Public-interest litigation is not for the faint of heart. So often, attorneys find themselves battling opponents with resources and influence or precedent that makes it difficult to prevail. But fighting to preserve rights and help vulnerable clients provides many different rewards. In this episode, Jody Sanders and Todd Smith interview Hannah Mullen, a staff attorney at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Legal Defense Fund (CAIR LDF), about practicing public-interest litigation and its benefits and challenges. Hannah also shares her experience as a fellow in the Georgetown Immersion Clinic and her perspective on trial versus appellate practice.
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Our guest for this episode is Hannah Mullen, who’s a Staff Attorney at CAIR LDF. Hannah, thanks so much for joining us.
Thank you, Jody and Todd, for having me. I’m very excited to be here.
I said CAIR LDF. Our readers probably don’t know what that is because it’s a lot of letters. Can you explain what CAIR LDF is?
CAIR LDF is the acronym for Council on American-Islamic Relations Legal Defense Fund. CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations is the leading advocacy group for American Muslims. LDF, the Legal Defense Fund, is the civil rights litigating arm of the organization. I focus on litigating civil rights cases in the federal courts on behalf of the American-Muslim community.
I’m not obligated, I suppose. Nobody ordered me to say this but I feel compelled to say that nothing I’m going to say in this interview represents the views of CAIR LDF. I speak only for myself with the exception of saying, if you’re a member of the American-Muslim community and experiencing religious discrimination, we have a form on our website and we would love to hear from you. Also, if you’re a civil rights-minded college or law student, please apply to intern with us. It’s back to just me.
That is great. We very much appreciate that. If you would tell our readers a little bit about yourself, your background and who you are.
I grew up in the DC area. Before I went to law school, my life was somewhat dominated by sports. I played 4 years of college lacrosse and year-round lacrosse, 11 months out of the year from the time I was 9 until the time I was 22. I snuck school in when I could. When I went to law school my first year, I thought it was somewhat funny that everyone was so overwhelmed by work because I thought it was neat that I had extra time to do extracurriculars, which was something I’d never done before. I’ve been able to shift my life for the past decade or so into full nerd mode, which I very much enjoyed. I graduated from law school in 2019. I clerked for a year and then moved on to public interest practice that I’m sure we’ll talk about in more detail.
Before we get into your legal career, we do have to pause to talk about your family. You come from a very legal family. We wanted to talk a little bit about your grandfather for a minute and your reflections and maybe some personal stories about him.
I’ve been thinking about grandpa a lot. There’s an upcoming event at Northwestern where they’ve dedicated a courtyard to him. He’s an alum of Northwestern Law. They commissioned this beautiful bust. I’m giving a little talk there and I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with him as his granddaughter. My mother was his only child to follow him into the law and I’m the only grandchild to follow him into the law.
We should clarify who your grandfather is exactly. I want to make sure that our readers understand before you launch into what I’m sure is going to be a wonderful reflection on that connection.
I’m lucky enough to be the granddaughter of Justice John Paul Stevens. It’s interesting. He retired from the bench at 90 years old when I was a senior in high school or maybe had just graduated. My consciousness of the law and becoming an attorney did not overlap with him being active on the bench. My consciousness when he was on the bench was grandpa has an interesting job. There’s a picture of him in my fifth-grade history book. Sometimes he makes the news but it was pretty abstract. He’s a humble guy. He was not lording it over people. We hung out, played ping pong together and talked about books.
It didn’t enter my consciousness as much until I got older. I got to know Justice Stevens much in the way that my law school classmates did because I read his opinions. It was very moving to realize that the man I admired as kind, thoughtful and humble came across as kind, thoughtful and humble in his writing too. I admired the values that I saw him live as my grandpa and I saw them coming through in his jurisprudence as well. It was almost like two different stages of getting to know my grandpa and Justice Stevens later as an adult.
It speaks well of him that you knew him only as grandpa. That wasn’t such a huge part of his identity within his family being a US Supreme Court Justice. That’s neat. To be able to read his opinions as a law student and as a practicing attorney, see that deeper level of thinking that he went through in his job every day and appreciate that from a professional perspective is cool.
