Clinics, Externships and Practica with Actual Practice Component Offerings
Black Lung Benefits Program
This clinic represents physically disabled coal miners and their widows under the federal “Black Lung” benefits program. Students are responsible for their clients through every step in the process from the time the client is retained until a final decision is made either awarding or denying benefits. You will be involved in contacting your client; developing medical evidence; preparing motions, discovery papers; representing your client at hearing; writing closing arguments and other legal papers; deposing expert witnesses; and preparing appeals to either the Benefits Review Board or the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. As part of the classroom element of the clinic, students will participate in weekly oral and trial advocacy exercises along with receiving instruction in the substantive law of black lung litigation.
Citizenship and Immigration Clinic
The Citizenship and Immigration Clinic will collaborate with immigrant rights organizations to provide much needed legal representation to non-citizens in Virginia, and in some cases on the national level. Students will receive case assignments referred from Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition and other organizations, and work in teams on applications for affirmative relief from immigration agencies or courtroom-based advocacy for clients in proceedings before immigration court. Participation in the clinic will also include travel to Farmville-ICE immigration detention facility to support the work of the CAIR Coalition in making know-your-rights presentations and performing intakes.
Students in the Citizenship and Immigration Clinic will be the primary case-handlers, and will engage in client interviewing, case theory development, legal research and fact investigation, client counseling, case planning and strategy, and will interact with government counsel. Students assigned to represent clients in removal proceedings will also prepare motions and briefs, and conduct hearings at the immigration court in Arlington, which will include the preparation and examination of witnesses and the presentation of oral arguments. Weekly supervision sessions will provide student teams the opportunity to lead discussions about their cases with the professor. A classroom component will focus on lawyering skills, substantive law, and group discussions of student casework.
Students are not required to have studied immigration law or to speak a foreign language, but such background and ability are considered desirable. Students can enroll for either the fall or spring semester, though a small number of students enrolled in the fall may have the option to continue supervised casework in the spring.
Community Legal Practice Center
Students in the Community Legal Practice Center (“CLPC”) represent lower income Rockbridge area residents in a general practice law firm setting. In the clinic, students assist their clients with the entire range of civil legal concerns they present. Students are responsible for their clients from the initial intake interview until the client’s issues are resolved. Students conduct all client interviews, participate in intake decisions, develop case strategies, draft documents including wills and powers of attorney, prepare all correspondence and court papers, interface with opposing counsel, engage in settlement negotiations, and conduct trials and evidentiary hearings on behalf of their clients.
Students are exposed to a wide variety of substantive legal issues - - for example, in the current academic year the clinic has handled cases involving adverse possession, breach of contract, fraud, defamation and social security disability, and has counseled clients on landlord-tenant issues and developing a non-profit entity. However, students should expect that the concerns of the clinic’s client base will result in at least some focus on family law (including child custody, adoption, and adult guardianship) and end of life planning issues. In addition to their client work, students will spend time in a group setting engaged in case rounds, reflective exercises and skills development. Depending upon the students’ level of knowledge in these areas, students will also meet with Professor Belmont in a more traditional classroom setting for substantive modules on Law Practice Management, Virginia Civil Practice and Procedure, Family Law, Basic Wills and End of Life Planning, Basic Consumer Law, Landlord-Tenant Law and Elder Law.
Criminal Justice Clinic
Students in the Criminal Justice Clinic represent indigent people facing criminal charges in local trial courts. Each student assumes responsibility for all aspects of several different criminal cases throughout the year, including fact investigation, legal research, client counseling, and all court appearances, including trials, pleas, and sentencing hearings. Students have primary professional responsibility for each of their cases, from appointment by the judge until trial or sentencing. Typical of some of the types of cases that clinic students handle are assault, larceny, possession of marijuana, DUI, and destruction of property.
CJC students are assigned criminal cases in Rockbridge County and surrounding counties, including occasionally in Roanoke and Staunton. Students are individually responsible for all facets of the representation of their clients, including client interviewing and counseling; making arguments on bail and conditions of release; developing a theory of the case; factual investigation; legal research; drafting motions or other submissions to the court; discovery litigation; pre-trial motions practice; plea negotiations; trial advocacy; and sentencing advocacy. In addition, a classroom component of the clinic allows students to learn substantive criminal law and procedure, develop their trial advocacy skills, and explore ethical dilemmas that prosecutors and defense lawyers face.
