By Alexander Cottingham ’20
Working on this case for my client, JC, was by far the most impactful experience in my time at HLS. It is an odd coincidence that at the same time as we secured a district court victory and one chapter closes in JC’s case, my own law school experience draws to a close and I prepare to begin my next chapter. I began working on JC’s case in the spring of 2019, my first semester in the Veterans Law and Disability Benefits Clinical Program. Through a year of working on the case, and two levels of appeal, I gained the most practical legal training of my law school experience. I got to develop legal arguments, do the research to back those arguments up, and finally put those arguments on paper through multiple rounds of brief writing that would eventually be submitted to federal court. I learned as much doctrine as I did practical lawyering skills, and I experienced as much abstract litigation strategy as I did hands-on negotiation with opposing counsel. This case was a truly all-inclusive experience.
What I found unique about the appellate process was that, after initial conferencing with JC over the decision to appeal or not, the appeals process itself inherently involved less day-to-day client contact. The appeals process involved more legal research and legal writing than client lawyering compared with my other cases in the clinic. I valued getting this different perspective on the client relationship. Even though I found the appellate relationship with a client different, it was no less meaningful. A recent conversation with JC confirmed this. As we discussed the district court victory and what next steps are available, JC began to tear up and thanked the LSC team for the hard work that we put in on her case over the past year. To me, this moment and this conversation is what ultimately gave this district court victory, the briefs I helped write, and all the other work meaning. In that moment I really felt how we made a difference and the power that being a lawyer can have.
Alexander Cottingham is a third-year student at Harvard Law School. He has worked with LSC’s Safety Net Project since the Spring 2019 semester.