Duke Law School’s 11 legal clinics enable students to hone invaluable practice skills, help close the justice gap for clients and communities in need, and cement a lifelong commitment to service.
by Frances Presma
Illustrations by Nadya Noor
From the Summer 2020 issue of Duke Law Magazine.
When his daily runs took him through downtown Durham in mid-April, Kevin Cergol ’20 sometimes passed makeshift food stations set up by the Durham Neighbors Free Lunch Initiative, where volunteers wearing masks and gloves prepared to hand out boxed meals to adults, teens, and small children. The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic was causing economic shocks and a spike in local food insecurity, and Durham Public Schools had ended its free lunch program after a worker had fallen ill. In the midst of the mounting deprivation, though, Cergol would allow himself a small sense of satisfaction: A student attorney in Duke Law School’s Community Enterprise Clinic, he had helped his client, the sustainability nonprofit Don’t Waste Durham, become the fiscal sponsor of the initiative.
Kevin Cergol ’20
“It was great to handle a transaction that helps feed people,” he says. “I wasn’t cooking the meals but I felt a very strong connection to the project. And I found myself inspired less by the minutiae of the work, but more by what I was helping create.”
Still, Cergol knew the legal minutiae that would allow the Free Lunch Initiative to collect corporate donations under his client’s existing 501c3 designation needed to be properly executed, even as all parties pressed to have that happen as quickly as possible. He had to be careful, for example, to ensure that restaurant workers preparing the meals did not become Don’t Waste Durham employees and that the initiative’s work properly fell within his client’s tax-exempt purpose. He also had to secure the nonprofit’s right to exert increased control over the initiative should it begin to evolve in a new direction.
“The hard part as a lawyer here is that you’re stepping into an environment where everyone at the table really likes each other and is trying to do something positive,” says Cergol, who previously spent two semesters counseling entrepreneurs in the Start-Up Ventures Clinic. “You have to very carefully bring up potential problems and talk about some worst-case scenarios. But through three semesters of clinic work, I feel like I’ve developed that skillset relatively well — I can talk about the worst thing that could happen somewhat lightly while having everyone realize that I’m not kidding, that things can go bad.”
After two days of research, consultations, Zoom meetings, and emails, Cergol had secured a formal agreement in his client’s best interests and to everyone’s satisfaction, including his own.
“A phrase I heard used over the summer when I was at a law firm was, ‘You’re quarterbacking the deal,’” says Cergol, who will start practice at Latham & Watkins in Silicon Valley, where he spent his 2L summer. “This wasn’t nearly as complex as an enormous M&A transaction, but you can see how the skills involved would be transferable. I think my clinic experience will make me a better attorney.”
The story of how a law student jumped in at a time of crisis to help clients come together to meet a community need “is the story of all of our clinics,” says Andrew Foster, who directs the Law School’s clinical programs and supervised Cergol as director of the Community Enterprise Clinic. Students in each of the Law School’s 11 clinics gain practical knowledge of a discrete area of substantive law. They develop an array of professional skills — including such essential “soft skills” as case management and teamwork. They address critical legal issues for needy individual and organizational clients and communities. And they do it under the supportive supervision of superb clinicians. The experience helps set the stage for the transition from law school to legal practice, he says.
“While each clinic works with clients and partner organizations in very different ways and in different areas of the law, we all share a common foundation: We give our students the chance to work directly with people to use the law to solve their problems,” Foster says. “These challenging and critical experiences help our students to develop their lawyering skills and — at least as important — to build their confidence and begin to hone their professional judgment.
“Because our clinics all serve clients and communities that would otherwise not have access to lawyers, our students also see firsthand the impacts of inequality and the role that lawyers can play in helping to secure justice. This helps to instill a lifelong commitment to service and leadership that is a hallmark of Duke Law.”
A Duke Law tradition
Clinical education at U.S. law schools began at Duke Law in 1931, when Professor John S. Bradway started supervising student attorneys in their representation of indigent clients, directing an in-house legal services clinic for 28 years. During the 1970s and early 1980s, it was revived with a program, led for several years by Professor of the Practice of Law Donald Beskind LLM ’77, then working as a Bradway Fellow, in which students gained skills in civil or criminal practice through placements in Legal Aid offices or with prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys.
