You are a 1L in law school and you are absolutely full of energy and excitement for the opportunity to get some real practical experience. You have watched Law & Order, Suits, and Better Call Saul. But before you can take your place before a judge and argue a case you first have to get through an important procedural matter. That matter is: are law students allowed to argue in court?
Generally, law students are not allowed to argue in court. You must first complete law school and then pass your state Bar exam in order to argue in court. However, there is an exception in many states for law students under very specific circumstances and under the supervision of a licensed attorney.
Now that you know you generally can’t argue in court even if you are a law student, let us take a deeper dive into which specific circumstances you may argue in court and how you can inform yourself of your state’s specific requirements.
When can law students argue in court?
There are some exceptions to the requirement that you must be licensed in a state to practice law in said state. The major one that you should be concerned with as a law student is the legal assistance/student practice law of your state. Most states allow law students to practice law under limited circumstances and with restrictions.
You will need to check your own state’s requirements because they can vary substantially. Washington D.C for example (where I practiced as a student) allowed 2Ls to practice under its statute. North Carolina (my home state) on the other hand, required three semesters of law school under the student’s belt before he or she could practice in a courtroom.
Every state requires that you practice under the care and supervision of a licensed practitioner. This means that you can’t go willy nilly filing motions and appearing in court on your own. It will feel a little bit like daycare at times, but supervision is very important to a law student’s development and so that you don’t mess anything up too badly.
How does a law student practice in court?
In my opinion, the best way to get practice experience in court as a law student is to take clinic. You can pretty much think of clinic as a law-student sweatshop, their operations are typically maintained by worker-bee law students who perform a lot of the clinic leg-work including writing, client meetings, trial/hearing preparation, and pretty much anything else that a supervisor can pawn off to a student. The licensed attorneys within the clinic typically act as supervisors. They will review your motions and briefs, sit with you during legal hearings, and answer questions that you have along the way.
If you have heard that clinic is a considerable amount of work you have certainly heard correct. I took clinic my Spring semester of 3L year and it made my semester considerably more burdensome than it otherwise would have been.
But clinic is also by far the best opportunity you will have as a law student to practice in court. During my time with clinic one of my cases actually went to a bench trial and I took the lead. I met with a number of opposing attorneys, settled several cases, advocated on behalf of my clients in several hearings, and wrote several motions and a section of one appellate brief.
If you are interested in arguing in court there is no better opportunity than clinic. You will need to check with your law school as individual law schools often offer different clinics. They also often have different course requirements and many of them will require Evidence.
Can a law student represent someone in court?
Under limited circumstances, clearly you will have the opportunity to argue in court as a law student. But can you represent someone else in court, perhaps a friend, family member or acquittance?
You’re already a law student so it shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Wrong, there is absolutely no chance that you will be able to represent any of your friends or family members until you are legally barred within the state. Your friend will have to find a licensed attorney to take care of that speeding ticket.
Can a law student represent themself in court?
Anything said previously concerning a law student’s ability to represent others should not be misconstrued to extend to limitations on self-representations. A law student’s right to self-represent is not limited by the virtue of his or her status as a law student. The Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to self-represent in a criminal trial. Many civil courts allow defendants to appear “pro-se” as well.
Therefore, if you are a law student you likely have the ability to represent yourself in court, but I strongly advise against this as the Bar does not look kindly upon applicants who were recently in trouble with the law.
Generally, law students are not allowed to argue in court. However, we learned that there is a major exception to this rule. Many states allow law students to practice in court under supervision. This is most frequently done through clinic, which is a great way to garner practical legal experience. We also learned that law students can represent themselves in court, however, law students should make it a habit of avoiding legal issues as the Bar frowns upon them.
Self-Representation. | U.S. Constitution Annotated | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute (cornell.edu)
DCCA Rule 48 Legal Assistance by Law Students.pdf (dccourts.gov)