In Massachusetts, law students who have completed their second year of school, an evidence course and a legal clinic are allowed to practice law under the supervision of an attorney. Allison Flood 3L took advantage of that local rule this summer as a Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3:03 Counsel at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau in its Family Law division.
What types of cases did you work on?
I was assigned 15 cases at the beginning of the summer. Throughout the summer, I represented victims of domestic violence in obtaining divorces, resolving issues of child support and custody, and securing restraining orders. I also managed all pretrial and trial aspects of each case, including client interviewing and counseling, negotiation between all parties, and drafting, filing and orally arguing all complaints and motions. I drafted separation agreements and responded to discovery requests. I was in court two to three times per week representing clients at motion hearings, status conferences and pretrial conferences. One of my cases went to trial, so I prepared the opening and closing statements and the direct and cross-examination of two witnesses and conducted the full-day trial.
What was your most challenging project?
On July 8, I received word that we received an unfavorable decision from the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in the bureau’s only federal case that dealt with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Hague Convention applies when a parent removes a child who is a habitual resident of one contracting country to another contracting country in violation of another parent’s custody rights. However, the convention does not apply if returning the children to the first country would subject them to a grave risk of physical or psychological harm or expose them to an otherwise intolerable situation.
I filed a notice of appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. On July 15, I was notified that the appellate brief was due on July 22 and subsequent oral argument was scheduled for July 31. This expedited process shocked the entire bureau because, typically, attorneys get 40 days to write an appellate brief.
Between July 15 and July 22, I researched and wrote a 30-page appellate brief with little supervision. I had two main arguments: first, that the petition should be denied because Canada was not the children’s habitual residence prior to removal by the mother, and second, enforcing it would subject the children to a grave risk of physical or psychological harm or expose the children to an otherwise intolerable situation. I also cited to the 125-page trial record and taught myself the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.
What was it like arguing in court?
Upon submitting the brief on July 22, I began preparing for the oral argument. Supervisors, as well as retired judges, mooted with me for hours each day. On July 31, I argued the appeal before the three-judge panel of the First Circuit. They were an extremely hot bench. I was peppered with questions for the entire 15 minutes. However, based on my extensive preparation, I was able to answer each and every question asked of me.
No student, or supervisor, had ever argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. This was a first for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. It was the most challenging experience of my summer internship and probably will be the most challenging of my career. Arguing before the First Circuit is an extremely rare occurrence, especially in family law.
What will you take away from this experience?
Being able to orally argue an appeal to the First Circuit was both terrifying and exhilarating. I can now honestly say that I have had an experience that few lawyers get — and even fewer students! This experience has allowed me to develop my written and oral advocacy skills, all while working on an extremely difficult case under intense pressure.