The clinic is not a corporate law firm. The instructors are full-time faculty members who do not juggle clinic cases against the demands of other clients. And students are not worried about billable hours. Nor are they worried about other academic demands: Students are in the clinic full-time, and take no other courses while enrolled.
The clinic carefully selects a handful of cases each quarter and pours time and resources into them. No two projects are run exactly the same way, but each is typically assigned a team of one instructor and three or four students. The process begins with the instructor and the students diving into the record, procedural history, and background law. Once the team has its bearings, it enters a phase of intense research and outlining—brainstorming which arguments to make; how to support them; and in what order to make them. Next, the team drafts the brief. The draft goes through numerous versions, culminating with a multi-day, line-by-line edit on a big screen in a conference room. Finally, the team does all of the finishing and production work and coordinates the filing with a printer.
All the while, the team benefits from input from three other sources. First, the team maintains close contact with co-counsel, exchanging ideas and edits as the project goes along. Second, the team obtains periodic feedback from other instructors and students in the clinic. We call these sessions “workshops,” and students report they are among the highlights of the clinical experience. They also make the clinic’s work product immeasurably better. Third, the team seeks guidance from other substantive experts on the Stanford faculty and sometimes beyond. Experts lend invaluable advice concerning practical or unintended consequences of different lines of argument.
When the clinic represents a party in a case going to oral argument, the students are involved in that process every step of the way. They participate in moots and strategy sessions, gaining invaluable insights into the process of argument preparation. The team also travels to Washington, D.C. for last-minute strategizing and attends oral argument itself. There is nothing quite like hearing one’s own arguments repeated and probed by the Justices.