Friday, May 24, 2024

2024 CLEA Awards for Outstanding Clinical and Externship Students: Syracuse's Christopher Foreman, Chezelle McDade, and Thomas Sheffield

Each year, the Clinical Legal Education Association invites law schools to nominate students as their Outstanding Clinic Student or Team and Outstanding Externship student. This series includes submissions from law schools celebrating their outstanding students. 

From Syracuse University College of Law:

Outstanding Clinic Team: Christopher Foreman and Chezelle McDade

In the Betty and Michael D. Wohl Veterans Legal Clinic, the student attorney team of Christopher Foreman and Chezelle McDade worked together to lead a class of students who submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Van Dermark v. McDonough. The case presented important questions about the obligation of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to reimburse veterans for their out-of-pocket costs for emergency medical treatment received outside the United States. Left intact, the Federal Circuit’s decision would mean that veterans who live or travel abroad may be forced to shoulder the costs of treatment for medical emergencies occurring abroad, even though the same costs would be covered if those medical emergencies occurred in the United States. By submitting an amicus brief in support of a petition for a writ of certiorari for Mr. Van Dermark, the students not only raised issues unique to Mr. Van Dermark but also highlighted the need for clearer policies by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs covering veterans seeking medical treatment overseas.

At the beginning of the Veterans Legal Clinic Semester, attorneys from a firm in Washington, D.C. reached out to ask if the VLC would be willing to write an amicus brief in support of petitioner Mr. Van Dermark. The students took thoughtful and deliberate steps to determine if this solicitation aligned with the goals of the Veterans Legal Clinic and also if it presented an opportunity to make a more strategic impact on the veteran community. The students invited the attorneys to speak to the class to learn more about the request, and excitedly agreed to work on the amicus in addition to their assigned client caseloads.

Student attorneys Christopher Foreman and Chezelle McDade volunteered to take the lead in organizing the efforts to create a project plan to manage all the various aspects of writing an amicus brief. They collaborated extremely effectively together and established a timeline for research, writing and editing; broke the brief into appropriate sections; tasked assignments out to groups of students; scheduled routine check-ins and progress updates with their professor; and even leveraged an existing relationship with an experienced law firm to enter into a formal engagement letter for advice and counsel throughout the process.

The result was an extremely well written brief that was cited to by Mr. Van Dermark’s reply in support of his cert petition. The attorneys for Mr. Van Dermark especially appreciated the students’ thoughtful discussion of the “pro veteran canon” which instructs courts to interpret any ambiguity in federal laws concerning veterans benefits in favor of veterans. While the petition was ultimately denied, the students gained incredible insights into how to write an amicus brief and the opportunity to make a contribution to veterans law at the national level. An amazing experience for not only this team of students but the entire Veterans Legal Clinic who proudly served as amicus curiae and whose names were included in a footnote of the brief.

Outstanding Externship Student: Thomas Sheffield

Thomas has demonstrated excellence in his externship placements and seminar components through his efforts in taking placements that specifically focus on public interest and advocacy for underserved or marginalized populations, and though his conscientious attendance, reflection, and participation in the accompanying externship seminars.  Thomas completed three externships in his law school career.  His first externship was with the ACLU of Mississippi in Spring 2023.  In Fall 2023 and Spring 2024, Thomas externed at the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Northern District of New York.  Throughout these placements, Thomas continued to excel in his academic career.  Thomas’ valuable work for justice throughout his externship placements are deserving of recognition.

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