Professors: Jon Romberg and Rachel Godsil
Offered: Year-long course, both fall and spring semesters – students must enroll for 2 credits in the fall and 3 credits in the spring. (Please note that the work in the course is actually distributed roughly 3/5 in the fall and 2/5 in the spring; the year-long, 1 credit seminar is technically credited in the spring.)
The Impact Litigation Clinic focuses on federal appellate cases, likely involving students working in teams of two on cases representing an indigent client before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Students will brief and argue cases before the Second Circuit that the court has determined present important and potentially meritorious issues warranting appointment of pro bono counsel.
This course provides an opportunity for stronger students who want to be challenged to refine their legal analysis, writing, and oral argument skills before practice or a clerkship. It is particularly appropriate for those who will have, or intend to apply for, a federal clerkship, or for any practice that will involve complex legal analysis and writing. Students will receive intensive personal supervision and training on what it takes to be a highly skilled legal thinker, writer, and courtroom disputant.
This course, unlike the other clinics, is year-long. Students enroll for 2 credits in the fall semester (when students research and draft the opening brief, which is roughly 60% of the work for the year) and 3 credits in the spring semester (when students draft the reply brief and prepare for and present oral argument, which is roughly 40% of the work for the year). Students also engage in settlement discussions with opposing counsel and court personnel. (On occasion, students successfully negotiate and draft a settlement agreement, in which case they will argue the case before a panel of professors.) A two-hour seminar meets weekly throughout the year.
Clinical Law Practice
Students work very closely with Professor Romberg in preparing their briefs: this includes reviewing the district court record and district court opinion; consulting with the client; attempting to negotiate a settlement with opposing counsel; researching and writing the opening and reply briefs; and preparing for oral argument.
This course is intended for the student who wants an in-depth opportunity to learn how to engage in thorough and careful legal research, to think deeply about legal issues, to discuss not only doctrine but strategy in complex cases, and finally and most importantly, to craft effective legal briefs. A heavy emphasis is placed on understanding the structure of a persuasive legal argument, and on practicing and perfecting highly advanced legal writing.
In recent years, Impact Clinic students have represented clients in the following typical cases:
We litigated an issue of first impression in the Second Circuit with significant implications for international human rights and the rule of law. We are arguing that the Vienna Convention provides individually enforceable rights for a foreign national who was arrested in the United States to be able to communicate with his home consulate to receive assistance in his criminal defense – and that violation of the treaty permits a civil rights suit for damages. This issue will likely eventually reach the Supreme Court. The Department of Justice, after reviewing a copy of our brief, has moved to participate in our case before the Second Circuit as amicus in an attempt to counter our arguments. We lost the case before the Second Circuit, and teamed with O’Melveny & Myers’s Supreme Court Practice Group and Harvard Law School’s Supreme Court Clinic to file a petition for certiorari.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held in favor of the Impact Litigation Clinic in a published opinion covered in the New York Law Journal and the New York Sun. Prison officials had failed to provide medication to our client, who suffered from glaucoma, and our client went blind as a result. The court upheld our client’s right to sue to recover compensatory damages under the Eighth Amendment, finding that prison supervisors who were aware of the problem but did nothing to assist were potentially liable.
We successfully settled a case for our client, a legal permanent resident who has lived in the United States for nearly 25 years, since he was a child. We argued that he should not be deported as an “aggravated felon” because of a state misdemeanor to which he pleaded guilty but served no jail time in 1994. Despite significant weight of precedent going against our client, clinic students crafted complex arguments within the intricate web of statutes restricting the rights of immigrants. The U.S. Attorney's Office initially told us, in early settlement discussions, that we should withdraw from the case because our argument was so weak; after reading our brief, she faxed over a proposed Settlement Agreement that gives our client a realistic shot to leave prison, where he has been for three years awaiting deportation, and to again become a productive member of society.
The clinic represented an inmate on a First Amendment and Due Process claim that resulted in a precedent-setting, published opinion that was front page news in the New York Law Journal. Our client possessed radical black nationalist literature. A prison guard seized the literature, which he said he found to be “against our America,” and our client was charged with carrying "unauthorized gang materials." Prison regulations required that such literature be reviewed by a prison administration committee trained to measure First Amendment interests against concerns about institutional security. The prison refused to send the material to be reviewed by the authorized committee, instead letting individual prison officials determine that our client should be sentenced to more than a year in punitive isolation for possessing the First Amendment-protected materials.
Students are required to schedule four regular office hours each week in the fall, and three in the spring, when they will be in the Center for Social Justice. Scheduling of those hours is relatively flexible, so long as each team of students is able to coordinate a few hours each week that overlap with each other and with Professor Romberg. Students are expected to spend an average of approximately nine hours a week on Impact Litigation Clinic work in the fall, and six in the spring. Please note that this figure will vary greatly over the course of the semester, and of the year, and that the work will come in distinct waves. Some weeks will require a great deal of work, e.g., for a few weeks before a brief is due or oral argument will occur; in other weeks, e.g., when we are waiting for the adversary’s brief to be filed, the work will be relatively light.
Applicants for the Impact Clinic should be aware that this course is challenging, and the required standards are high – your drafts will have an enormous number of proposed edits, and the brief you turn in to court will be first-rate, even if that requires a great number of drafts. The Impact Clinic presents a rare opportunity to work in great depth on advanced legal analysis and legal writing, and to work on important and potentially high-profile cases that may be particularly useful to students who will have, or who wish to apply for, a federal clerkship, or to students who otherwise wish to learn how to handle extremely complex litigation, and to demonstrate to prospective employers that they are able to do so. Impact clinic alums have gone on to clerk for the New Jersey Supreme Court, federal district court judges, and for both the Second and Third Circuit Courts of Appeals.
The seminar portion of the course generally meets weekly over both semesters for a two-hour session. The seminar covers issues related to appellate practice and, more broadly, the theory and practice of effective legal analysis, writing, and oral argument. Much of the seminar is spent discussing different aspects of advanced legal writing in the particular context of the students’ cases; this means that students learn in a practical setting, and also that students will collaborate not only with Professor Romberg, but with each other, in preparing their cases over the course of the year.
Criteria for Admission
Admission to this clinic is very competitive. Students admitted to the Impact Litigation Clinic ordinarily have unusually strong academic records, often coupled with other indicators of preparation for a particularly rigorous writing experience. Preference is given to students who submit a writing sample with their application that demonstrates, in conjunction with the student's resume and transcript, the capacity for high-quality impact litigation. Public interest experience and interest is also considered. The writing sample should demonstrate legal analysis (i.e., should be a legal brief, memo, or paper that cites to and analyzes judicial opinions, rather than solely addressing policy or theory). Please note if the sample has been edited by others, and to what extent.
Note: Because admission to the Impact Litigation Clinic is very competitive (in recent years, the significant majority of students admitted to the Clinic have been at least in the top quarter of the class), unless your academic record is particularly strong, or your resume otherwise provides strong indicators of capacity for high-quality, public interest impact litigation, you may wish to consider listing other clinics as your top choice(s) on your CSJ application so that clinical opportunities are not foreclosed for you.