Law Alumni, Mason Partnership to Give Students Supreme Court Experience

Posted: July 5, 2011 at 1:03 am, Last Updated: July 1, 2011 at 10:51 am

By Jason Jacks

William S. Consovoy, JD '01. Photo courtesy of Weily Rein

William S. Consovoy, JD '01. Photo courtesy of School of Law

Come this fall, a group of Mason law students will be assisting on cases before the most powerful court in the land.

In a partnership with the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Wiley Rein, Mason’s School of Law will launch the Supreme Court Clinic, a program that will offer pro bono legal representation for clients attempting to have their cases heard by the high court.

Over two semesters, a dozen law students will work alongside Wiley Rein attorneys, learning the ins and outs of Supreme Court litigation. Heading up the program on Wiley Rein’s end will be two Mason law school alumni, William S. Consovoy and Thomas R. McCarthy.  Consovoy once clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas, and McCarthy clerked at the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District. Both now work in Wiley Rein’s Appellate Group.

“George Mason was an obvious choice for us,” says Consovoy, who, along with McCarthy, graduated from law school in 2001. “We wouldn’t have done this with any other school.”

Thomas McCarthy, JD '01. Photo courtesy of School of Law

What will these fortunate students do? For starters, they will identify cases of interest and draft legal briefs, such as a petition for certiorari, which is a request to the Supreme Court to decide a case, and a merit brief, a formal argument presented to the court after it has agreed to accept a case.

In addition, students will receive classroom instruction, research legal issues and attend at least one Supreme Court argument per semester.

High pressure, yes. But according to Daniel D. Polsby, dean of the School of Law, this is what these future attorneys signed up for.

“Our students eagerly seek field experiences,” he says, “and this program will give them new opportunities to observe and participate in the business of the highest court in the land.”

With the promise of working hands-on with real cases, the clinic is designed for advanced students, according to McCarthy.

“Many of them will be a year away from graduating,” he says. “We received 50 applications, and we accepted 12 students … these are high-caliber students.”

Consovoy says the cases the students will be assisting on will run the gamut, including those involving civil and criminal law. And the students will have a say in which cases they take on. “We want them to do things that they are excited about,” he says.

According to both attorneys, though, the type of cases are secondary to what they hope the students will take away from the clinic, including an education in federal litigation, an appreciation for Supreme Court advocacy and a better understanding of the direction they may want to take their careers in the future.

“Each student will take away something different,” Consovoy promises. “But we know it will be rewarding in many different ways.”

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu