Project Commutation

TU Law student on her way to federal clerkship in Texas

After she graduates from The University of Tulsa College of Law in May, Alexandra (Allie) Fleming will be embarking on a career-defining journey. That’s when she will take up a two-year clerkship with U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald C. Griffin of the United States District Court of the Western District of Texas.

“Getting a federal clerkship is a great honor and an incredibly valuable experience,” said Matt Lamkin, an associate professor at TU Law and the faculty member who helps students identify and apply for clerkship opportunities. Many judges receive hundreds of applications for just one position. That’s because working in a judge’s chambers gives clerks insight into the justice system that can’t be obtained any other way.

University of Tulsa Law student Alexandra Fleming
Alexandra Fleming

“Allie is a perfect fit for a clerkship.  She’s got strong analytical ability, excellent writing skills, and – most importantly – a commitment to excellence.  Judge Griffin is lucky to have her.”

Fleming’s responsibilities as a federal clerk will be various. Because Judge Griffin maintains both a civil and criminal docket, she will, among other tasks, help draft motion orders, opinions and evidentiary rulings. Fleming will also have ample opportunities to observe settlement conferences and daily court proceedings. “I am so looking forward to learning from Judge Griffin day in and day out,” Fleming remarked. “He has years of experience as a civil attorney and he knows the inner workings of civil litigation in ways I cannot even begin to fathom.”

From Texas to Tulsa

A federal clerkship in Texas makes additional sense for someone who was born and raised in the state and has her sights set on practicing law there.

After graduating from a small high school in Red Oak, south of Dallas, Fleming attended the University of Texas at Austin. There, she majored in journalism, originally with her eyes set on becoming a sports broadcaster – “think Erin Andrews mixed with Bob Costas,” she said. While Fleming eventually chose another path, she drew on the solid writing fundamentals learned as an undergraduate and put them to good use during the next stage of her education: “I attribute much of my success at law school to the principles of sound writing I acquired while studying journalism.”

Upon graduating from UT Austin, Fleming made her way north to Tulsa. During her first term at TU Law, Fleming studied contracts law with Professor Robert Butkin. She credits that course with “setting the tone for my entire law school career. Professor Butkin had extremely high standards regarding how we prepared for class, and I tried my best to import those principles to all the rest of my studies.” Fleming also praised Professor Evelyn Hutchison for giving her a morale boost during that first semester. “I owe a lot of my confidence to Professor Hutchison. She encouraged me when I wasn’t sure I was cut out for legal studies and assured me that I, in fact, did understand this whole law school thing.”

From 2015 to 2019, TU Law students obtained 9 federal clerkships and 1 state clerkshipIn addition to her coursework, Fleming took advantage of TU Law’s internship and externship opportunities. During her 1L summer, she worked on Project Commutation – “such a worthwhile, life-changing experience.” Even more germane to her upcoming clerkship, when she was a 2L Fleming externed for the Honorable Judge E. Dowdell: “This was an invaluable experience that cemented for me that clerking after graduation was something I would really enjoy.”

While that experience was galvanizing in terms of her future direction, the first step was actually taken in a constitutional law course taught by Dean Lyn Entzeroth. “Each day,” Fleming recalled, “Dean Entzeroth exuded a passion for constitutional law. I could not get enough. That was the first time I remember a course inspiring me to think of pursuing a career in the area of the law the course covered. After Con Law, I knew I wanted to learn more about constitutional rights litigation, and that led me to apply for an externship in Judge Dowdell’s chambers.”

Advice for others

The road to a clerkship is long, and it is paved with diligence, hard work and inevitable rejection. Fleming recalled that Professor Lamkin helped prepare her by advising that “rejection letters will at least double the number of interview offers” and that she had to do something “to get out of the big stack of applications on a judge’s desk and into the small stack that a judge would want to interview.”

One of the somethings that Fleming credits with having helped her to land interviews was serving on the editorial board of the Tulsa Law Review (TLR). “Each judge I interviewed with wanted someone who had served on their school’s flagship journal,” she noted. Beyond its utility for securing interviews, Fleming said, “working as TLR’s associate articles editor taught me about academic scholarship and pushed my work ethic to the limits. It also enhanced my detail orientation to a new level and made me a more effective leader.”