I’ve had a couple of opportunities to cite his opinions as authority for advocating on behalf of my clients. In my role as a Clinical Fellow at the Appellate Courts Immersion Clinic at Georgetown, I argued a case about whether my client could bring a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act. That had a constitutional implication around the abrogation under Section 5 of the 14th Amendment of the state’s 11th Amendment immunity.
The leading case that was relevant to that analysis was his opinion in Tennessee versus Lane. Reading and thinking about Tennessee versus Lane in the briefing and preparing for the argument, I was very moved to see how his work was hitting the ground and operating to hopefully make the lives of people with disabilities better.
It’s an amazing connection to be able to form in your career.
No pressure on you and your career. I don’t know if word got out when you were in law school that he was your grandfather…
I wasn’t sneaky or hiding anything, but it was nice that we didn’t share a last name. Stevens is not particularly a distinctive last name but a little bit of separation with Mullen was helpful. The fact that he was retired too, I could try to slip by. Word got out a couple of semesters in, but I was fairly successful at evading the “there goes that girl” thing. At least I think so. I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong.
You did a clerkship with another judge whose name is pretty familiar as well, Judge Merrick Garland. Would you mind maybe telling us a little bit about your clerkship?
It was a fantastic experience. He is a wonderful boss and a deeply kind person. I got very lucky with co-clerks that the four of us were close and enjoyed each other’s company. It was a fantastic year. I thought for many years that I wanted to be a government attorney. When I applied for clerkships, I was focused on the DC Circuit for that reason. It’s funny where I ended up. I’m not doing a lot of FERC litigation. Subject matter aside, it was a useful experience because he’s so rigorous and incisive with how he thinks about cases.
It was a very verbal job. You had to ask permission. We didn’t write bench memos. We wrote three-page memos called Cover Memos that were designed for him to read first before he read the briefs himself, meant to identify the most important parts of the record and the case law. He would read those and they would have our preliminary conclusions about how we thought the case should shake out. He would read that, the briefs and parts of the record.
His office was down the hall and around the corner from the row of clerk’s offices. He would cold call us on our phones, which was terrifying until we got used to it and realized that he was the nicest guy on earth. He’s not going to care if you say, “Judge, I’m going to double check that and call you back in a couple of minutes.” That was fine. That was one of the most important tips I got from previous clerks. It’s going to feel like he’s quizzing you but he’s not. He just wants to have a conversation.
I would jump out of my seat every time the phone rang. He would want to hash things out so he would come and walk down the line of clerk’s offices, poke his head in and start asking you questions about the different cases. He took seriously what the clerks thought, which felt like a big responsibility. He ate lunch with us almost every day. He was very sweet.
Did you have caller ID on that phone to know that it was the judge?
You knew when he was reviewing your cases and you were on deck.
Your phone probably otherwise didn’t ring very often in the office. If it rang, it was a pretty good bet, I suppose, that it was the judge.
It’s Judge and he’s spotted something you didn’t.
It sounds almost like you extended law school for a whole other year. You kept getting cold-called and asked questions about cases and everything.
It was funny too. He’d been on the DC Circuit for so long so he had this amazing encyclopedic knowledge of the circuit’s case law. In the first case I did with him, there was a standing issue in it. There’s a question about whether the harm was imminent enough to give rise to Article 3 standing. I had written this very confident memo that turned out to be wrong and mortifying. He was very nice about it but I felt incompetent.
I came into his office and he was like, “You need to look up a judge or whoever wrote a case in the late 1990s that involved an elephant in a zoo. Go find that.” I did my Westlaw searching and sure enough, there was a standing case about imminence in the Article 3 injury context. It was some conservation case or something that involved an elephant in a zoo. That was the level of precision he was able to work with. It always felt like we were trying to keep up with him a little bit.
From your clerkship, you went to the Georgetown Appellate Immersion Clinic, right?
Can you tell us a little bit about the clinic, what it does and your experience there? It sounds like an amazing place.
It’s a special place to work and, hopefully, a place for students to work as well. With the Appellate Courts Immersion Clinic, immersion is literal that when the students are enrolled, that’s the only course they take for credit. It’s their entire credit load for the semester. They run a public interest law office staffed by the supervisor, Brian Wolfman, who’s a superstar. He’s amazing. I learned so much from being around him. Also, with 2 fellows and then 8 students.
