In January 2014, as Pepperdine Law's Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinic celebrated its one-year anniversary, the clinic also recorded another remarkable win by student advocates. Under the supervision of appellate attorney Jeremy B. Rosen of Horvitz & Levy LLP in Encino, California, Pepperdine Law students Ryan S. Killian and Zach Tafoya drafted briefs and argued the case of a California state prisoner who challenged the conditions of his indefinite solitary confinement and inability to seek release to the general prison population through the "debriefing process." The district court had dismissed all of his claims and denied him leave to amend his complaint.
"The published opinion came out [January 15], reversing the dismissal of our client's claim challenging the debriefing process and reversing the denial of his request for leave to amend," Professor Rosen says. "This is a great win for the students and the school."
Pepperdine's Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinic requires a one-year commitment from the students. Over the course of the year, students in teams of two represent a client in an appeal before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the largest of the thirteen federal appellate courts. Students review the appellate record, research the legal issues presented by the case, prepare the opening and reply briefs, and argue the case before a panel of Ninth Circuit judges.
"I'm still blown away by the fact that I actually got to argue in the Ninth Circuit," says Tafoya. "I don't think I'll ever forget the feeling I had when Judge [Diarmuid] O'Scannlain said, 'Counsel for the appellant, please proceed.' The gravity and the privilege of my whole experience never fully registered until I realized he was referring to me."
The clinic's clients are drawn from the Ninth Circuit's pro bono docket and generally include pro se litigants with civil rights claims. The cases are often suggested directly to Professor Rosen by the court, which has been highly supportive of the clinic, even fitting the due dates for briefs to the school schedule. Students are able to spend several hours per week at the Encino office of Horvitz & Levy, the largest firm in the nation specializing in civil appeals.
"The Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinic is a critical component of Pepperdine's clinical education program," says Professor Jeffrey Baker, Director of Clinical Education. "In our clinics, students work under expert teachers to gain vital experience and to develop as professionals. We work with purpose to expand access to justice. Students apply their knowledge and skill in the real world for people in need, and the work accelerates their preparation for practice."
The Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinic is one of seven clinics, five types of externships, and two practicums that currently form Pepperdine Law's Clinical Education Program. In clinics, students practice law under the supervision of law professors with real clients and high stakes, in a rigorous learning environment. In externships, students work in the field with expert practitioners and judges in hundreds of field placements throughout Southern California and the nation. In practicums, students gain intensive experience in specialized field placements with expert faculty guidance in their field. In each of these programs, students learn lessons, virtues and skills that will transfer to every aspect of their future careers.