Through the Tax Clinic, students represent income-eligible taxpayers who have post-filing controversies with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and/or the Virginia Department of Taxation. In addition, students serve the broader public interest by undertaking advocacy projects to either: 1) educate the community on the tax issues that arise in our clinic; or 2) recommend administrative reforms on issues of concern to low-income taxpayers.
Typical cases might include representing a taxpayer who is under audit, appealing an audit, challenging an assessment, navigating collection issues, or requesting “innocent spouse” relief. In certain cases in which the taxpayer has not succeeded in resolving the problems with the IRS, the clinic might pursue litigation in the U.S. Tax Court. The Tax Clinic does not engage in routine or current year tax return preparation; however, in some cases students must prepare returns for past years as part of the controversy representation.
In the Tax Clinic, students are responsible for all aspects of the representation including case intake, client interviews, research and development of case strategy, and representation before the IRS, the Virginia Department of Taxation, and/or the U.S. Tax Court.
The Tax Clinic includes a classroom component during which the students learn about tax procedure and ethical issues specific to tax practice. The classroom component also includes case rounds, reflective exercises, and tax policy discussions.
The Tax Clinic experience is largely centered on administrative law and practice, with a heavy emphasis on client counseling and non-courtroom advocacy. Students looking for a courtroom experience should be aware that while the Tax Clinic does occasionally file a petition with the U.S. Tax Court, these cases very rarely go to trial. In lieu of a trial experience, students may have the opportunity to negotiate a settlement with IRS Counsel.
The Tax Clinic is open only to students who will have completed the Federal Income Taxation of Individuals course prior to the semester that the student enrolls in the clinic.
Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse (VC3)
Since 1988, the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse (VC3) has served as Virginia’s litigation resource center for lawyers representing defendants facing the death penalty at trial in both state and federal courts. VC3 students work in two-member teams to assist court-appointed defense counsel with legal research, discovery analysis, drafting of motions and legal memoranda, client counseling, and many other tasks involved in defending death penalty cases at trial. Students also assist with appeals at the state, federal and U.S. Supreme Court stages, and in state and federal legislative research. The clinic maintains www.vc3.org, the comprehensive on-line resource for Virginia’s death penalty defense bar. In addition, clinic members undertake original research and writing projects for inclusion on the Clearinghouse website. In recent years VC3 students have, among many other projects:
- assisted a Marine Corps JAG defense team in a capital court-martial;
- helped counsel clients regarding life-saving plea bargains;
- drafted certiorari petitions to the U.S. Supreme Court concerning unsettled constitutional issues in capital punishment law;
- assisted in developing materials in support of legislative reforms in Virginia and federal death penalty procedure, and attended state and Congressional legislative hearings;
- organized a service project to uncover large-scale fabrication of evidence by jailhouse informants, a phenomenon known to be one of the main causes of wrongful convictions; and
- helped prepare for a June 2012 death penalty resentencing trial in which the Clearinghouse director is lead counsel.
Transnational Criminal Tribunals
This innovative International Law Practicum works with the defense attorneys of the Office of Public Counsel for Defence at the International Criminal Court, the Karadzic defense team at the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and specific defense functions at the Military Commissions Defense Counsel – Guantanamo. The role of the Practicum is to assist with the right to a fair trial and to support fair trials through effective representation of the accused. W&L students in the Practicum have been undertaking detailed legal research and factual analysis. Prior work has been recognized by the lawyers for its excellence and has been used directly in court proceedings. For the students, researching a broad range of issues under international law and human rights has been a challenge, as many of the questions involved have not been answered before.
