The Tulane Civil Rights and Federal Practice Clinic (TCRFPC) provides students the opportunity to represent live clients primarily in civil rights matters in federal court. The civil rights docket of the TCRFPC typically consists of employment discrimination, fair housing, police misconduct, and First Amendment claims. Civil rights cases might involve allegations of discrimination based on any number of grounds, including race, color, national origin, religion, disability, gender, pregnancy, and familial status.
Most of the clients TCRFPC represents are referred by either non-profit organizations or the courts. Upon referral, cases are screened for the purpose of assessing their pedagogical value. The TCRFPC docket is carefully structured to maximize students’ opportunities to develop the range of skills they will need to become effective federal court practitioners. Care is also taken to ensure that the clinic docket consists of a range of substantive legal claims. Given the vast unmet legal need in southern Louisiana, consideration is given as well to whether representation by TCRFPC student attorneys might meaningfully enhance the possibility of a litigant's success.
Skills Opportunities for Student Attorneys
Students do not function as law clerks—they handle all aspects of the litigation.
Because roughly 96 percent of all litigation is resolved prior to trial, particular emphasis is placed on students’ developing strong pre-trial advocacy skills. Students interview clients, analyze claims, engage in case planning, conduct informal fact investigation (including witness interviews and public records requests), draft pleadings, draft written discovery requests, take and defend depositions, draft motion packages and argue motions, identify and retain consulting and trial experts, advocate in settlement conferences, prepare pre-trial orders, and prepare for trial.
In those cases that are litigated through to trial, students have the opportunity to hone their trial advocacy skills. Because trial opportunities are rare, the TCRFPC has sought alternative opportunities for students to acquire more intensive courtroom experience. For example, the TCRFPC students appeared in a four-day preliminary injunction hearing in Spring 2007, which allowed students to present oral arguments, conduct direct and cross examinations of witnesses, and make evidentiary objections.
In Spring 2017, TCRFPC student attorneys successfully argued an appeal of an administrative decision before the Louisiana 19th Judicial District Court. The TCRFPC also occasionally engages in federal appellate practice, which has allowed students to present arguments in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
The Application Process
The TCRFPC is available to students in their third year and requires a full-year commitment (two semesters). Students earn three credits per semester for their work in the clinic, and another three credits in the fall semester for the co-requisite seminar—a total of nine credits. The TCRFPC accepts between 12 and 15 students per year, based on an application and an interview. In the spring of their second year, students complete a uniform application for all of the litigation clinics, indicating their first, second, and third choices. Clinic directors work together to attempt to secure placement of every applicant in a clinical program.
To be eligible to participate in the TCRFPC, students must have completed courses in Evidence and Legal Profession before beginning their clinic work. TCRFPC students must take Trial Advocacy by no later than the fall semester of their third year. Students take the Civil Advocacy Seminar as a co-requisite course during the fall semester of their third year. The Civil Advocacy Seminar, a three-credit course, serves as the classroom counterpart to the live-client clinic. Skills covered in the seminar include client interviewing; case planning; drafting of pleadings, discovery requests, and motion packages; taking and defending depositions; summary judgment motion practice; expert discovery; and jury voir dire/selection. In the seminar, students have an opportunity to learn about a skill, consider the ethical/professional issues pertinent to the skill, practice the skill in class, then complete a graded assignment relating to the skill. The seminar is designed to prepare the students in a systematic fashion for the pre-trial skills required to be performed throughout the year on behalf of live clients in the clinic.
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Third-year law students are permitted to practice law under the supervision of licensed Louisiana attorneys. The TCRFPC is staffed by two such attorneys: a full-time, faculty director, Lucia Blacksher Ranier, and a full-time clinical instructor with faculty status, Samuel T. Brandao.