College of Law

UT Law students argue cases before US Court of Appeals

Posted April 7, 2016

Students of the University of Tennessee College of Law’s Appellate Litigation Clinic recently traveled to Cincinnati to argue two cases before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Third-year law students Alexandra Wolff and Trey Neal received the opportunity to argue their cases after nearly a year of intense preparation supported by fellow students Cameron Kapperman, Patrick Morrison, and Sara Ohlman. Under the guidance of professor Lucy Jewel and adjunct professor Wade Davies, the students worked collaboratively over the past year to prepare the record; draft the principal, reply, and supplemental briefs; and deliver oral arguments.

On March 16, Wolff argued an immigration appeal on behalf of a young Honduran man seeking asylum from deadly gang violence in a country that has been dubbed the “murder capital of the world.” The complex asylum case involves a myriad of issues, including the constitutionality of statutes governing judicial determinations in immigration matters. Judges Helene White, Alice Batchelder, and Sheryl Lipman presided over the case.

“The stress and anxiety of representing a client facing deportation and potentially death, especially when the representation lasted for almost a full academic year, was a completely new experience for me,” Wolff said. “I had been warned about the time commitment, crazy schedules, and being needed by your client at the drop of a hat, but I did not know that I would become so emotionally invested. Perhaps that’s because immigration issues are inherently emotional, or my client became emotional at our first meeting. Whatever the reason, I found that no matter what twists and turns the case took, I genuinely believed my client’s story and wanted to do everything I could to ensure his safety.”

The following day, Neal argued a habeas corpus issue before judges Raymond Kethledge, Jane Roth, and Bernice Donald. The case explores whether the client’s post-conviction motion, filed in Kentucky, was properly filed to toll the statute of limitations under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.

“The experience was intense, a mix of nervousness and excitement,” said Neal. “The judges were very engaged and knowledgeable about the case, so it really just became a conversation. They asked tough questions, but my professors spent a lot of time with me preparing, and luckily that’s what I was able to fall back on. The judges seemed sympathetic to our arguments, so we’re cautiously optimistic that our client will get a favorable ruling.”

While the decisions in each case will not be handed down for months, the opportunity for law students to argue real cases at the federal level is rare.

“This experience has been one of the most rewarding points of my teaching career. As a clinic teacher, my goal has always been to provide students with the tools, practice, and confidence necessary to do the best possible job for the client,” said Jewel, associate professor of law and director of the Appellate Litigation Clinic. “It was heartening to know that our students provided excellent representation for clients who would not have received much legal help on their own. I am so very proud of what the students have achieved.”

The Appellate Litigation Clinic is one of nine clinics in UT Law’s overall Legal Clinic program. Founded in 1947, UT’s Legal Clinic is the longest-running of its kind in the nation and allows students to learn by doing—representing clients in need and helping resolve legal disputes under faculty supervision.