June 20, 2013

UC Davis Clinic Highlighted in California Supreme Court Historical Society Newsletter

By California Supreme Court Clinic Director Aimee Feinberg. Cross-posted from the California Supreme Court Historical Society Newsletter.

The California Supreme Court touches the lives of every Californian. The Court reviews the work of about 2,000 judicial officers, the largest law-trained judiciary in the world, and issues rulings governing countless day-to-day activities of the state’s residents. According to the National Center for State Courts, the California Supreme Court processed a staggering 9,562 matters in 2010, thousands of cases more than the next busiest state high court.

The Court’s reach extends beyond the state’s borders. In a comprehensive study published in 2007, Jake Dear and Edward Jessen concluded that the California Supreme Court is the most followed state high court in the United States. Thus, when it comes to tort law, insurance law, criminal law, and others, the saying rings true: as California goes, so goes the nation.

It is fitting, then, that one of the state’s newest legal clinics should train its attention on the state Supreme Court. In the fall of 2012, UC Davis School of Law launched the first and only law school clinic in the state to focus exclusively on the California Supreme Court. Inspired by a 2010 speech by former State Bar President Jeff Bleich and modeled to a large extent on Stanford’s first-in-the-nation U.S. Supreme Court clinic, UC Davis’s California Supreme Court Clinic provides pro bono representation to parties and amici in both civil and criminal cases pending before the state’s High Court. The Clinic’s six students, each of whom is selected to participate by application, become immersed in California Supreme Court practice and procedure. During the semester-long program, Clinic participants study the Court’s rules, learn principles of effective appellate advocacy, hear from seasoned practitioners, and, under faculty supervision, research and draft briefs to be filed in cases pending before the Court.

Like many appellate advocacy programs, the Clinic aims to teach students critical brief-writing skills. But focusing exclusively on the California Supreme Court offers students other important learning opportunities. Because the Court grapples with some of the most complex and consequential issues facing the state, students in the Clinic learn to research and analyze legal questions at an exceptionally deep level. They are called on to leave no stone unturned in their case research, to comb through legislative history, to examine agency regulations, to canvass laws in other jurisdictions, and to marshal policy arguments. By concentrating on the state’s highest court, moreover, the Clinic offers students the chance to see how a legal issue travels through the state system from start to finish. Likewise, because the Court (for the most part) has discretion to decide what cases it will hear, Clinic enrollees learn about the petition-for-review process and the characteristics of cases that may find their way onto the docket of a court of last resort. At the same time, focusing on a court with a docket as diverse as that of the California Supreme Court exposes students to an unusually broad array of legal issues. And by observing the Court’s oral argument sessions, students see some of the nation’s most respected jurists question advocates and explore the intricacies of complicated legal questions.

Litigating cases before the California Supreme Court also provides students with an important opportunity to serve the public interest. Although the federal courts undoubtedly decide significant issues, the California state courts provide the forum for many more disputes to be resolved: in 2012, litigants filed 372,563 matters in federal district court; in fiscal year 2010–2011, filings in California superior courts surpassed 9.4 million. At the same time, the state system often adjudicates cases

in the areas of law most likely to affect people’s everyday lives — how contracts are enforced, the accused are tried, businesses are regulated, marriages are dissolved, children are reared, and property is owned. By working on cases pending before the state’s highest court, Clinic enrollees have the chance to present their clients’ arguments knowing that a case’s outcome will almost certainly impact the lives of many people.

The Court’s special place in the state’s judicial system offers special opportunities for law students. For the participants in the Clinic, it is an honor to litigate before the Court.