Coming into law school, I had no intention of ever stepping into a court room. I thought I wanted to do education policy work for a non-profit or government agency, hanging out behind a desk, engaging with complex issues at the highest levels, and generally avoiding an adversarial setting at all costs. But then I actually came to law school and what I thought I wanted shifted dramatically — which, spoiler alert, happens a lot!
My 2L year, my dear friend and current Law Student Association Vice President Andrea Clavijo lovingly coerced me into participating in the intra-school Moot Court competition. More on that later (and you can read about it on the BC Law web site here), but the tl;dr version is that Moot Court is basically fake appellate advocacy. Instead of making an argument to a jury, Law & Order style, you and a partner argue in front of a (fake) Supreme Court, focusing on the legal issues and advocating for what the law should be.
The experience was absolutely terrifying, and I. Absolutely. Loved It. Which is what brings me to the actual topic of the post: the best class I’ve taken in law school.
Armed with my new-found love of arguing with people, I entered my 3L year determined to get all of the experience I could. That’s when I heard about the Supreme Court Seminar, a class taught by BC Law Professor and former Supreme Court clerk Kent Greenfield. The course is tiny (only 11 students), and focuses on the current Supreme Court docket. Each week, two students argue a case, while the other nine sit as the “Court,” peppering them with questions. After arguments are completed, the oral advocates leave, and the nine “justices” sit and deliberate, just as the actual justices on the Court do. We decide on what the majority opinion will be, and then anyone who wants to bring a different perspective to the table can write either a dissent or concurrence.
I’m not going to lie: the class is a lot of work. Over the course of the semester, each student argues two cases, and is responsible for producing one majority opinion and one concurrence or dissent. And that’s aside from the weekly prep you need to do so that you can intelligently question whoever is arguing.
But as with most things, working hard pays dividends, and even in the short two months I’ve been in this class, I’ve learned a ton. If you’re interested in oral advocacy, the experience is amazing, not just because you yourself get to practice when you do your arguments, but because you get to learn through watching other students. It’s also a great opportunity to hone your persuasive writing, and to learn about many areas of the law that you may have never encountered. Case in point: I’m presently working on the majority opinion for Dollar General v. Choctaw Indian Tribe, which is about tribal sovereignty and whether tribes have the ability to try non-members in tribal courts. Did I know anything about tribal law before this class? Um, no. But you can bet I know about it now.
And the best part? Next month, my class will travel to Washington, D.C. to see an actual case argued in front of the Court. This year, it’ll be particularly fascinating for two reasons. First, we’re hearing a super high-profile case, Zubik v. Burwell, which will decide whether Obamacare’s contraceptive-coverage mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by forcing religion nonprofits to act in violation of their beliefs. Second, in the wake of Justice Scalia’s passing (which my classmate Sajid wrote a great post about), we’ll get to see an eight-person court preside.
NBD, I’m not geeking out or anything.
The SCOTUS Seminar is a particularly great option for those who think they may want to clerk post-law school. All of the skills you need to be a great clerk are embedded into the course, and as someone who is going to a clerkship after I graduate, I feel very confident that the work I’m doing this semester is going to help me be better at my job come September.
If you’re interested in experiential learning generally, BC Law is a great place to be. Between our Center for Experiential Learning, the opportunities for externships and Semesters in Practice, and the various course offerings and extracurriculars that cater to giving students real, meaningful exposure to lawyering skills, there are about a million opportunities to get your hands dirty and feel like a real lawyer before you actually pass the bar.
For more posts on experiential learning from BC Law Impact, click here.
About the blogger: I’m a 3L Public Service Scholar with a background in education and an interest in juvenile law and appellate advocacy. I’ll be blogging about public interest at BC, getting a job that’s not at a firm, and how I’m maintaining my (semi) sanity living in the Law School Bubble. Questions are always welcome! You can comment here, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.