Mason's Supreme Court Clinic Makes the News

Mason Law's Supreme Court Clinic was featured in an Associated Press article examining the emergence of programs designed to give law students the unusual opportunity to participate in cases before the United States Supreme Court while still engaged in the study of law.

Mason's clinic, one of only a half-dozen in the U.S., allows law students to research issues, draft briefs, and consult with lawyers representing cases before the high court. Under the supervision of experienced attorneys, law students are exposed to and participate in the most cutting-edge issues of law.

Attorneys Tom McCarthy and Will Consovoy, both partners at Wiley Rein and Mason law graduates (’00), were at the Supreme Court Monday with students from Mason's Supreme Court Clinic as they assisted on a case concerning time limits for prisoners challenging their convictions, Wood v. Milyard, which was argued before the high court in Washington, Monday, Feb. 27, 2012.

"One thing we've told students from the very start is, 'You should approach this like a job,'" says McCarthy.

Colorado Solicitor General Dan Domenico, upon whose case the Mason Law students worked, indicated that using the students for this purpose allowed him to double his manpower on the case.

"I think these clinics can really provide a service to those of us who don't spend the bulk of our time concentrating on the Supreme Court," said Domenico.

The idea of a Supreme Court Clinic originated at Stanford University in 2004, and since then the concept has be adopted at Harvard University, Yale University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Texas, in addition to George Mason Law. It is estimated that over the past three years, students have participated in roughly one in every six cases argued before the Supreme Court.

"We're all very much aware that you can go your entire legal career without ever being on a case before this court, and it's unbelievable that we'd have this experience as law students," said clinic participant Matthew Long, who will graduate from Mason Law in May 2012.

Supreme Court 101 in session at high court, Times Union, February 28, 2012.
"We now run into situations more often where we contact somebody, or somebody contacts us, and they are talking to other clinics as well," said Jeffrey Fisher, the co-director of the Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, who will argue before the court Tuesday as part of a case his students worked on.

"Fisher and other instructors who run law school clinics say their classes have helped raise the quality of arguments before the court and clinics offer something big law firms can't. They are willing to get involved in disputes against big businesses, for example. And enthusiastic students can take on time-consuming tasks that would run up costs for a law firm, such as reviewing every state's policy on an issue or scouring hundreds of pages of law for the way a single word is used. There's another factor that can make clinics attractive to potential clients: Their help comes free.

"Students don't do the work alone.

"Each clinic is supervised, usually by a professor or a lawyer at a firm with extensive Supreme Court experience. Students, for their part, may work to identify lower court cases that they believe the Supreme Court will be interested in reviewing. When a clinic takes a case, students may then draft petitions asking the court to hear the case and, if the case is accepted, research and help craft legal briefs for the court."