The modern era of clinical legal education at Duke began in 1996 with the establishment of the AIDS Legal Assistance Project by Carolyn McAllaster, now the Colin W. Brown Clinical Professor Emerita of Law. The clinic, which provided free legal assistance to low-income people with HIV, would later become the Health Justice Clinic and now serves clients facing any serious illness. In 2002, the Law School launched the Children’s Education Law Clinic (now the Children’s Law Clinic), which provides advice, advocacy, and legal representation of low-income children in school-related cases and was led initially by Jane Wettach, now the William B. McGuire Clinical Professor Emerita of Law. The same year saw the birth of Foster’s Community Enterprise Clinic, which helps nonprofit organizations and social entrepreneurs plan and implement community development projects that improve the quality of life in distressed areas and for marginalized people.
In the ensuing 18 years, the Law School would launch nearly a dozen more clinics, each fueled by a match of student interest to community need and an assessment that it will complement existing areas of curricular depth. Duke’s clinical program now enables students to engage in supervised practice across a broad range of subject areas and develop a similarly broad lawyering skillset. The program currently includes practice areas ranging from entrepreneurship, wrongful convictions, civil justice, and appellate litigation to environmental law, free speech, and international human rights. A new Immigrant Rights Clinic welcomed its first students in January and an Ethical Tech Clinic is in the planning stages. Operating collectively as “a teaching law firm with a public interest mission,” the clinics effectively comprise the second-largest public interest law firm in North Carolina — second only to Legal Aid of North Carolina.
Almost 75% of students take at least one clinic or externship while at Duke Law, with many enrolling in more than one clinic, spending a second clinic semester as an advanced student, or both. Their cumulative clinic service amounts to approximately 20,000 hours of pro bono legal representation each year to clients who would otherwise not have any, with an estimated economic value over $3.5 million. Clinic participation is open to international LLM candidates and mandatory for the growing number of JD students — 98 in the 2019-2020 academic year — pursuing the Law School’s Certificate in Public Interest and Public Service Law. The clinics are, in fact, closely connected to and complemented by the Law School’s robust public interest and pro bono program that meshes experiential learning and professional development with service from students’ first days of law school and, for many, works as a pipeline to upper-year clinic enrollment.
“In addition to the economic value and the importance of access to a lawyer, the outcomes that student attorneys working in collaboration with our clients and partners achieve are obviously invaluable, and that’s what really matters,” says Foster. “In that sense, I think the clinics are one of the main ways in which Duke Law School fulfills what I see as our core mission — positioning our students to be essential members of the next generation of lawyer-leaders.”
That was evident in the spring, as the pandemic forced clinic students to continue their work on a wide range of matters remotely, collaborating with each other and their faculty supervisors and clients at a distance. A team in the Civil Justice Clinic negotiated the reinstatement of a homeless client’s federal housing voucher, paving the way for her to regain rental housing; a group of advanced Start-Up Ventures Clinic students helped entrepreneurs understand the implications of bringing on interns as employees or independent contractors of their rapidly growing company; students in the International Human Rights Clinic contributed research to a report, released in May, identifying the principles of international human rights law that should guide the work of the U.S. Secretary of State’s Commission on Unalienable Rights; and students in the First Amendment Clinic and the Children’s Law Clinic finalized their contributions to amicus briefs submitted in support of applications for certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States in cases of national import.
“The dedication, energy, and professionalism that our students bring to their clinic work is truly remarkable,” says Kerry Abrams, the James B. Duke and Benjamin N. Duke Dean and professor of law. In addition to building essential practice skills and exemplifying the Law School’s commitment to Duke University’s core value of the translation of knowledge in service to society, the clinics significantly advance Abrams’ broader goals of increasing participation in the public interest and pro bono program and supporting students who want to enter public interest and government careers.
“Our public interest and pro bono program is one of my top strategic priorities for the school,” she says. “I want all Duke Law graduates to understand themselves as public servants. Lawyers contribute to society by working to preserve the institutions that allow democracy to flourish. Lawyers have a special obligation to use their skills and talents for the public good.”
Addressing student attorneys during an online end-of-year celebration, Abrams praised their choice to undertake clinic service as “an expression of the highest values of the legal profession,” particularly in light of the unique challenges brought on by the pandemic.
“Even in the best of times, the work you were asked to do as student attorneys is hard,” she said. “We want you to learn while you’re still students about all the difficult kinds of choices you’re going to have to make when you represent clients. But I expect that this spring, that choice required you to have additional commitment, additional resilience, and additional drive to do this kind of work.
“Your clients have needed you and you have stepped up to help them.”
Working directly with clients and using law to help solve their problems allows students to develop their lawyering skills, build confidence, and begin to hone professional judgment.
