Skip To Main Content

Challenge Accepted

Law student put to the test during important first for ONU.

Some of the best professionals flourish under pressure. Even in the face of nervousness and intimidation, they always rise to the challenge, making the most of a daunting situation.

This was the case for Ohio Northern University law student Christopher Calpin. In only his second year of law school, he was recently given an opportunity to briefly step into the shoes of a federal “amicus curiae,” a Latin phrase for “friend of the court.”

On April 5, Ohio Northern’s Claude W. Pettit College of Law became the first college or university in Ohio to host a session of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. Consisting of a panel of five civilian judges, the court exercises worldwide appellate jurisdiction over members of the armed forces on active duty and others subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

While most of the session comprised oral arguments from federal attorneys, the court allowed a 10-minute period for an amicus brief, a statement of a third-party arguer’s viewpoint of the issue at hand, to be delivered by an ONU law student. That student was Calpin. 

“I was just blown away to be offered such an opportunity,” he says. “Not every law student gets to argue in federal court, so that’s rare, and I was really happy I got to do it.” 

Delivering an amicus brief in front of a federal court is good practice for a law student, but it is important to remember that it is not pretend in any way, shape or form.

This is a real case,” says Charles Erdmann, chief judge of the U.S. Armed Forces Court of Appeals. “This is absolutely authentic, and the student argues whatever position they have selected on the case. Quite frankly, we’re generally pretty pleased with the level of confidence of the student amicus arguers, and it’s a tremendous experience for them. It’s very rare for this to happen.

Needless to say, it was a daunting task for a second-year law student whose closest experience was arguing at a national competition with the American Bar Association (ABA) Moot Court team. But when a faculty member approached him to deliver the amicus brief, Calpin knew the immense value such an experience would give him as a student of the law. 

Calpin certainly had his work cut out for him. He had roughly two weeks to prepare a written brief, with help from two of his professors. Fortunately, his involvement in the ABA Moot Court team helped him with that, since he had fine-tuned his writing and research skills as a result. Once the brief was written, he had to iron out its presentation with frequent practice. It was a laborious process, but even with the intense preparation behind him, the challenge was still far from over.

However, nothing could have completely prepared Calpin for what it would be like to argue in front of a federal court. He had 10 minutes to deliver his argument, with one rather challenging catch: The judges could interrupt his argument whenever they saw fit to question him. This was not to mention the fact that he was being scrutinized by dozens of experienced professionals in high-order law. It was, to put it lightly, an intimidating situation.

There were attorneys on either side of me who’ve been practicing for years, and then there’s me, a second-year law student who doesn’t know anything compared to these guys,” he says. “The judges were grilling me. They didn’t treat me like a law student. They didn’t go easy on me, not at all.

When all was said and done, Calpin was still standing, having just slain a dragon after staring it in the face. It was certainly a nerve-wracking experience, but the payoff was well worth it.

“I would say the biggest thing was now I know I can actually do that,” he says. “It was scary, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t that bad, and I’m just glad I could do it. It was a confidence booster.”

It just goes to show that for those who don’t shy from a challenge, the reward is always worth the risk.

For more information on the College of Law's academic programs, click here.