You have the students for 40 hours a week so the clinic does complex interesting multi-issue appeals. The canonical case that the clinic takes on is a multi-issue opening brief in a federal court of appeals. I did one respondent side brief when I was there. It doesn’t happen a lot because we tend to represent David in the David and Goliath fights. David usually doesn’t have very good counsel and loses in the district court.
Search stage stuff, amicus briefs and all kinds of things but the opening brief in the federal courts of appeals is the heartland. The subject matter varies super widely. It tends to be the civil side, not criminal experts, but I did Family and Medical Leave Act, Title VII, habeas prisoners’ rights, an interesting constitutional challenge to solitary confinement procedures in Arizona State Prison, federal sentencing, the enforceability of appeal waivers and immigration law.
Those were just the cases I touched, which is fantastic for the students because they get exposed to a real array of issues. It’s great for the fellows, too, because for somebody who was 1 year out of law school, I was counsel of record and got 4 arguments in 2 years. Brian is serious about supporting and helping his fellows but trusting them. When clients called, they called me. I was their lawyer. When a case was going to be argued, I argued it. That level of responsibility when you’re out of law school was a special thing.
How does it find the cases? Do the cases come to the clinic? Do you all seek them out?
All of the above. We take appointments from federal courts of appeals. I took several cases from the Seventh Circuit. The Ninth Circuit has an awesome program where they pull out cases specifically for law school clinics with the condition that a student argue them. I supervised one of those cases and my student got to argue in the Ninth Circuit. He did amazing. It was so cool. To second chair an argument was neat. It’s harder than first chairing because I’m a control freak.
Are you passing notes over the table?
When I argue, I tell whoever’s with me, “Don’t pass me a note unless I’m going to lose the case. If I don’t say it, you’re going to freak me out.” I tried to be conscious of that and he did a fantastic job. It was a fantastic experience.
The broader reason we wanted to have you here was to talk about public interest law and your experiences. We haven’t had anyone on here to talk about that piece of the law. Maybe let’s start with the terminology. I have heard a lot of different groups and people say, “We do public interest work.” I don’t know that there’s maybe a uniform definition. When you think of public interest work, how would you define that?
The first professional category I would exclude is our government lawyers. That’s not a normative statement. It’s a descriptive statement. When law school career offices talk about the public interest, they’re distinguishing from big law. They’re saying, “Firm recruiting over here while government and other public interest work over there,” which makes sense for a career office to draw the lines that way. When I say public interest, I mean groups that represent people who need help, usually for free or perhaps on contingency sometimes.
Generally, with the folks who need help, you’re not asking them to pay upfront. Usually, in a David and Goliath posture, we tend to be suing the government, employers or other organizations and institutions that are harming individuals. That’s my conception. When I call myself a public interest attorney, that’s what I mean. People use it in all kinds of different ways and have all kinds of different understandings but when I describe myself as a public interest lawyer, that’s the family of work that I’m thinking of.
I heard you describe the Appellate Immersion Clinic as a public interest law firm. When you say public interest law firm, for me, the picture of a law firm is almost like a private firm. How does that work in the public interest space?
In describing the clinic, the law firm is an easy moniker for people to understand that they’re working 40 hours a week. There’s a hierarchical structure between the students analogized to associates and the supervisors analogized to partners. I don’t know as much about that corner of the public interest space. Some firms will describe themselves as public interest or plaintiff side. Those things can blur occasionally.
There are at least some firms that do a mix. They want to represent folks who can’t pay or at a significantly reduced rate. That’s a big important part of their practice but then they keep the lights on by doing more traditional commercial litigation. What would distinguish that from ordinary pro bono work is maybe how much of the firm’s time is dedicated to that first group of cases. I’ve never worked in that space so I don’t want to step outside my lane.
You may be a relatively young lawyer but that’s a very wise position to take because so many people are more than happy to step outside their lane. I respect that answer greatly.
