By Andrew Cohen
Poised, persistent, and prepared, Claire Weintraub ’23 and Natalie Kaliss ’23 recently soared in the spotlight on behalf of a woman seeking immigration relief.
They capped their law school careers with a memorable experience, arguing before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for a client petitioning the Board of Immigration Appeals’ denial of asylum and related relief.
Part of Berkeley Law’s Ninth Circuit Practicum, in which students craft and argue cases under attorney supervision, Weintraub and Kaliss asserted that their client was persecuted in her home country and deserved asylum and protection under the Convention Against Torture, refuting key aspects of the immigration judge’s findings.
“It was extremely rewarding to commit a whole year to getting to know the case, see it through the entire appellate process, and know that we were hopefully giving our client the best chance possible at getting the agency’s decision overturned,” Weintraub says. “I also learned a lot substantively about immigration law that I’m sure will be useful in my future work.”
Kaliss relished the chance to hone vital lawyering skills, including how to perform a thorough record review, use legal research tools and court-provided subject matter outlines, write effectively and persuasively, and collaborate on a long-term case.
“My experience in the practicum, including oral argument, has been valuable and illuminating, and confirmed the value of preparation and teamwork in effective legal advocacy,” she says. “Although we can’t control the outcome of a legal fight or the external factors influencing a judge’s decision, we can control the content, quality, and emotional commitment we apply to our presentation of the case.”
They now await the court’s ruling, which they hope will be issued by the end of summer.
Out of her comfort zone
From a personal perspective, Weintraub freely admits to apprehension about the oral argument, as her only prior experience was in Berkeley Law’s Written and Oral Advocacy course required for all 1Ls.
From a strategic perspective, she and Kaliss had to present a fact-intensive case with myriad issues in a succinct, persuasive, easily digestible way. It was hard to predict which issues the judges would ask about, so the students prepared for every possible path the questions might take, participating in several practice arguments with practicum supervisors Amalia Wille ’13 and Judah Lakin ’15, other practicum students, and Director Bill Fernholz ’93.
“Bill taught us how to write concisely, avoid passive voice, and make every paragraph, sentence, header, and punctuation mark further the overall argument,” Kaliss says. “He also acted as the emotional rock of the practicum, checking in with each student to make sure we felt supported and confident in our abilities to be effective advocates.”
Wille consistently held Zoom meetings with Weintraub and Kaliss to help them better understand the convoluted record, distill the legal issues, refine the research and legal arguments, provide feedback on their written work, and guide them through numerous practice arguments.
“It was a really fun and dynamic experience, because no two sessions went exactly the same, and each one provided opportunities to improve or strengthen our arguments,” Weintraub says.
When the big moment came, Weintraub delivered the opening argument, adeptly highlighting procedural missteps and other concerning issues in the previous trial, and Kaliss presented a powerful rebuttal to the government’s case.
The moment of truth
The judges did not object to certain key points Weintraub and Kaliss raised, but one did push back on some of their other arguments, including their interpretation of recent Ninth Circuit case law that called for lowering the bar for remand in similar cases.
“We felt good about how the argument went overall, but left without a lot of certainty as to how the panel would rule,” Weintraub says. “Because the case was so complicated and involved so many different sub-issues, we think there are any number of ways the court might decide to remand the case — some more generous to our client than others — so we’re cautiously hopeful that we could receive a net positive outcome.”
Noting the high stakes involved with their client’s asylum application denial, Wille credits Weintraub and Kaliss for staying fully dedicated to seeking justice by developing the technical skills the litigation required.
“They mastered the details of a lengthy trial record in order to effectively tell their client’s story to the appeals court,” Wille says. “During oral argument, they deftly responded to the judges’ questions — showing facility with case law while also backing up their arguments with pinpoint citations to the trial transcript.”
Both students will begin working in San Francisco this fall, when Weintraub will join the Immigration Center for Women and Children and Kaliss will join Latham & Watkins. Both believe their memorable practicum experience will provide a huge boost in their legal careers.
“The practicum creates a unique and rewarding opportunity for students to do direct, impactful, and meaningful pro bono work for the public by putting students in the driver’s seat of running a live immigration or civil rights case,” Kaliss says. “I’ll always be thankful to the other practicum students who proved time and time again what a special school Berkeley Law is. Everyone brought a positive attitude to our seminar, no matter how internally stressed we were with our own practicum work, and each student helped each other in our times of need.”