Alexandra Fleming's six tips for obtaining a clerkship interviewAnother piece of good counsel Fleming wanted to pass along to others aspiring to federal clerkships is to “find something that creates a connection to each particular judge.” Among the possibilities she cited were a mutual undergraduate institution, a hobby or even a home state.

Her final advice is to recognize “you can never be too prepared.” For Fleming, preparing to apply and be interviewed took six months. She researched the most common judicial clerkship interview questions. She wrote out and memorized answers to those questions. And then she recited those answers in front of a mirror. “That was my way of being as prepared as I could possibly be.” Clearly, for Fleming, the result was amply worth the effort.

 

A JD from The University of Tulsa College of Law leads to success. Within 10 months of graduation, the Class of 2019 achieved an 86.6% rate employment for full-time, long-term, bar license-required or JD advantage positions. Get your outstanding future started by applying today.

TU Law to open Public Defender Clinic in fall 2020

The University of Tulsa College of Law will open its new Public Defender Clinic in fall 2020. This latest addition to the college’s highly regarded clinical education program will be a unique partnership between TU Law and the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office.

“The creation of this clinic is the result of a long-time dream,” noted Mimi Marton, TU Law’s associate dean of experiential learning and the director of clinical programs. “Because of the exposure to and first-hand interaction with the public defender’s office and the work it undertakes, our students will be able to participate in yet another example of the gold standard in clinical education.”

Focus on commutation

The eight students accepted into the Public Defender Clinic for fall 2020 will focus on commutation. Over the course of a semester, they will undertake research and advocacy aimed at releasing from incarceration selected individuals who are now serving time in Oklahoma’s prisons for nonviolent offenses that, under recent legislation, no longer carry such stiff sentences.

Glen Blake, assistant public defender, Tulsa County Public Defender's Office
Glen Blake

The person who will teach the Public Defender Clinic is Glen Blake, an assistant public defender at the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office. “With this new clinic,” Blake observed, “we hope that students will be able to get involved in every step of the commutation process as well as learn about Oklahoma’s sentencing laws. They will also gain practical knowledge of what being a public defender is all about.”

A graduate of TU Law himself (JD ’00), Blake has a wealth of public defender and commutation experience. The latter stems from his role as lead attorney for Project Commutation, which Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform launched in the spring of 2018. Under Blake’s watch, Project Commutation has led to the release of 140 people from prison. Another 120 have been recommended for release by the Pardon and Parole Board and are awaiting the governor’s approval. Approximately 50 more people are set for hearings and another 200 applications still in the works.

Results-driven internships

Project Commutation leans heavily on the expertise and elbow grease of TU Law students. Since its inception, 40 TU Law interns have served on the initiative. This spring, four from fall 2019 returned for a second internship, and the aim is to have 10 interns over the summer.

 

“Our TU Law interns provide invaluable assistance through the entire commutation process,” said Blake. “Their efforts span many functions, from the very beginning all the way through to the end.” The students’ main tasks include reviewing cases for initial consideration, making contact with the individuals selected, interviewing them, preparing applications, reaching out to family members, collaborating with re-entry coordinators to prepare re-entry plans and, at the second-stage Pardon and Parole Board hearings, serving as personal delegates who argue the legal basis for the commutation candidates.

The power to change lives

One of the students who interned on Project Commutation is Carly Greenhaw. Currently a 2L at TU Law, Greenhaw both expanded her knowledge and derived great personal satisfaction from her experience. “In addition to learning how to properly interview and orally advocate,” she noted, “I learned how to gain trust from prospective clients and listen to people’s stories without making them feel judged or ashamed. I also learned how to interact with family members that had a high stake in the process.

University of Tulsa College of Law student Carly Greenhaw
Carly Greenhaw

“My commutation work taught me how to juggle the interests of all parties in a productive and beneficial way. I grew in my understanding of the importance of not judging a book by its cover and giving to every single client the benefit of the doubt. Project Commutation encourages you to see the good in people again. This is a huge benefit to an attorney because it allows you to see beyond a client’s mistakes and truly get to the core of their story. This experience has been the confidence booster I needed to remind me that I can zealously advocate for another person and that I can, indeed, change people’s lives.”

 

 

Are you interested in combining your commitment to expanding access to justice while earning your JD at one of the country’s best value law schools? Consider applying today to The University of Tulsa College of Law.