You have shifted. You started doing more on the appellate side it sounds like, public interest and then litigation. How does public interest practice work in the appellate arena in particular? That’s a particularly difficult place to be. As the appellant, the odds are not in your favor and when you’re representing David against Goliath in the appellate system, I feel that adds another layer of difficulty.
I’ll start from what I learned by going to Georgetown and starting my career as a public interest attorney and as an appellate specialist. I’ll then back into what I’m learning at CAIR by joining a more well-rounded group that litigates through. When I was at Georgetown, I became very in touch with the limitations of a closed record.
When you’re representing a plaintiff, especially if they come to you for the first time on appeal, you haven’t been involved in the case, somebody loses in the district court, you think they have a shot at winning the appeal and you take the case, in that posture you don’t know how well the case has been counseled before or if the case was counseled before. You have no control over what’s in the record.
You also have no control over what claims were raised in the district court. It could be an immensely frustrating experience to see cases that we took because we thought they were winnable. It’s not to say these were not winnable cases. Every case that the clinic takes, they take because they think they can win it. To see the missed opportunities, if the case had been counseled well from the ground up, what could have happened?
With some of the cases that my co-fellow Madi Meth who’s amazing and Brian took, they did a lot more work with co-counsel than I did. Madi had many cases with very sophisticated well-developed records. This is not to say that this is true of every case that the clinic takes but in doing a lot of work on behalf of people in prison, you do a lot of cases where folks were litigating pro se often from restrictive circumstances.
They’re in a cell 23 hours a day so they’re not getting declarations from guards. They weren’t taking depositions. They can’t describe the conditions in the different solitary confinement wings because they’re only in one and not allowed out of it. Imagining the record that I wish I had had and wishing that I could do more for my clients who would call me and describe what they were going through, I’m like, “I wish I could get that in front of a court.”
It impressed upon me that it’s extremely difficult, may be prohibitively difficult to be a true appellate specialist if what you want to do is help people whose civil rights have been violated by the government. There’s such a shortage of lawyers taking cases at the trial level and before at the case development stage, and you’re needed early.
I exempt from this appellate defenders because they’re part of a whole hierarchical system that shepherds the cases through the trial courts and then the courts of appeals. I did a job search not all that long ago and I’m not aware of any true appellate specialists in public interest law. This is why because cases get won and lost at the ground level. Being at CAIR, the learning curve has been not so steep in some things. If you can write an appellate brief, you can write a motion for summary judgment. They’re not that different, but it’s incredibly steep in other ways.
For example, I have so much to learn about discovery. I know what I want a record to include, but I have no idea how it gets in there. My supervisors are very patiently assigning me like, “Why don’t you write the first draft of a written discovery request?” It’s taking me two weeks and I’m having panic attacks since I have no idea what those look like.
That thing doesn’t make it into the trial record. That’s getting passed between counsel at the trial court level. The only things I know about trial practice are the ones I saw reflected on the docket. There’s so much about trial practice that doesn’t hit the district court docket. That’s what I am trying to absorb imperfectly and with much patience from my superiors. I also think I’m learning how much can and should happen outside of court.
We have a form on our website. Folks come to us and say, “Something is happening to me.” Sometimes the best vehicle to solve that is a lawsuit, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes, it’s a letter saying, “Just so you know, you should probably stop doing this thing that could get you into trouble.” A lot of people and institutions don’t want to violate the law. They then stop.
Oftentimes, when people are in employment situations, retaliation is illegal but it’s a real worry. Maybe there’s strategizing that happens about interfacing with less extreme remedies than immediately filing a charge with the EEOC. That counseling and strategy about what’s best for the client, not just issue spotting like, “How do I win this lawsuit,” is going to be a big source of growth for me.
In the public interest sphere and I don’t know about CAIR, do you run into a lot of issue conflicts where for instance, you’re on one side of a particular issue that you want to push forward in the courts and maybe have clients that come in with different lawsuits that may impact that negatively?
No. I don’t think we have conflicts in the traditional sense. We’re representing Verizon in this case and AT&T wants us to take this case. That thing isn’t going to happen. There are infinite strategic considerations that go into deciding whether or not the organization takes a particular case. Winnability is one but not the only one. We’re a small group that punches above our weight.
