Iowa Law has a long history of preparing students for appellate practice. Through its Appellate Advocacy Program students have a chance to participate in moot court opportunities such as the Van Oosterhout-Baskerville Domestic and Jessup International competitions as well as the Moot Court Board or National Team and Supreme Court Day. These events are designed to provide students with a chance to prepare and argue an interrelated question of law and fact in an adversarial setting. However, what may be less known is that Iowa Law externs also have had the opportunity to hone their appellate practice skills on actual cases.
Through the Field Placement Program, students may apply to work with the Iowa Attorney General Criminal Appeals Division or the Iowa Appellate Defender’s Office. These are just two of the many opportunities students have to work on real cases alongside practicing attorneys.
“In the case of these two appellate externships – the Iowa Attorney General Criminal Appeals Division and the Iowa Appellate Defender’s Office – law students spend much of their time in the semester, drafting appellate briefs, receiving feedback from the attorneys in the office on their writing, attending office meetings, and developing a deep understanding of criminal law,” stated June Tai, clinical professor of law and director of the Field Placement Program, “Students work on all aspects of appellate practice, including participating in moots for other attorneys preparing for court and, if hearing schedules allow, preparing for and arguing a case themselves.”
Through a full semester-in-practice externship at the Appellate Defender of Iowa’s Office, Lucee Laursen (22JD), had the opportunity to argue in front of the Iowa Supreme Court and Iowa Court of Appeals. She had heard about the program from fellow law students and wanted to have the real-world experience of practicing law while having the mentorship both from her field placement supervisor and Professor Tai. Just recently, the Supreme Court issued the opinion, finding in favor of her client.
“I had an amazing experience,” stated Laursen, “I was able to argue in front of both the Iowa Supreme Court and Iowa Court of Appeals. Additionally, I filed my own brief to the Iowa Court of Appeals. Overall, I had amazing mentorship from everyone at the Iowa Appellate Defender's Office and was able to sharpen my oral advocacy skills and legal writing skills. I also was given the opportunity to work with a client on their written appeal. In order to do this, I went over the trial transcripts and ultimately wrote a brief start to finish that was submitted to the Iowa Court of Appeals.” Now, Laursen continues her legal career joining the Chicago office of a prominent international law firm.
Allison Adams (22JD) is another student who chose to do not only one, but two externships through the field placement program, one at the Appellate Defender's Office and one at the Federal Public Defender's Office in Cedar Rapids. The externship at the Appellate Defender’s Office built on her prior externship, which focused on trial practice. Adams was also chosen as one of the four students selected to be a Supreme Court Day advocate.
“I had a fantastic experience at the Iowa Appellate Defender's Office,” expressed Adams, “All of the attorneys I met were super friendly, available, and eager to help me learn and grow as a future lawyer. I was able to write my own 50-page appellate brief which required me to review the entire record, research relevant case law, brainstorm creative issues to bring on appeal, and write the brief. I was also able to argue a case in front of the Iowa Supreme Court.”
She also stated that one of the biggest takeaways from her externship was how important collaboration is in legal practice, “I worked with many attorneys in the office on both my brief and oral argument and it made both so much stronger and gave me much more confidence when it came time to submit or appear in front of the court. The attorneys in the office are very collaborative as well constantly bouncing ideas off each other to make their appeals stronger for their clients.
“I was able to receive really valuable and thorough feedback on my work and I also feel much more confident in my oral advocacy skills having an actual Supreme Court argument under my belt. I know now I'm ready to step into a courtroom and zealously advocate for my clients,” stated Adams, “The externships have definitely given me more opportunities. Not only was I able to appear in front of the Iowa Supreme Court as a law student, but now it is a significant talking point during job interviews.” Now that she has graduated, Adams is serving as a judicial law clerk on the Iowa Court of Appeals.
Tai emphasizes that these real-world experiences develop critical, transferable skills for law students: “The intensive experience of combing through a record, drafting a brief, and preparing for oral argument is useful not only to future appellate lawyers, but to trial lawyers as well. Knowing what is important on an appeal sharpens any litigator’s ability to prepare a thorough case.”