July 08, 2022

Nailed It! Recent grad’s first oral argument in federal court

Haley Nicholson ’22 argued for increased environmental action as a certified law student.

Haley Nicholson, who recently graduated from Lewis & Clark law school, got her professional career off to a great start when she made her first oral argument in federal court on June 8, 2022. Haley was acting as a certified law student under the Earthrise clinic and was representing the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and the Appalachian Mountain Club. At the end of the two-hour argument, United States Magistrate Judge John C. Nivison told Haley that anyone watching would not have known it was her first in-court argument.

Certified law students are permitted to provide legal services under the supervision of an attorney before they graduate law school or take the bar exam. This gives law students a way to actively participate in their legal community while still in school.

While this may have been Haley’s first success in the federal court, it is also the culmination of years of hard work and determination which set her up for success. She graduated from the University of Oregon in the spring of 2019 and decided to focus on environmental law at Lewis & Clark because she “figured it would be the best way to help the most people possible, since climate change will affect everyone and is the largest existential crisis of our generation.”

Haley’s time at Lewis & Clark “mostly revolved around her experience on the Lewis & Clark environmental moot court team,” which she participated in during both her 2L and 3L years. Moot court was “insanely intense” but Haley is grateful for the lessons it taught her. She “learned how to decipher questions quickly, deal with negative facts and spin them in her favor, and become an overall better oral advocate.” During her time on the moot court, the team won the national championship for the first time in 10+ years and Haley herself won the “best oralist award in the entire competition.” These wins proved to Haley that all the hard work had been worth it. Haley highly recommends the environmental moot court team for interested students. “The team is the most acclaimed in the nation for a reason. Professor Johnston really puts his best effort in turning students into the best advocates they can be. It is absolutely one of the primary reasons I was selected for this opportunity with Earthrise.”

Haleys’s work with the Earthrise clinic while she was a student, allowed her to develop her environmental litigation skills and create relationships with Earthrise staff attorneys. She usually worked on 2-3 cases at any given time. Most cases she worked on related to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), but she also worked on the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) cases. The case that she recently argued was her main case throughout her student clinic experience at Earthrise. In addition to the oral argument, Haley went through hundreds of documents looking for pertinent information, and wrote the entire motion that the oral argument was about.

When discussing her recent argument in the federal court, Haley was “very honored that the Earthrise team trusted her enough to do the oral argument.” She felt nervous going into the argument, as it was her first one that had a real-life impact on a real client. Luckily, her time on moot court had given her many of the skills she needed to succeed. To prepare for the argument Haley “outlined the argument, anticipated questions and crafted responses, and did multiple practice rounds.” She also “imagined various arguments in her head every spare second.” While it was difficult to balance preparing for the argument while also trying to prepare for the bar exam, the hard work paid off. Haley was “prepared for every question and counterargument and proved she could hold her own against much older and experienced Department of Justice attorneys.”

Now that Haley has graduated and completed her oral argument, she is spending all her time studying for the bar. In the fall she will be acting as a full-time Earthrise fellow and will litigate various cases alongside staff attorneys, likely including more oral arguments.

Looking back on her time at Lewis & Clark, Haley recommends other students interested in the law to appreciate that “everyone’s experience is different. Just because another law student is on a different path, that does not mean that path is right for you. Do what feels right for you.”