“No judicial system can be stronger than its trial judges.”
Hon. Henry T. Lummus, The Trial Judge (1937)

With so much classroom emphasis on analyzing appellate decisions, it is refreshing to discover the number of HLS students who seek a trial court experience.  So in addition to the fully enrolled Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic in the Spring Semester, the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs and Hon. Judge John C. Cratsley (Ret.) began offering more Independent Clinical placements with judges in the Fall Semester. The result was an increase of nine students, seven placed with judges in the US District Court in Boston and two with Justice Budd in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. All wrote weekly reflections and will complete a paper on some aspect of the role of courts and the work of the judiciary. These students’ reflections describe their goals as learning the details of court practice and procedure, understanding judicial reasoning, evaluating the advocacy they observe, and improving their writing skills. The following blog by one of this Fall’s students, Jimmy Tsouvalas, tells just how important these outcomes were for him:

By James Tsouvalas, J.D. ’18

Portrait photo of James Tsouvalas, J.D. ’18

James Tsouvalas, J.D. ’18

I always wanted to be a litigator.

Growing up, I did not know the job by that name—I had no lawyers in my family—but the idea of fighting for the rights of people who needed help resonated with me. As a kid, I read about lawyers like Thurgood Marshall, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Clarence Darrow, and I was fortunate to know from a young age what I wanted to do with my life.

A few months into my time at law school I got my first chance to represent a client through my work with the Tenant Advocacy Project. Arguing on behalf of low-income individuals before Boston Housing Authority administrative hearings helped me feel confident in my career choice. But it became clear early on in law school that one of the best ways to learn how to be an effective litigator was to spend time working for a judge. Judges see the whole gamut of litigators—and their styles—arguing cases from nearly every area of the law. While assisting a judge deciding cases, I would have the opportunity to evaluate the arguments and techniques of litigators, and to conduct important legal research and writing, all under the guidance of an accomplished jurist.

After graduating in May, I am excited to begin my legal career as a law clerk for Judge Sandra S. Ikuta of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and then Judge Patricia Millett of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. But with both of my clerkships at the appellate level, I scoured the law school for opportunities to gain experience at the trial court level to flesh-out my legal education.

The Independent Clinical Program provided me with such an opportunity. Through the help of the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs, and under the supervision of Hon. John C. Cratsley (Ret.), I was able to land a clinical placement with Chief Judge Patti B. Saris of the United States District Court of Massachusetts. While taking a few classes at the law school, I spent two days a week at the federal courthouse in Boston’s Seaport helping Chief Judge Saris and her clerks prepare for arguments, hear cases, and decide motions. On both criminal and complex civil cases I drafted various memorandums of law on motions pending before the Court—analyzing the arguments of both sides, conducting independent research into the legal questions, and providing recommendations for disposition. And as cases progressed, I was even able to write the drafts of a few opinions. I was also fortunate to spend extensive amounts of time in court with Chief Judge Saris and her clerks. The experience gave me a richer understanding of the trial court process, and of the role of a judge, all under the brilliant example of Chief Judge Saris. I am so grateful to her for the opportunity.

The import of what I learned as a soon-to-be lawyer cannot be overstated: observing the intricacies of trial court proceedings and various styles of advocacy, and honing my legal research and writing skills under brilliant and experienced attorneys, will serve me greatly in my burgeoning career. But even more valuable were the mentorships and friendly conversations with Chief Judge Saris and her law clerks, judicial assistant, courtroom clerk, and docket clerk—a group I could not have developed more admiration for. I am so grateful for the work they do, and as I begin my career, I hope it is one for which they can soon say the same.