Clinical Law Prof Blog

Editor: Jeffrey R. Baker
Pepperdine University
School of Law

Monday, January 21, 2019

Nine Star Wars Quotes for Clinics Facing Tight Filing Deadlines....

1.    "I've got a bad feeling about this." -- Han Solo

It's a new semester. You have brand new cases and deadlines... and at least one of those deadlines is comin' in hot. You've got a sick feeling in your stomach. You can see dread in the students' faces. Your fresh take on the court's refusal to grant an extension or continuance? A bad feeling. But it can't stop there. 

2. “I need someone to show me my place in all this.” -- Rey

The role of the clinical law professor is twofold: to represent clinic clients in a zealous and professional way and to teach clinic students their "place in all this." Sometimes that means subdividing sections of a brief or a larger project; sometimes it's suggesting research terms and leading a brainstorming session. But it's also more than that: students look to their clinical law professors to help them make sense of their  lawyering experiences to assess their own path. Deadlines are important- but clinical students are more than research assistants or interns. Fundamentally, law clinics are lab courses in which students' work is also twofold: representing their clients and reflecting on their own professional development. 

3.  "Do or do not. There is no try." -- Yoda

Clinic litigation often doesn't have the luxury of extended pontification, and it certainly can't stop with "try." Behind every clinic case is a client relying on students' work product. There's no "A for effort" here, though grades and feedback also cannot be based on a court result. Clinical learning outcomes are the skills gained, the words written (and edited and rearranged and rewritten). We may all get writer's block or paralysis, but we can't stay there for long. 

4. "The time to fight is now." -- Jyn Erso

Clinic briefs filed in an adversarial system are our weapons in the battle for justice for our clients, and the fight is on. We can count on opposing counsel to make the case against our client's claims, and we have to meet each of them head on. Clinical faculty and our students are bound by rules of professional conduct, and I am a strong believer in the powers of civility toward opposing counsel. But within those bounds, we are zealous. It doesn't hurt us to own the mantle of a freedom fighter; at our best, that's what we are.

5. "Look, Your Worshipfulness, let's get one thing straight. I take orders from just one person: me."-- Han Solo

I've mostly included this as a tongue-in-cheek counter-example of the kind of coachability we need in clinic students. Our students are smart, intuitive, hardworking, solid writers. But they still have to listen. Only once or twice have I encountered a student who didn't love taking heavy edits on a brief, and with a deadline clock ticking, it wasted valuable time.

6. "Never tell me the odds"-- Han Solo

I run an appellate and habeas clinic. The odds are never in our favor. Why bog ourselves down with the reversal rate of the appellate court hearing the case? Irrelevant. Next issue.

7. "It's a Trap!!"-- Admiral Akbar

There comes a point in all justice work when we become too enamored with our own perspective. We don't want to become paralyzed by bad odds, but we also need a healthy perspective on the court's view of our client's case record and issues. What arguments will be persuasive? What will the State argue? Where are the weak spots, and what will shore those places up? Better to consider these weaknesses before the filing deadline instead of after.

8. "That's impossible-- even for a computer!"-- Rebel pilot

As someone who learned legal research in the stacks of the law library, I'm always amazed with the newfangled bells and whistles of our research resources. Ever have a program create a beautiful table of authorities? E-filed remotely when you used to have to make 9 hard copies with heavy covers, stapled down the side, all FedExed before 9 pm? A thing of beauty... plus, it saves hours in clinic work time.

9."Use the Force, [class]." -- Obi-Wan Kenobi 

In the last few days before a filing or other court deadline, accumulated stress takes its toll. Students have other courses to study for, clinical faculty have other teaching obligations. We've all put our lives on hold. But there's still final editing left to do. A brief isn't finished 'til it's filed... and sometimes we need that extra boost of adrenaline (and The Force) to make sure we create clinic work product we're proud of. We have to dig deep for motivation, and I generally find that in our clients' confidence in us and in what is at stake for them if we lose.

Vader

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