“I want all Duke Law graduates to understand themselves as public servants.” — Dean Kerry Abrams
A cycle of planning, execution, and reflection
In each clinic, student attorneys are supervised by faculty clinicians who possess a wealth of subject-matter and procedural expertise forged in private and public-interest practice, government service, and non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations. Passionate about their individual practice areas, the clinicians, who also teach seminars in their relevant fields of substantive law, are equally passionate about helping students develop as effective counselors and advocates capable of serving clients and solving problems in those fields — or any other they choose to enter after law school.
“I see clinics as a chance to understand what part of practice is most appealing for you in developing your professional identity,” says Clinical Professor Jayne Huckerby, director of the International Human Rights Clinic. “They haven’t had the exposure to different skillsets to think that through. It’s been very formative for students in their career and curricular choices to know what they excelled at in the clinical environment.”
Huckerby and her faculty colleagues, who meet regularly to share strategies for improving their teaching and supervision, offer their students a supervised learning experience that follows a cycle of planning, execution, and reflection facilitated through one-on-one meetings, class discussions, and journals in which they can reflect on aspects of their cases or client interactions that have challenged or moved them.
“We spend a lot of time with students reflecting on what they did, what they’re thinking about doing, and what their game plan is for what they’re going to do on their cases,” says Clinical Professor Allison Rice, director of the Health Justice Clinic. “Was a particular action effective? Was it ineffective? Was it ethical? It sets up a framework for being thoughtful and intentional in practice.”
The clinicians “curate” case and project assignments, aiming to give each student a range of clients, experiences, and responsibility for a variety of work products. They also try to ensure students master personal skills they might otherwise not have exposure to, or even avoid. For Clinical Professor Bryan McGann LLMLE ’15 and Senior Lecturing Fellow Thomas Williams, the director and supervising attorney, respectively, in the Start-Up Ventures Clinic, that includes privately asking each student at the start of the semester what parts of their chosen future practice they might fear the most, be it public speaking or even speaking up in a smaller group.
“All of them are very honest, and when we have our weekly one-on-one meetings, we make sure they have had the opportunity to work on those skills,” says McGann, who is also of counsel to Smith Anderson in Raleigh and an entrepreneur-in-residence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, having invented the Pill Pockets brand pet treats for medicine delivery. “I want our students to understand what makes an associate valuable to their law firm in the emerging growth and start-up space. That would include the professional competence they learn in law school, but it also involves the confidence to properly communicate, both orally and in writing. Are you comfortable in your own skin and able to interact with senior associates and junior and senior partners in a confident and professional manner? The ability to do so maximizes a young attorney’s opportunities within the firm.”
And as in any professional setting, the clinical faculty, functioning as the senior partners in their individual “practice groups,” set high expectations for their student associates, even as they acknowledge the trepidation and challenges that all novice attorneys face, particularly when engaging in high-stakes work. They emphasize how procrastinating on tasks — a student’s prerogative when an individual grade is at stake — is not an option when other students are relying on a teammate’s contributions to a project, when clinical faculty have to review work before it goes before a judge or client, and when the consequences to the client for anything less than a first-rate effort can be severe.
Explains Theresa Newman ’88, the Charles S. Rhyne Clinical Professor of Law and co-director of the Wrongful Convictions Clinic: “That’s particularly pointed in our clinic where the students visit their client in prison and when they walk out, the client remains behind.” Given that a post-conviction claim of innocence can involve years of painstaking investigation, advocacy, and litigation with successive classes of clinic students picking up and advancing their predecessors’ work, completing tasks is crucial, she says.
In the same vein, Clinical Professor Sean Andrussier ’92 says he impresses on the students he oversees as director of the Appellate Litigation Clinic that while parties who lack access to lawyers may have no shot at justice, “justice may also be denied if a party doesn’t have a lawyer who is sufficiently rigorous, innovative, and persistent.” Equally crucial for his students to understand as they brief and argue federal appeals, by court appointment, brought by inmates and other litigants who have filed pro se appeals, is that advocates are also officers of the court, he says. “The latter role affects how we conduct ourselves.”
Practical insights on substantive law and procedure — and essential soft skills
In the course of addressing their clients’ legal needs and concerns and otherwise advancing their clinic assignments, students inevitably gain insight into the ways legal principles they first encountered in doctrinal classes operate in real life. They also hone myriad skills transferable to a wide range of practice areas, such as legal research and writing, the iterative process of building evidentiary records and crafting briefs, drafting such documents as contracts and articles of incorporation, and becoming effective advocates who know how to be persuasive in different contexts, orally and in writing.
