Co-Counseling Relationships

“The process of working with the Stanford clinic is in a sense much more deliberative and more inclusive than working with other attorneys . . . I think they’re building the next generation of great lawyers.”Ben Cohen, of the Louisiana Capital Appeals Project in Stanford Law Clinic Shakes Up Supreme Court Bar, Law 360, Sept 15, 2009

Unlike many of the Mills Legal Clinic’s other clients, the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic’s clients are typically represented by other lawyers before they begin working with the clinic. The clients and their lawyers come from across the country. The highly collaborative co-counseling arrangements that follow provide rich opportunities for cooperation and learning.

The clinic works with a variety of co-counsel. Some are solo practitioners; others work for small firms with limited resources or expertise in Supreme Court litigation; others are public defenders or others appointed to represent criminal defendants; and still others work for public interest organizations. While lawyers occasionally wish to hand off virtually total control of a case, the clinic never tries to take cases away from its co-counsel. Rather, the clinic believes that the best approach is to combine its resources and expertise with those of its co-counsel, providing the best possible representation for the client. In the end, the whole that derives from meaningful engagement on both sides is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

Whenever possible, the clinic not only maintains regular contact with co-counsel over the phone and email; it also pursues face-to-face interaction. The clinic team working on a case often travels to where co-counsel and the client are based, gaining valuable on-the-ground information. Or vice versa: when feasible, the clinic will pay to bring its co-counsel (and clients) out to Stanford for workshops, moots, or other key meetings.

A happy byproduct of the clinic’s collaborative relationships is that they expose students to a range of law practices and lawyering models—many of which are not readily accessible to students through outlets such as on-campus interviewing. This broadens students’ horizons and cultivates discussion and reflection concerning the ways students can use their law degrees.

“As a long-time sole practitioner representing criminal defendants on appeal, I’d always dreamed of arguing a big case in the Supreme Court. But when the chance arose to work with the Stanford clinic, I knew my client’s interests would be best served by joining the team. Jeff Fisher is the best and he led a team of students and professionals in his network that were bright, enthusiastic, and detail-oriented. It was a thrilling experience for me and made me a better lawyer. And it was a home run for my client.”Pat Ford, co-counsel in Riley v. California, summarizing his experience working with the clinic.

“As a solo practitioner, I get used to my own way of doing things, but working with the incredible Stanford team taught me new ways. I think I will forever be a better appellate advocate as a result of their hard work.”Sharon Samek ’87, who worked on a case with the clinic.