Founded in 2009, the UC Law SF Appellate Project offers genuine appellate advocacy opportunities for 3L students before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Under the direction of Gary Watt, appellate partner and the Appellate Project Director, and with the direct supervision of the Appellate Project Supervising Attorneys Leah Spero and Gary Watt, students assume responsibility for all aspects of an appeal, including briefing, document filing, calendaring, client correspondence, and oral argument on behalf of litigants proceeding pro se before the Ninth Circuit. The Appellate Project is made possible by coordination with the Ninth Circuit Pro Bono Program, which refers cases to the Appellate Project where the court believes that an attorney’s involvement will benefit the court by more effectively representing the claims of pro se litigants. Students participating in the Appellate Project have represented clients through the pro bono program involving immigration proceedings, wrongful arrest, employment law, foreclosure and housing rights, and prisoner civil rights. Most recently, the Appellate Project expanded its federal appellate practice by representing a certiorari-stage client before the Supreme Court of the United States.

The Appellate Project students have achieved favorable rulings in well over a dozen cases, including precedential published opinions in:

Hernandez-Velasquez v. Holder, 611 F.3d 1073 (9th Cir. 2010) (notice rights in immigration proceedings)

Castrijon-Garcia v. Holder, 704 F.3d 1205 (9th Cir. 2013) (holding that California conviction for simple kidnapping was not a crime involving moral turpitude)

Diaz-Reynoso v. Barr, 968 F.3d 1070 (9th Cir. 2020) (challenge to Trump administration rule regarding refugees seeking asylum based on domestic violence)

Maie v. Garland, No. 19-73099 (9th Cir. Aug. 02, 2021) (holding that Hawaii conviction for petty misdemeanor theft was not a crime involving moral turpitude)

Galanti v. Nevada Dep’t of Corr., 65 F.4th 1152 (9th Cir. 2023) (holding that Heck v. Humphrey, did not bar the prisoner’s § 1983 claim and the prisoner pled a plausible due process claim)

Students may apply for the Appellate Project at the end of their 2L year after taking the elective Appellate Advocacy course and competing with the intercollegiate appellate advocacy teams. The application process for the following academic year is coordinated through the Moot Court team tryouts in April. Students who are selected for the Appellate Project also serve as Moot Court Board Members, LRW Teaching Assistants, and Moot Court student coaches. Every year, the Appellate Project seeks volunteer judges (students and practitioners) to help the student advocates refine and focus their presentations for the Ninth Circuit. The practice schedules are posted under the “Judge a Practice” tab on this website starting in February or March for the oral arguments that typically occur in April or May. Please join us!

If you are interested in applying for the UC Law SF Appellate Program, please contact Madison Boucher.

Meet the Supervising Attorneys of the UC Law SF Appellate Project

Gary Watt

General Counsel and Chief Supervising Attorney

Gary serves as Chair of Hanson and Bridget’s Appellate Practice.  He is a State Bar approved Certified Appellate Specialist, handling writs and appeals in all of the California appellate courts, including the California Supreme Court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  His practice also includes dispositive motions such as SLAPP, summary judgment, and post-trial motions.  His appellate experience gives him unique insights into complex cases and esoteric disputes. He excels at issue spotting. and arrives at thoughtful solutions to business problems. His practice includes risk management such as interpreting contracts, indemnity provisions, and more.

 A passionate appellate lawyer and law professor, Gary has been on the faculty at UC Law SF since 2001 teaching various appellate law courses and coaching intercollegiate moot court competition teams. Consistent with Hanson Bridgett’s commitment to pro bono work, Gary currently serves as General Counsel and Chief Supervising Attorney for UC Law SF’s Ninth Circuit clinical program: the UC Law SF Appellate Project. As General Counsel and Chief Supervising Attorney, he supervises law students in the pro bono legal representation of appellants. He is also a frequent lecturer at MCLE presentations throughout the Bay Area, and has taught hundreds of lawyers over the years on a vast array of appellate and litigation best practices. 

Gary is also Chair of the Contra Costa County Bar Association’s appellate practice section. A prolific writer, Gary is a frequent contributor to the Daily Journal, The Recorder, and other legal publications, with over 75 published articles to date.

Leah Spero

Supervising Attorney

Leah Spero has a solo appellate practice in San Francisco focused on indigent criminal appeals in the Ninth Circuit and California First District Court of Appeal. Prior to starting her own practice, Leah worked at the Ninth Circuit for five years as a law clerk to Judge Consuelo Callahan and as a civil staff attorney and group leader. In addition, Leah has litigated numerous civil cases at the trial and appellate levels as an associate and contract attorney at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. Since 2019, Leah has served as an Appellate Lawyer Representative to the Ninth Circuit and, since 2014, has served on the Committee on Appellate Courts, first under the California State Bar and later the California Lawyers Association. Leah received her undergraduate degree from Duke University and her J.D. from UC Law SF, where she served as the Executive Editor of Hastings Law Journal and won the national Lefkowitz Moot Court Competition. As a supervising attorney for the Appellate Project, Leah is dedicated to helping students grow as advocates and as writers and enjoys working together as a team on behalf of the Appellate Project’s clients.