“When a student in the Health Justice Clinic is faced with digesting a three-inch medical record and translating what they’ve learned about their client’s condition to very opaque Social Security rules for how one qualifies for disability benefits or Medicaid, they are practicing the skill of complex problem-solving that you can use in any kind of lawyering,” says McAllaster, noting that students in other clinics undertake similar challenges. “Then you have to figure out how what you’ve learned applies to a legal theory that is going to win. Again, that’s a skill that every lawyer in any kind of practice is going to have to learn.”
Specific practical insights, such as the logistics of filing different kinds of motions in different courts or how to track a court’s docket, can really only be developed in clinics, says Professor H. Jefferson Powell, a constitutional scholar and former executive branch attorney who founded the First Amendment Clinic in 2018. “Students learn how to do things that no sensible academic class could actually spend time on,” he says. “The importance of clinical legal education cannot be overstated.”
Clinics are a unique venue for students to learn a range of skills, including active listening, interviewing, and effectively communicating with clients, colleagues, and opposing counsel. Faculty impress on students that these are as important to successful representation as are the formal tools of litigation, regulatory, or transactional law.
“Students don’t realize how much lawyering is done outside of filing a complaint and going into the courtroom,” observes Senior Lecturing Fellow Crystal Grant, interim director of the Children’s Law Clinic. “Some come with the expectation that they will spend their time filing pleadings. It’s the interviews with other stakeholders, reviewing records, analyzing facts, and ongoing client counseling that will enable them to develop a case strategy and ultimately move the case towards their client’s goals. And that’s transferable. Most of the students in my clinic will not end up practicing children’s law, but it’s helped them become better investigators and develop those skills that they’ll use in almost any practice area.”
Developing client management and interpersonal skills — “how to write an email, how to talk to someone on the phone, how to coach or counsel a client and help them advocate for themselves, how to deliver bad news” — isn’t expressly taught elsewhere on the law school curriculum, says Rice. “We focus a lot on those things.”
In the Health Justice Clinic and others, she notes, students are often representing clients whose backgrounds and life circumstances differ markedly from their own: “Students have to be able to communicate in ways that people can understand. That helps to foster the lawyer-client relationship, ensuring the client understands what you are saying and doing on their behalf and feels that they are being heard.
“We have our students read about empathy and talk about it and reflect on how well they feel they understand their clients. It’s a good characteristic to have for any kind of law practice.”
A central goal of clinical training is, in fact, to impart to students the importance of collaborating with their clients — and giving them the skills to do so. A key element of that is developing respect for the clients’ personal experience and community context and being prepared for challenging conversations across cultural boundaries.
Clinical Professor Ryke Longest, co-director of the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, frames this as teaching students to be counselors at law as well as exceptional attorneys. Through their service of real clients, they begin to recognize the need to keep asking questions to fully understand not just the immediate problem, but its underlying causes.
“A counselor is a person who advises another and listens — truly listens — to what they have to say so we can know and understand what their case is about and who they are,” says Longest. “We have to learn not just how to ask the questions we want to know as lawyers, but how to invite our clients to ask us questions and maybe even to help them know what questions they need to ask.”
That approach is particularly critical, he says, to the cross-disciplinary research, analysis, advocacy, and problem-solving that students in the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic engage in on matters of environmental justice, sustainability, and public health, cases that involve multiple stakeholders and the sustained efforts of successive student classes. The clinic enrolls equal numbers of law students and master’s students from Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.
The counseling function is similarly foundational to other clinic practices. Students in the Start-Up Ventures Clinic are often surprised at how the entrepreneurs who are their clients think differently from lawyers and by their single-minded focus on their enterprise, says McGann. And the learning can go both ways: “Sometimes entrepreneurs are a little blinded to some of the issues they should be thinking of. They just have a great vision for what the product can be. So we work on counseling as much as possible.”
In the Wrongful Convictions Clinic, student attorneys are challenged to establish trust with clients traumatized by incarceration, negative interactions with the criminal justice system, and, sometimes, previous counsel. Clinicians frequently bring in experts to discuss communication and connection: their exonerated clients. In September, just a few weeks after being released from prison after serving 25 years for a murder he didn’t commit, Dontae Sharpe had a stark message for the fall 2019 cohort of clinic students. “Keep your word,” he said. “Be straight up and to the point. Don’t beat around the bush, don’t hide things. If you lie, the trust is gone. Be as genuine as you can with your client, and ‘be real’ with the D.A., too.”
