Students in the Civil Rights & Federal Practice Clinic represent live clients in federal court in cases involving employment discrimination, fair housing, police misconduct, and First Amendment claims.
Most of the clients represented by the Clinic are referred by either non-profit organizations or the courts. Upon referral, cases are screened for the purpose of assessing their pedagogical value. The Clinic docket is carefully structured to maximize students' opportunities to develop the range of skills they will need to become effective federal court practitioners. Care is also taken to ensure that the civil clinic docket consists of a range of substantive legal claims. Given the vast unmet legal need in southern Louisiana, consideration is given as well to whether representation by Clinic students may meaningfully enhance the possibility of a litigant's success.
“Advocating for our clients in the [clinic] was an invaluable experience. The [clinic] gave us an opportunity to negotiate with opposing counsel and fight for improvements to a vital public program that affects thousands of people in our community,” Jay Jensen (L' 18)
Students do not function as law clerks--they handle all aspects of the litigation. Because roughly 96 percent of all litigation is resolved prior to trial, particular emphasis is placed on students developing strong pre-trial advocacy skills. Students interview clients, analyze claims, engage in case planning, conduct informal fact investigation (including witness interviews and public records requests), draft pleadings, draft written discovery requests, take and defend depositions, draft motion packages and argue motions, identify and retain consulting and trial experts, advocate in settlement conferences, prepare pre-trial orders and prepare for trial.
"I also learned in the clinic what it’s like to juggle a lot of balls at one time. How to keep the client informed, keep the paperwork rolling, and how to work with other people in the clinic. And so juggling all of that at once was an experience I was so happy I got in law school, and that I’m so thankful I’ll take with me to the workforce." Morgan Kelley (L’18), Civil Rights and Federal Practice Clinic
In those cases that are litigated through to trial, students have the opportunity to hone their trial advocacy skills. Because trial opportunities are rare, the Clinic seeks alternative opportunities for students to acquire intensive courtroom experience. Oral arguments on dispositive motions are one example: currently pending before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana is a complaint alleging sexual harassment and related discrimination by a New Orleans landlord. In another recent matter, Clinic students successfully presented oral arguments in the spring of 2016 on a motion for summary judgment challenging a state agency’s interpretation of a statute. In January 2018, a Clinic student presented oral argument before the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal, which affirmed the trial court’s decision. The Clinic also occasionally engages in federal appellate practice, which has allowed students to present arguments in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
“Studying for the bar this summer, I was extremely grateful for all that we learned in clinic seminar as we studied federal civil procedure. Additionally, so many of the skills I learned in clinic have been skills I am able to speak about in various interviews.” Alexis Tringas (L '18)
“Learning all about the federal rules and local rules [during my clinical experience] just made me look awesome and saved me when I started my job.” Stephanie Hartmann (L ’18)