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A Surprise Class Visitor

“It’s an exceptional thing to have the chief justice of the United States stroll into a class of about 20 students and start taking questions,” says Robert Klonoff, dean of the law school and professor of law. Prior to the environmental moot court competition, Roberts toured the law school campus and dropped in on three first-year legal writing classes. Even the professors were caught by surprise. Klonoff says Roberts requested seating charts in advance and memorized faces and names so he could call on students.

Steve Johansen J.D. ’87, professor of law and director of the legal writing program, says Roberts’ visit came at the perfect time. Students were just finishing their appellate briefs and preparing for their own oral advocacy competition the following week. The classroom discussion Roberts led was consistent with what Johansen had been teaching the entire semester—including a suggestion that students keep their briefs to a minimum. “If you haven’t won the case on the first three arguments, the chances are very slim that you will win on arguments four or five,” Johansen recalls Roberts saying. “Cut them out.”

Aliza Kaplan, associate professor of law, says the day was an incredible experience for her first-year law students, who were also about to embark on their own oral arguments. Roberts’ visit to her class—and the opportunity to watch the evening competition—gave her students “enthusiasm for lawyering and hope that they, too, could reach that high level of advocacy during their time at Lewis & Clark,” she says. “I told my students, ‘Practice, and you certainly can.’”

Alisa Larson-Xu, a student in Kaplan’s legal writing class, recognized Roberts when he walked into the classroom. “I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped, and my face turned bright red,” she says. But once she got over the initial shock, Larson-Xu composed herself and raised her hand to ask Roberts a question. “You don’t get many chances in life to speak directly to the chief justice of the United States.”

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