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Law students get cases for appeal

SAN FRANCISCO — Arguing a case before a panel of federal appeals-court judges can be daunting even for experienced lawyers. Their clients often have much at stake, and the judges can be relentless, interrupting with questions to point out weaknesses and even occasionally to scold.

So Helen Andrews was anxious when, as a third-year Pepperdine University law student, she stepped before three judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year in a case that could change the way inmates are monitored in an Arizona county.

“I felt like I couldn’t breathe between sentences, I was gasping for air,” Andrews, 27, recalled.

Andrews is among scores of students who have had the opportunity to argue at the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco, under a program started more than two decades ago that offers law schools the opportunity to take on appeals.

The 9th Circuit sets aside cases from litigants who don’t have attorneys — often immigrants fighting deportation or prisoners with civil-rights claims — but have presented facts that the court believes are worthy of deeper legal analysis.

It offers those cases to attorneys who are willing to work for free and to law schools.

In the 2014-15 school year, 12 schools took on 25 cases, according to the court’s statistics. Last year, 15 schools took on 32 cases.

The 9th Circuit is the nation’s busiest federal appeals court.

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