Transnational Access to Justice - Liberia, West Africa
Transnational Access to Justice is currently taught through the Liberia Human Rights Practicum as a joint program at Washington and Lee School of Law and the Louis A. Grimes School of Law at the University of Liberia, Monrovia, Liberia. The Practicum is taught in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and for the next 2 years will focus on support for the Liberia Public Defender Program. For the 2012-2013 semesters four third-year law students at W&L and twelve law students at the Louis A. Grimes will participate in the Practicum, per semester. The Practicum’s purpose is drawn from key provisions of UN ECOSOC Resolution 24/2007 “International Cooperation for the Improvement of Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, Particularly in Africa.” The specific focus is prison overcrowding at the Monrovia Central Prison. The Practicum is taught over video conferencing and culminates with the four W&L students’ two-week travel to Liberia (partially funded) and optionally a neighboring country to work with their Liberian counterparts seeking to fulfill the Practicum’s broad goal of building greater access to justice in Liberia’s criminal justice system.
Transnational - European Court of Human Rights
Students will study International Human Rights issues through the cases and procedures of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). This Practicum is jointly taught (by video conference) with students and faculty from Union University School of Law in Belgrade, Serbia and includes occasional presentations by judges sitting on the ECHR. The principle work anticipated will be in three categories: Past and current cases to study the procedures and case law of the ECHR, cases focused on disadvantaged prison populations and other groups in need of pro bono legal services, and International Human Rights issues from other jurisdictions that relate to or can be influenced by the case law of the ECHR. Selected case(s) before the grand Chamber will be studied in detail and will result in a student drafted opinion with analysis on the issue(s) presented to the Court. Additionally, weekly subjects will be compared with the relevant and comparative provisions of the US Bill of Rights and case law developed under it by the United States Supreme Court. Washington & Lee students will be responsible for researching, selecting and presenting the US case law to their Serbian colleagues for discussion and analysis of the opinions in each court. There is an optional trip, not funded, for students to visit Belgrade for joint meetings and class. The Belgrade trip is followed by travel to the ECHR in Strasbourg, France to observe a case in the Grand Chamber.
International Human Rights Practicum
By partnering with a local, grassroots human rights organization and by traveling to work collaboratively with human rights lawyers in Africa, students will learn how to apply the primary international and regional human rights treaties to real-world human rights problems. Students delve deeply into the doctrine of human rights law and develop transferrable skills in legal analysis, advocacy, problem-solving, interviewing, and cross-cultural communication. Student teams will work in partnership with domestic human rights organizations based in Africa to promote human rights and seek redress for human rights violations. Past projects have focused on access to health care for HIV+ prisoners in Namibia’s prison system, implementation of Tanzania’s sexual assault law, and the rights of wage laborers in Tanzania’s industrial sector. Projects will involve travel to the partner country for approximately 10 days in the middle of the semester. By engaging in extensive legal and policy analysis of real human rights problems in Africa, students will develop a better understanding of the challenges and social justice potential of the human rights framework. Students will also develop advocacy, writing, and legal problem-solving skills that are transferrable across all areas of legal practice.
Federal Civil Rights Law & Civil Rights Lawyering
This practicum combines simulated civil rights advocacy with actual policy work on behalf of organizational clients working at the intersection of civil rights and immigration law. The course provides both an overview of federal civil rights law and an introduction to the fundamental elements of lawyering in the area of civil rights law. It combines a substantive seminar class with student “field work” in federal civil rights law and policy. The primary goals of this practicum are to provide a broad survey of (1) what civil rights protections are currently available under federal law; and (2) how civil rights attorneys attempt to assert and apply the full protection of these laws on behalf of clients who claim they have suffered discrimination and who allege violations of federal civil rights law.
The course will be structured as a weekly seminar. Each week, we will start the class with a discussion of the course readings on the substantive area of federal civil rights law and policy. Through a combination of the assigned readings, lectures, and discussions, the course will explore challenges in the enforcement of federal civil rights statutes; barriers to access to justice; and the tension between the executive, judicial, and legislative branches in the interpretation and development of civil rights law. Generally, after we discuss the course readings, we will move to “case rounds.” The purpose of case rounds is to set aside time each week for teams, on a rotating basis, to update the rest of the class on the status of field work projects. By sharing case status updates with colleagues in a group setting, the entire class can learn from team experiences and will also be provided with the opportunity to offer suggestions and feedback that may be helpful.
Additional readings will be recommended that focus on the practice of law. These readings are assigned to help foster the development of critical lawyering skills. Generally, we will not focus on these topics or readings during the weekly group meeting. Instead, teams will meet with the instructor individually to review the lawyering and field work assignments.
