by Anita Liu J.D.’21
We all start law school reading the same pantheon of cases — the likes of Marbury v. Madison — almost all of which were decided by an institution that quickly dominates law students’ education (for better or for worse), the Supreme Court. From the beginning of 1L, however, I also found this Court to be an institution as enigmatic as it is important to the study of law. While I learned more about the substance of the law, I frequently found myself wondering how those doctrines were formed, argued, and then decided at the Court. Different professors offered their takes on how the Court interacts with the rest of society, some legal realists and others focused on the process of lawmaking, yet I rarely felt that I had any concrete insight into what it means to work for or at this central institution.
The Supreme Court Clinic offers law students an unparalleled window into these secrets of the Court. I applied in the hopes that I could finally begin to comprehend how the work, procedures, and people of the Court function, and I was not disappointed. The thoughtful instructors at Goldstein Russell, perhaps some of the most qualified folks to speak to what a lifetime of practice before the Court looks like, crafted a whirlwind three-week program that not only taught me about each aspect of the Court, but also empowered me to pursue my own interests in appellate litigation.
On the substantive work, the clinic was one of the most hands-on experiences I have had in law school. We worked in teams of students and instructors on a real, live controversy before the Supreme Court and dug deep into substantive caselaw and research, wrote drafts of briefs, and continuously edited and revised those drafts. Students were treated just like associates at the firm, trusted with research and even strategizing about the case, to give us the best possible insight into what working on a Court case might actually feel like. Moreover, the instructors instilled an ethos of constant revision and critical evaluation, as we met in almost daily meetings to review our work, collaborate in giving our peers’ feedback, and reassess our own writing.
But perhaps even more impressive than this substantive work experience, however, was the instructors’ dedication to exposing us to the people and processes of the Court. For a woman of color like myself, it is easy to be intimidated by the frequently monolithic, sometimes elitist, and seemingly impenetrable world of appellate litigation (to say nothing of Supreme Court litigation, a subset within that practice). Coming into the clinic, I feared I would emerge further distanced from this practice. But the instructors demonstrated an incredible dedication to introducing us, almost daily, to a variety of Supreme Court practitioners with diverse backgrounds, practices, and interests, ranging from government practice in the Office of the Solicitor General to biglaw firm practice to public impact litigation. These guest speakers offered warm but frank career advice and mentorship, and, in doing so, helped demystify pathways to the Supreme Court bar and encouraged us students to pursue our own interests.
Reflecting back on the clinic experience, I feel most deeply grateful that the instructors were so invested in and committed to what would actually benefit the students the most, whether in the experience of working or the advice we were given in thinking about our own careers. Though three weeks may be short, the clinic answered questions I had spent the previous two-and-a-half years of my time at law school wondering about, and I would wholeheartedly recommend the clinic to any other HLS students who feel the same.