We are 6 lawyers and 3 paralegals. Some of it too is it being a winnable case but is it worth the opportunity cost? Maybe there aren’t grounds for an injunction here and damages would be pretty minimal. On the other side, we could force this government entity to change their policy around people being allowed to wear hijab in the workplace or something like that. That would be something we’d be excited about because we could have a more systemic impact. I would expect that a lot of public interest organizations do that balancing, which tends to be driven by resource constraints.
In the 2022 federal court climate, how much of a worry is the concern about setting a bad precedent?
It’s more significant than it was in the past. It’s something that responsible practitioners think about, but it has to be balanced against your obligations to your client. If like at CAIR, you’re representing a client from the ground up, you’ve developed the lawsuit, you have your attorney-client relationship, you bring the lawsuit to the district court and your client loses on a contestable winnable issue in the courts of appeals, in my opinion, I am not speaking for anybody else, you have to take that appeal.
You can’t spike your client’s rights because you’re afraid of what could happen in the courts of appeals. To me, that’s a dereliction of duty. That calculus changes very significantly if, as a lawyer or an organization, you’re looking for cases to bring legal issues in the court of appeals as an impact litigator that’s coming in after the district court or you’re cooking up a strategy to try to put specific legal issues in front of the court. The calculus is very different there when you don’t have a preexisting attorney-client relationship.
When you think about the public interest, I think about the impact litigation side of it too, which sounds like very different from what your organization does.
It’s somewhere in the middle. We are focused intently on individual representation. We’re not at the moment strategizing class actions or similar. Members of the community come to us and sometimes have a need that affects other people that can affect litigation strategy. We do look for certain kinds of cases. We’ll hear from the community, “We’re concerned that X has been happening more in interactions with law enforcement,” for example and you’ll think, “That’s something to be on the lookout for.” That’s different from a concerted multi-year push to change the law in X way. More pure impact litigation groups I do think do something a little distinct. It’s a spectrum. There are aspects of both pure individual representation and impact litigation.
It seems like there might be some relationship between that cautious approach at times to the cases that go up on appeal and your observation that you can have more impact if you’re dealing with a case from the ground up. When you were talking about that before, I was thinking, “What about those legal issues?” In a lot of these areas, the law, I don’t want to say is well settled, but you are dealing with and somewhat restricted by the state of the law as it is. I can see how you can use that appellate part of your brain to make sure you have the record that you would want to see if the case does go up on appeal. That’s a neat viewpoint to be able to apply to those cases.
That’s exactly right. I’m glad you made that point because there can be despair among law students and young public interest attorneys looking at the current federal courts and thinking, “How can I do any good?” I dreamed of going to law school and winning this incredibly sweeping court of appeals or Supreme Court decision changing the legal landscape for millions of people. If that’s not going to happen, what good could I do?
In my limited experience, I feel very strongly that lots of bad things happen to vulnerable people that are illegal under existing law. They need your help to vindicate those rights. You don’t need to persuade a federal court to invent a new facet of a constitutional right for somebody who has been hurt to have that wrong at least partially remedied in the courts. They’re not going to be able to do that without a lawyer because they don’t know how.
It’s not as sexy maybe. You’re not going to be marching down the steps of the Supreme Court in your suit, but every day people wake up and they’re hurt by the government or other powerful groups in ways that you don’t need any legal innovation to understand why it was illegal. That’s sometimes lost in the extremely important and valuable discussions about the changing nature of the federal courts.
I very much appreciate that perspective. That’s a great way to put it and think about it. When I went to law school and even talk to people who are in law school that maybe have an interest in the public interest, law schools don’t do a great job of maybe educating people about what it is or where the paths are for that. If someone is reading and is interested in maybe going into public interest, what would your advice be on how to find a path into that?
It’s tricky. It’s both correct but when you think about it at times understandable that law schools aren’t maybe as supportive as they could be for students going into public interest. It’s easy to explain and facilitate the government honors process hiring. They do the same thing every year and you know what the application looks like. It’s the same thing for big law. You know what the rounds of interviews look like and you can help coach students. You know what day you’re supposed to show up at what hotel, what stuff to say and what stuff not to say. It’s an easy thing to hold an info session about.
