UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Arguing in front of an appellate court is a big deal for any seasoned attorney, requiring hours of research and preparation. For Jennifer Bruce, a third-year student at Penn State Law in University Park, the opportunity to present oral arguments in front of a Third Circuit panel on September 12 was yet another valuable experience gained through the Penn State Law Civil Rights Appellate Clinic. Bruce, along with Jorge Rivera and Michael L. Foreman, director of the clinic, make up the clinic litigation team for the plaintiff in Doe v. Law School Admission Council (LSAC).
“Being able to argue before the Third Circuit was a memorable opportunity and the highlight of my time at Penn State Law thus far,” said Bruce. “I am grateful to Professor Foreman, my colleagues at the clinic, and the faculty who helped us prepare. I am proud of the argument our team was able to put together and look forward to the rest of a productive semester with the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic.”
In August 2018, the Third Circuit Court appointed the clinic as counsel for Jane Doe, a pro se plaintiff representing herself. In the case, Doe was seeking accommodations on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The clinic filed a brief in the case in February of this year, arguing that a motion to dismiss filed by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) should not be granted because the claim filed by Doe properly asserts the LSAC violated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) by failing to provide reasonable accommodations on the standardized test, and further advocating that Doe’s claims deserved to proceed to a trial on the merits because they fit squarely within a well-known exception to the mootness doctrine—capable of repetition yet evading review.
“It’s been a busy couple of months for the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic in preparing to argue Doe,” said Rivera. “Hopefully the Third Circuit affords Ms. Doe the opportunity to hold the Law School Admission Council liable for its questionable process of denying individuals with disabilities accommodations on the Law School Admission Test.”
Bruce’s experience was made possible when the court granted a motion to allow a student to argue the case. Many large appellate firms are beginning to allow less experienced partners to argue cases in higher appellate courts, but students are rarely exposed to this level of hands-on experience. In addition to the work of Bruce and Rivera, several other clinic students were able to witness the arguments, a valuable learning tool.
“It was a truly humbling experience to see Jenny argue in front of such a prestigious Court,” said Kathryn Dutton, a clinic student. “It is amazing that Penn State Law affords us the opportunity to work on cases and to be able to argue in front of a Circuit Court. There are many lawyers in the country who will never have that opportunity, but we as students can do it here.”
The Civil Rights Appellate Clinic, one of nine legal clinics available to Penn State Law students, provides intensive training in appellate advocacy by involving students in noncriminal civil rights cases before state appellate courts, federal courts of appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Students conduct research, draft briefs, assist in case selection, develop substantive legal positions, and plan appellate strategy.