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Posted on: Dec 2, 2016


Reflections on the Appellate Judges Education Institute Summit

Michelle is a recipient of the Jill Ellis Scholarship to attend the Appellate Judges Education Institute Summit in 2016, funded and made possible by the good work of the Indiana Appellate Institute.

By Michelle Langdon, Legal Advisor to Justice Steven H. David

I attended Appellate Judges Education Institute Summit for the first time this year. The conference was held at the Loews Hotel in Center City, Philadelphia, and speakers frequently referred to the city’s motto - “The City of Brotherly Love.”  Attendees were encouraged to try the local cuisine; that is - cheesesteaks, soft pretzels and Tastykakes. During the conference, optional tours of local cultural and historical landmarks, a “Rocky” themed fun run, a small-group dine-around at popular local restaurants, and an opening reception at the beautiful and historic National Constitution Center were offered.

Overall, I found the summit to be a very rich and rewarding experience - intellectually, professionally and socially. This was not your typical legal education conference. The speakers and panelists were highly accomplished and interesting; the time in each session flew by. Jeff Rosen of the National Constitution Center spoke about the “Interactive Constitution” and reminded us that while something may seem like a good policy, we have to look to the text to determine what is permissible. Legal writing guru, Ross Guberman, presented about how to make legal writing more effective and more powerful. He gave us four goals: legal writing should be engaging, candid, imaginative and approachable. He encouraged us to think about what we wanted others to say about our work.

CLE programs can sometimes be too basic, too broad or frankly too boring, but not this one. I didn’t observe or engage in any yawning or sneaking out of programs early. Instead, often the audience participated and we compared and debated best practices and substantive and procedural issues from our various jurisdictions. The conversations would start in the program and continue on into the hallway and the evening.  

Some highlights for me include getting to listen to a recap of both civil and criminal U.S. Supreme Court cases from the past term by Dean Erwin Chemerinsky from the University of California, Irvine School of Law (some of you may remember him from Barbri’s constitutional law bar prep lectures); having dinner (as part of the dine-around) with Alan Gura, who served as plaintiffs’ counsel in two landmark Second Amendment cases, District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago; and listening to a panel of the elite U.S. Supreme Court bar talk about their experiences with and advice for handling high profile cases. Of course, I also thoroughly enjoyed the conversation with Justice Elena Kagan that I had a small role in helping my boss and this year’s AJEI chair, Justice Steven David, prepare for. It was also fitting that the conference included a Veterans Day tribute and fundraiser for the Pennsylvania Wounded Warrior’s Project (which is not affiliated with the national Wounded Warriors Project), and entertainment was provided by the band, DeNovo, which is headed by Chief Judge Rader, formerly of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Even though I was one of the youngest attendees, was surrounded by well-known attorneys and judges, and often felt I was out of my league, everyone I met was warm and welcoming. Some were eager to provide wisdom or advice and some just wanted to get to know me. I had the pleasure of meeting attendees from many different states, although I believe that Indiana was perhaps the state best represented. This became evident when I would meet someone new, and he or she would ask where I was from, I would say Indiana, and the response would be something like, “of course you are.” Indeed, four of the five Indiana Supreme Court Justices, many Indiana Court of Appeals Judges, as well as Indiana trial judges, appellate practitioners and court staff attorneys attended. At some point, I believe I shared a drink, a table or a smile with the majority of them.

As the conference began just two days after Election Day, there was some palpable anxiety among the group. However, one of the overarching themes throughout the conference was that despite the forthcoming changes for other branches of government, the judiciary would remain stable and bound by the rule of law. Indeed, this theme explicitly came out during the conversation with Justice Kagan. Asked to address the “elephant” in the room; that is, how she believed the election would impact the nation’s highest court, Justice Kagan stated that lawyers and judges are bound by the rule of law and opined that even though President-Elect Donald Trump would get to choose Justice Scalia’s successor, and potentially other justices as some of the older members of the Court retire, any changes that would occur within the Court would be incremental. She said the Court doesn’t change as fast as some people hope or as fast as some people fear.  

The AJEI Summit was a wonderful experience. I think it’s a must-do for all appellate practitioners and judges. With next year’s conference set for Long Beach, California, it seems it would be a great year to be either a first time or a repeat attendee!

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