Appellate Project aims to help Vermont’s pro se litigants

Attorney Jim Dumont (left) presents his case to (l-r) Prof. Fregosi and students Chester Harper, Kyle Clauss, and David Kahn of the Appellate Advocacy Project’s Moot Court. Other students who are enrolled in the project this semester are Kat Kral, Zoe Craig, Madison Pevey, Amy Herrington, and John Yanagihara. Professors Jared Carter and Greg Johnson are also involved in the project. Photo by Susan Warner.

By Julia Guerrein, News Editor

This semester, Vermont Law School launched the Appellate Advocacy Project, aimed at providing those representing themselves in court, as well as advocacy organizations, with pro bono representation in appellate proceedings.

“There are people who are underrepresented [and] issues that are underrepresented in the state of Vermont. At the appellate level that becomes very important,” said Prof. Jared Carter, who serves as one of the project’s faculty advisors alongside Prof. Catherine Fregosi.

“There are lots of cases that the Vermont Supreme Court sees. Many are litigants who are unable to obtain litigation otherwise and many are organizational lawsuits. The purpose of the Appellate Advocacy project is to help fill that gap.”

The project started as a joint effort between the Vermont Supreme Court, the Vermont Bar Association, and VLS. The school’s Legal Writing Department has taken the lead, and eight students work as associates in exchange for course credits.

“I really enjoyed certain things of Appellate [Advocacy], and this seemed like a really good way to expand on what I had already done and enjoyed doing,” third-year J.D. student Chester Harper told The Forum.

The project works on a variety of cases, and students are currently working with the ACLU of Vermont on a potential case of first impression in the state.

“I really … like the project and appellate work, especially because you are working on such narrow, specific, bizarre topics, and it’s really cool,” said Zoe Craig, an accelerated J.D. sudent.

Beyond building on what they have learned in law school, students are also able to gain an insight into what the “real world” beyond law school looks like.

“It’s a really great combination of the theoretical things you can get in [Appellate Advocacy] and [Advanced Appellate Advocacy], but also applying that to real world situations,” Harper said.

“It’s a bit like working in the clinic where you get to actually directly apply these things you are learning in a realistic scenario.”

The students have worked on multiple aspects of the appellate process, such as writing and reviewing briefs, doing legal research, and mooting an attorney to prepare them for arguing before the Vermont Supreme Court.

“Our hope is that all of these skills—the oral advocacy component, the writing, the editing, as well as developing a better understanding of appellate procedure—will serve them either as appellate lawyers or … as trial attorneys after law school because these are all skills that cross over into a lot of other areas,” Carter said.

In addition to developing practical skills, the project serves as a way for students to work with the community and gain a greater appreciation of the importance of this work.

“The issue of access spans way beyond just Vermont, regardless of whether we are doing the same issues,” Craig said. “I think I am going to carry [that principle] with me into my work, just with regards to access to the court system.”

Since the project is in its first semester, those involved are able to see what works, what doesn’t, and have a hand in what the project becomes.

“We are puzzling through exactly what it should look like long-term,” Harper said. “One of the really great things of being involved with it right now also is that we are getting to have direct input into that and figuring out what would be the best experience for students and the most benefit to pro se litigants and other individuals along those lines.”

Students are able to apply for the project after successfully completing Appellate Advocacy. If all goes as envisioned, the project will continue to grow, giving students an opportunity to learn and providing the community with legal assistance.

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