. But on two Saturdays in April, more than 100 Berkeley Law 1Ls got a true taste of the legal world by participating in their first oral arguments at the majestic James R. Browning United States Courthouse, the San Francisco hub of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Recent Berkeley Law alumni and volunteer lawyers from the area acted as judges for the students, whose arguments concluded the written and oral advocacy portion of the law school’s First Year Legal Skills Program.
This past semester, each first-year student wrote a motion for summary judgment brief based on an assigned problem from a real case. Participating judges then reviewed the briefs in advance of the arguments and tailored mock questions to the students’ assertions. For 15 minutes, each student engaged in a back-and-forth, appellate-style conversation with the designated judge.
“This is the third year that Berkeley Law students have completed their oral arguments at the Ninth Circuit building, and it’s been a fantastic experience,” says teaching assistant Kelly Stevens ’08. “The students worked extremely hard throughout the semester.”
Students were divided into 12 sections and worked on two cases. The first addressed whether the American Disabilities Act requires retailers’ websites to be accessible to blind individuals. The second addressed the legality of a speak-English-only rule imposed on Navajo-speaking employees in an Arizona restaurant under Title VII. Both were based on real cases, with names and certain facts changed to suit the program’s needs.
For Allyson Franco ’10, who won her section’s Best Oral Argument award, the program marked the high point of her early law school career. “Giving my oral argument at the Ninth Circuit really enhanced the experience,” she says. “The atmosphere of the courthouse made me feel more like a ‘real lawyer’ than anything else I’ve done this year.”
— By Andrew Cohen