Public interest is harder because it’s a little more catch-as-catch-can. Organizations are small and they have limited funding. Permanent positions open up when they open up, which is sometimes not very often. What happens then is there’s this challenging, unstable and underpaid round of early career fellowships that are sometimes externally funded.
The Skadden, Equal Justice Works and so on sometimes are sponsored by the actual organization but these super talented, motivated young attorneys show up and they’re given a check for peanuts. They work for 1 year or 2 years. They’re then pushed out the door, have to take their resume and find somewhere else to work. That happens for years and years. I feel extremely lucky to have only done one fellowship.
It was a nerve-wracking decision to say, “I’m qualified to be a staff attorney. I’m not going to submit applications for more fellowships. I’m going to hang on and see what staff attorney jobs open up.” It worked out and I’m so glad to be at CAIR LDF but that was a white-knuckle process because they’re not hiring 1 year or 6 months in advance. They’re hiring when the funding hits the bank account and the job opens up. I spent some time fielding, “What are you doing next questions,” with increasingly crazy eyes when people would ask me. I’d have to say, “It’s the margin. My fellowship ends in July but I don’t know yet.”
Maybe an increased level of anxiety coming up with every passing month as well.
It can be geographically unstable. Folks might have to move to different cities, which can be very challenging, especially if you have a family. They tend to not pay very well. There’s a lot of talk about financial instability in public interest law. That’s right. You take a huge pay cut as compared to law firms and even a fairly significant pay cut usually from government work, at least for the first couple of years. The career instability of not being able to plan more than 1 or 2 years out and having an application cycle early in your career can be extremely stressful and preclusive for people. That’s a big challenge for public interest attorneys. I’ve said all the stuff that’s hard about it and I don’t have any solutions.
Continuing that point very briefly, after a certain number of years in public interest work, does it stabilize somewhat for the attorneys who’ve had more years of experience?
The holy grail is a staff attorney job because once you have a staff attorney job, then you’re set and that’s a permanent position at the organization. I’m thrilled to finally be a member of the staff attorney club. That’s the dream and goal. You don’t want to be on the never-ending fellowship churn. I’m very glad to be done with it.
You’ve talked a little bit about the challenges. I may know what you’re going to say but what are the pros of public interest to you?
Everything. It’s the biggest privilege in the world to wake up every day and feel like I get to as my job help people. It’s something I never even imagined. As a child, I always had an inkling that I wanted to be a lawyer and help people but I couldn’t pin down how that would happen. I had very abstract notions of affecting systemic change. I don’t think I even imagined how meaningful it would be to interact with people who need help.
Sometimes you can’t help them and that’s hard or you try to help them and you fail, but what you can do and control is to listen and agree that what happened to them was wrong. It shouldn’t have happened. You believe them and care about them. You’re going to work hard to try to help them. Do everything you can and hope that stuff falls the way it should. It can sound dour or stressful, but I find it joyful because it’s very meaningful. It makes me feel like I’m doing some tiny little spec of good in a sea of injustice, which is all we can try to do.
You are, though, because you’re vindicating and giving a voice to people who maybe traditionally have not had one and that’s an incredibly important thing.
It comes across too in the way you describe your job and when you’re able to help someone, that feeling that it gives you. Our readers can’t see you on screen as I can, but I see the smile on your face and hear the excitement and joy in your voice. Even thinking about the prospect of being able to help someone who otherwise couldn’t help themselves as you were pointing out because they don’t know how is neat.
I’ve been so struck by people who come forward to vindicate their rights in court tend to be very brave. It’s a hard thing. If you’re somebody who’s incarcerated and experienced discrimination on the job, the dangers at times to vindicating your constitutional rights are not zero. They sometimes can be quite significant. I also think that sometimes folks miss and I don’t want to imply by saying that folks would struggle to help themselves. People can be incredibly sophisticated and knowledgeable about their rights.
Pro se litigants sometimes are clowned on by the legal profession, which is fair if you’ve spent some time in a clerk of court’s office but several of my clients who are incarcerated have significantly more sophisticated understandings of PLRA and AEDPA than most law students and lawyers. At times, there’s also a privilege of collaboration where somebody knows their rights, they know what happened to them and why it was illegal. Sometimes it’s as basic as formatting those arguments in a brief that looks professional so that a court won’t roll their eyes at instinctively. You can get them in front of a court and help them speak for themselves, which also can feel very powerful.