Sharpe’s mother, Sarah Blakely, who interacted closely with the clinic teams who worked on his case over nine years, told them to learn about their clients from their families. “You’ve got to be a protector for your client,” she said.
A central goal of clinical training is to impart to students the importance of collaborating with their clients — and giving them the skills to do so.
Meeting a critical community need for services is a prerequisite to the establishment of any clinic at Duke Law.
Cultivating a sense of justice while bridging the justice gap
By design, student attorneys fill a yawning gap in legal services; meeting a critical community need for services is a prerequisite to the establishment of any clinic at Duke Law. To cite one example, few attorneys can take on post-conviction claims of innocence from start to finish and face the many procedural hurdles clients face in getting judicial review of their claims.
“You don’t get a hearing unless you spend at least two or three years with students investigating a case,” Newman says. “Without our students’ work, I am certain the eight innocent men who have been released through our clinic would still be in prison.” The stakes are similarly high for clients of other clinics who are seeking access to such essential services as health benefits, educational services, safe housing, and asylum.
And facilitating access to justice for underserved clients and communities is often galvanizing for students, says Huckerby. “They engage in very meaningful, very impactful work in all of our projects, and that work wouldn’t get done without them. Students have an opportunity to make a very unique, very concrete contribution to the enjoyment of human rights. And when you think about what makes people satisfied in their professional identities, having a meaningful impact and knowing how to think about what constitutes impact and how to measure impact — thinking those kinds of things through is very important.”
Adds Clinical Professor Kate Evans, director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic which serves clients who have often fled hostile circumstances in their home countries to face daunting hurdles in U.S. courts: “Clinics can show students, in some of their very first experiences with the law, how powerful they can be to bring justice to their clients, justice to the country, justice to their communities. That’s not always because they’re going to win. It’s because they can understand what the difficulties and obstacles are that are facing the people they’re serving. They can understand their clients’ stories. They can immerse themselves in that sort of shared humanity.
“And I think that allows students to develop a set of tools and sensitivities that transfers to any context, whether it’s a public interest-legal services context, or in the service of a corporate client. The empathy, the listening, and the advocacy is a constellation of tools that inform each other, and allow for a sort of progress within the systems of justice as a whole and our communities as a whole.”
For many students, making connections with clients and communities whose backgrounds differ from theirs and who are often poor challenges preconceptions and stereotypes in a way that plants the seeds for a lifelong commitment to pro bono service and social change. Proximity almost inevitably breeds empathy, observes Wettach, noting her longstanding goal for her students to “see the world” from their clients’ perspectives.
“It’s very special when Children’s Law Clinic students come away with admiration for what the parent has done and is doing and the struggles that that parent has, partly due to the societal structures that we have in place.” She wants students to look critically at those structures and the choices facing those with the least in society and to be moved to change them if they are inadequate.
And proximity is facilitated by the clinical faculty’s exceptionally close connections with the communities they serve. Many of them practiced in North Carolina prior to joining the Duke Law faculty and hold leadership posts in bar associations and other professional and community organizations.
“We’re able to help students see the impact they’re having in a very immediate sense,” says Clinical Professor Michelle Nowlin JD/MA ’92, co-director of the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic. “I also think that it helps give them a model, wherever they go, for ways they can be involved in their communities in the future, even if it’s outside of their practice area. They can join a citizen planning commission. They can get involved in pro bono projects with their communities and in some way lend their talents and be civic contributors.”
Exposing opportunities for systemic change
Their exposure to real cases often shows students how the law can create unintended policy outcomes and other systemic and societal problems. Increasingly, the clinics are leveraging faculty expertise, community partnerships, and the openness to cross-disciplinary and cross-departmental collaboration that is a core value of Duke Law and Duke University to address these issues.
The Health Justice Clinic’s longtime representation of people with HIV and AIDS revealed the unequal regional distribution of federal grant funding. That resulted in the establishment of a clinic led for several years by McAllaster devoted to related policy work and the ongoing Southern AIDS Strategy Initiative (SASI). SASI includes Duke health policy researchers to create data-driven policy solutions to ending AIDS in the U.S. South. The Children’s Law Clinic’s representation of children facing long-term suspensions exposed racial disparity in its implementation and culminated in Wettach’s leadership in rewriting the applicable state law. In the International Human Rights Clinic, students’ research, analysis, and advocacy contributed to the work of the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture that investigated and exposed the role the state played in the U.S. torture program following 9/11, as well an Amnesty International report on guns in domestic violence in the United States. And a catalyst project involving the Community Enterprise Clinic’s Foster, Longest from the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, and faculty at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment is considering how to create affordable, safe, and environmentally sustainable housing.
