Sotomayor Wise But Tough Mentor to Students, Dean Chapnick Says


Media contact: Nancy Goldfarb 212-854-1584 [email protected]
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New York, July 20, 2009 – Before they became friends, Ellen Chapnick and Judge Sonia Sotomayor were collaborators.
Chapnick, Dean of Columbia Law School’s Social Justice Program and Sotomayor, awaiting confirmation to become the next U.S. Supreme Court justice, co-created and co-taught in 2000 an Appellate Court Externship that gives students a rare opportunity to experience the inner workings of a federal court.
One component of the course was a moot court, where the students had to argue to Sotomayor and two other judges a case the judge had actually heard during a court session.
“She put them through the ringer. She treated them as real litigators, asked them tough questions,” Chapnick said in an interview with “But then it was all over, and she was debriefing them. She would really talk to them about what they had done well and what they had done badly and often illustrated that with an example from her own life about how, as a litigator, she had learned to be better the next time.”
As part of the Externship, students have also worked in the chambers of a Second Circuit judge on legal research, analysis, and writing, under Sotomayor’s supervision.
“The externships are obviously a very important part of how the Social Justice Program operates,” Chapnick said.
The Social Justice Program works to prepare the government, public interest and human rights lawyers of the future. It provides programming and individual assistance regarding careers, summer opportunities and pro bono projects.
Columbia Law School, founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and of the law in a global society. Columbia Law School joins its traditional strengths in international and comparative law, constitutional law, administrative law, business law and human rights law with pioneering work in the areas of intellectual property, digital technology, sexuality and gender, criminal, and environmental law.