We’ve touched on this a little bit but how has the transition from appellate practice to trial practice been for you? One of the things that I have always done both when I was a young lawyer and mentoring young lawyers is anyone who wants to do appellate work we make do trial work and I feel like trial work is incredibly valuable to learn that perspective. It’s very easy if you only do appellate work to Monday morning quarterback what the trial lawyers are doing all the time until you’ve been in the trenches and seen those judgment calls that are sometimes split second. How has that experience been?
It’s going to make me a lot more humble on Monday morning quarterbacking a trial attorney’s work. It emphasized how much I have to learn about the legal profession and vindicate people’s rights in court. I did not appreciate how much time is spent fighting over who gets sent what documents.
Wait until you get into discovery stuff.
I’m so scared. My supervisor keeps telling me that he’s not just going to let me spend all my time on Westlaw but he’s going to make me a well-rounded lawyer, whether I want to or not. I anticipate some discovery disputes in the future.
I was laughing a little when you were talking about having difficulty drafting discovery requests. I do think it’s interesting because my experience is like Jody’s. I had the benefit of training up with one foot in both worlds and that I found to be very beneficial. I do remember being a young lawyer and not being able to tell which way was up when it came to drafting discovery requests.
I have no idea what to say. “Please give me the relevant stuff. Come on. You know what I mean.”
I am very grateful to pretty much be out of that world. I can go to the young lawyers down the hall and say, “I need some discovery.” On the rare occasion that happens, that I need that in one of my cases.
I will karmically do this upon myself because I had this incredibly tasteless joke when I was so confident that I was going to be an appellate specialist forever. I would never dirty my hands with trial work. If somebody asked me if I was ever going to do work other than appellate work, I would flip my hair and say, “I’m too pretty for discovery.” Here I am. I am not in fact.
Has that worked to maybe avoid a motion to compel if you called the other side and used that line on them?
Not yet, but it’s in my arsenal for sure.
You can tell them you’ll win on the law. “I’ll beat you on the law. You may be better at fact discovery than I am, but I’ll get you.” That’s awesome. Hannah, it’s been a pleasure to visit with you. We do want to follow our tradition, which is to ask our guests for a tip or a war story if they have one to offer to our readers. Do you have something for us?
I’ve been trying to think of war stories and so far, my practice has been relatively uneventful. The only thing I have approaching a war story is the one time I’d ever been part of a Supreme Court filing. We filed a cert petition. The editing process went off the rails a little bit and we had been passing the draft back and forth. It was in my hands for final formatting and it had to get to the printer by 10:00 AM. The hard copies need to go to the court. It’s a very regimented process. I was weeping at my computer because I do not understand Word formatting. The clinic doesn’t have paralegals. If somebody needs to change the margins on a document, it was me as the fellow.
I was hysterically crying because I had no idea how to change this template. I can see the clock ticking down. I’m on the phone with my boss like, “Can you call the printer and ask them if they can wait 45 minutes? Everything is on the wrong page. I’m going to look stupid at the Supreme Court and embarrass Georgetown. I’m so sorry.” He was like, “Hannah, take a breath. It’s fine.” We got it filed. It worked out. I am not a last-minute gal. I sent my supervisor a draft of a brief that’s due in four weeks. I fear deadlines and I respect them. That was an experience I’m not eager to repeat.
You are not alone in having that feeling. At some point in time or another, every appellate lawyer has that moment of panic, wondering if they’re going to meet a deadline but ours usually aren’t at the US Supreme Court. That’s a good one.
My palms are a little sweaty thinking about it.
Thanks again, Hannah. We sure have appreciated visiting with you. You’ve been gracious with your time. We enjoyed hearing your perspective about what you do. It will be beneficial to the folks that read this.
Thank you so much for inviting me. I was very flattered. It’s only a couple of years out of law school so speaking a little bit off the cuff at times, but hopefully your readers find it useful.
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About Hannah Mullen
Clinical Fellow at Georgetown University Law Center