The environmental clinic’s focus on policy as well as law since its inception has, in fact, led to an array of novel policy initiatives, such as an annual symposium on environmental justice, an advanced clinic class led by Nowlin and Professor of the Practice of Law Steve Roady ’76 through which students developed policy recommendations for the use of drones in conservation, and a Duke Bass Connections project co-led by Nowlin on the capacity of regenerative cattle grazing methods to help mitigate climate change and its implications for rural economic development.
In 2017, as gentrification caused a dearth in affordable housing and a rise in homelessness in Durham, Civil Justice Clinic Director Charles Holton ’73 initiated the Eviction Diversion Program in partnership with Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC). At the time, the city’s rate of evictions was about one for every 28 residents. Holton, a former chair of the LANC board of directors and a longstanding member of the local advisory committee for its Durham office, saw an ever-increasing number of eviction matters being added to the clinic’s caseload and was aware of the high stakes involved for clients.
The program, initially designed in significant part by students under Holton’s supervision, quickly made an impact and garnered national attention as well as significant financial support from the Durham City Council and Board of County Commissioners. Students help clients avoid eviction by negotiating payment plans for overdue rent with landlords, accessing public emergency funding sources to help, representing them in court to defend eviction actions and sue for unsafe housing conditions, or developing plans to move out voluntarily. Through the clinic and LANC, the Eviction Diversion Program was handling approximately 100 eviction cases each month prior to the pandemic shutdown, achieving an 80% rate of success in helping its clients avoid eviction judgments that could impede their ability to secure alternative housing. Many of the clinic’s eviction clients have been able to remain in their homes.
The Eviction Diversion Program has spawned other policy initiatives, including an academic research project by Professor Sara Greene to test clients’ views on law and lawyers and see how securing assistance and advocacy through the clinic may be shifting their views of and trust in attorneys and the legal system. And programs based on the Durham model have been launched in Charlotte and Raleigh.
Students often find clinic participation to be one of the most meaningful experiences of law school, one that builds lasting commitments and connections.
Students often find clinic participation to be one of the most meaningful experiences of law school, one that builds lasting commitments and connections.
“We expect them to be advocates for justice, whatever path they take”
Students who have participated in a clinic invariably describe it as one of the most meaningful experiences of law school. Often, it is also one of the most memorable and builds lasting commitments and connections.
In early May, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit took up the innocence claim of Wrongful Convictions Clinic client Ronnie Long in a rare en banc hearing. With courts shut down due to the pandemic, Clinical Professor Jamie Lau ’09, the clinic’s supervising attorney, argued via videoconference that Long, who has served 44 years of an 80 year sentence for a rape he says he did not commit, deserved a new trial due to the significant exculpatory evidence withheld from his lawyers at his 1976 trial and the fact that no physical evidence ever linked him to the crime.
Long had received a negative ruling in late January from the same court. Facing a two-week window for filing a request for en banc review, Lau, Newman, and clinic students Shoshana Silverstein ’20 and Nicole Wittstein ’20 took the lead in looking for ways to convince a majority of the full Fourth Circuit that the case was of sufficient importance and presented such a serious error of law that it warranted review. Former clinic student attorney Ace Factor ’17, now a litigator at Susman Godfrey in Houston, participated in every moot of the case to help Lau prepare.
That willingness to “jump in” is a characteristic of alumni of all the Duke Law clinics, whether called for help by their alma mater or to address needs in their communities.
Clinic co-director James Coleman, Jr., the John S. Bradway Professor of the Practice of Law, tells students at the start of each semester that he and his colleagues will expect them to help out, if asked, to assist with the case they work on in the clinic until their client is exonerated. But the expectation, he tells them in their first class, goes even deeper.
“We expect them to be advocates for justice, whatever path they take after graduating from Duke Law,” Coleman says. “I say that we hope the lessons they learn about miscarriages of justice will compel them to be advocates in whatever community they become a part of, whether they are in criminal justice or not. Their education and positions of influence will make them effective advocates, especially if they are not directly involved in criminal justice in the careers they pursue. In that respect, they are ‘lifers.’”