The lawyering and field work assignments will include: complaint drafting; responsive pleading/complaint answer; pre-trial discovery (document production and interrogatories, and/or a deposition simulation); and settlement (simulation of negotiation in an attempt to reach a resolution). In other words, students will be required to provide six written assignments during the course of the practicum: (1) policy memo for organizational client (based upon research of real case or policy controversy); (2) complaint; (3) answer; (4) request for document production and interrogatories; (5) deposition questions; and (6) proposed settlement.
Six to Eight students will be placed with a Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office. Recent participating offices are located in Covington, Fincastle, Lexington, Lynchburg, Roanoke, Salem, and Staunton, Virginia. For most externs, travel time is significant. Externs prosecute felonies and misdemeanors under Virginia law in Virginia trial courts under the supervision of a prosecutor at the placement. Typical extern case assignments include criminal traffic offenses such as DUI and reckless driving; domestic violence; drug offenses; shoplifting and other larceny offenses. Most trials and hearings in which externs participate are before a judge; however, some externs have the opportunity to participate in a jury trial. In addition to courtroom work, externs participate in plea bargaining, witness interviews and other matters of trial preparation. Many will do a police ride along and visit a crime lab. Further, most externs typically conduct some research and writing to help the attorneys at their placements with pending cases. Writing assignments often include drafting appellate Briefs in Opposition, discovery responses, motions in limine and memoranda of law related to the sufficiency of the Commonwealth’s evidence or the constitutionality of the police action.
Student externs with the United States Attorney’s office for the Western District of Virginia will try cases in Magistrate’s court and assist on other matters under the supervision of AUSA Jennie Waering.
Placements are anticipated to be as follows, but may be expanded and/or modified. Students will be selected to extern with state and federal trial and appellate judges. You will work side by side with the judge and his or her regular law clerks, and attend court as schedules and duties permit. Arrangements with judges for 2013– 14 are anticipated to be:
Federal and Appellate:
- US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Salem: Judge Agee
- US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Charleston, W.V.: Judge Thacker
- US District Court, Roanoke: Judges Turk, Urbanski and Wilson, Magistrate Judge Ballou
- US District Court, Harrisonburg: Magistrate Judge Welsh
- Virginia Supreme Court, Roanoke: Justice Koontz
- Court of Appeals of Virginia, Richmond: Judge Beales
- Court of Appeals of Virginia, Lynchburg: Judge Petty
The judges have expressed a preference for students with a strong academic record and demonstrated writing ability.
Virginia Circuit Court:
- Lexington/Fincastle: Judges Irvine and Trumbo
- Roanoke: Judges Dorsey, Broadhurst and Weckstein
- Salem: Judge Swanson
- Staunton: Judges Ludwig and Franklin
Judges have expressed a placement preference for students who intend to practice in Virginia upon graduation or who intend to litigate.
Students can work at a variety of offsite placements. Externs have worked with private law firms, City and County Attorney Offices, Corporate and University Counsel, Legal Aid, Public Defenders, The Justice Center, or other legal organizations. Other options include working for a state or federal agency, a public interest organization, etc. Select bankruptcy externships with bankruptcy practitioners, trustees, and judges are also available for students that have taken the bankruptcy course. Some sites have existing relationships with Washington and Lee, but students are free to “create” a unique experience by locating a site where they would like to work. Students must receive Ms. Hellwig’s approval for a placement prior to acceptance as an extern.
Students may choose to apply to federal agencies, courts, NGOs and other organizations working on federal issues located in DC for an externship. Each organization maintains its own application process and procedures. Some placements wish externs to be onsite for 20, 30 or 40 hours per week, and some wish students to be onsite certain days of each week. A list of potential DC placements can be viewed here. For Fall 2013, W&L has made an arrangement for students to complete their coursework in DC after the Immersion Course. Students will have a practicum and externship class in the evenings in DC. Because it is likely that you will need to maintain your Lexington residence for the Fall, financial assistance will be provided (not to exceed the cost of your Lexington residence) of up to $1500 per student. You will be responsible for your own housing in DC.