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W&L Law Student Argues Case before Third Circuit Court of Appeals Haley Carter '24L argued the case as a student attorney in W&L Law’s Advanced Administrative Law Clinic, better known as the Black Lung Clinic.

haleycarter-800x533 W&L Law Student Argues Case before Third Circuit Court of AppealsHaley Carter ’24L

If you are wondering what a law student does the night before making an oral argument in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, watching “My Cousin Vinnie” might not be the first thing that comes to mind.

But after months of mastering case information and countless moot arguments, Haley Carter ‘24L knew that the best thing she could do was try to relax.

“You get to a point where you just realize there is nothing more you can do to prepare,” said Carter. “I needed to turn my mind off for a bit and have a good laugh.”

Carter argued the case as a student attorney in W&L Law’s Advanced Administrative Law Clinic, better known as the Black Lung Clinic. For nearly 30 years, the clinic has represented coal miners diagnosed with pneumoconiosis, also known as Black Lung disease, in their pursuit of benefits from the coal companies they worked for. Cases in the clinic typically take many years to resolve, but Carter’s case was an outlier.

The clinic took the case last summer after the Benefits Review Board and the Administrative Law Judge has already decided in favor of the miner and the mining company’s appeal was accepted by the Third Circuit. Carter was assigned to the case in the fall, and immediately dove into the case files—over 600 pages of background information, depositions, and extensive medical evidence and testimony.

After evaluating the case, Carter felt it was clear that her client met all the criteria to receive benefits, including that he was completely disabled and did have Black Lung disease that was caused by his employment. But what stood out the most to Carter and others in the clinic was the physical demands the client faced in his work.

“It was really shocking to us to think about a twenty-year career working in a space just 42 inches tall, carrying heavy tools and lifting 150-pound cables,” said Carter. “It is hard to imagine the physical toll.”

Carter spent most of the fall working on a case brief for the Court, which was submitted in November. In January, the Court notified the parties that they wanted to hear arguments in the matter, but it was not until the beginning of March that the Court set a date, leaving Carter just a few weeks to prepare for oral argument.

Five moot arguments with several different professors helped Carter hone her ability to translate the complex medical testimony into powerful support for her client’s claims. Along with clinic director Tim MacDonnell, Carter was grilled with expert questions from Brian Murchison, who founded the clinic almost 30 years ago, and Dan Evans, who supervises the clinic during the summer. She also drew valuable insight from David Eggert, who brought a non-expert’s perspective to the preparation, similar to what she could expect from a panel of Third Circuit judges who do not hear Black Lung cases regularly.

“They all brought such different flair and perspective, and that really helped round out the preparation process,” said Carter.

Carter also drew significant support from other students in the clinic. One clinic member wrote up an extensive guide of all the necessary regulations so she could reference them quickly if asked. Other students examined the case record for any inconsistencies in the testimony from the employer’s doctors. Still others participated in the moot arguments.

“I think every single person in the clinic helped me out on certain things,” said Carter. “It really was a full court press team effort.”

Carter and MacDonnell arrived at the courthouse early and were able to watch the judges hear another matter before Carter would take the podium. And although she was not without some nerves when the moment finally came to make her argument, Carter was able lean on her deep preparation, as well as her undergraduate training in theater.

“There were different skills that I was able to pull from my life prior to law school and combine with the tools I have learned at W&L Law in order to lock in and make a good argument,” said Carter. “And this is one of things I learned as a theater major—if you’re not nervous, it means you don’t care.”

The rest of the clinic members were back in Lexington, listening to live audio of Carter making her case for the client. Immediately afterwards, fellow clinic member Jordan Hicks ‘24L sent an email to Dean Melanie Wilson praising Carter’s advocacy.

“I cannot overstate how great Haley’s performance was today. Her mastery of the record, understanding of the issues, and preparation for the argument were evident to us, the opposing counsel, and the Court,” wrote Hicks. “At the end of the arguments, the judges on the panel openly praised her performance—stating that she argued better than ‘many seasoned attorneys’ that have appeared before the Court, and that they hope to see her arguing before the 3rd Circuit again in the future.”

It will be some months before the Court renders a decision, and Carter remains optimistic that they will affirm the earlier judgements awarding the client full benefits. In the meantime, Carter is preparing to join the litigation group at Munsch Hardt in Dallas for two years before assuming a judicial clerkship in a federal district court in Texas.

Carter recognizes that arguing a case in front of a federal appeals court was an incredible opportunity that not many law students get.

“I truly don’t think any of it would have been possible without Professor MacDonnell’s incredible support and encouragement,” said Carter. “He made himself available 24/7 and spent countless hours helping me craft and perfect the argument. His mentorship was absolutely invaluable.”

MacDonnell’s commitment and the support of other students have highlighted for Carter what is so special about the W&L community.

“Tons of different professors and students, helping or just reaching out with encouragement. And everybody just being excited that somebody gets this opportunity. Professor McDonald on the phone with me at 9:30 at night listening to me practice my oral argument. You just don’t see that kind of care and support anywhere else.”

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