Founded in 2009, the Hastings 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 HAP Director, and with the direct supervision of HAP Supervising Attorneys Tiffany Gates, Leah Spero, and Stephen Tollafield, 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. HAP is made possible by coordination with the Ninth Circuit Pro Bono Program, which refers cases to HAP 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 HAP 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, HAP expanded its federal appellate practice by representing a certiorari-stage client before the Supreme Court of the United States.

HAP 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)

Students may apply for HAP 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 HAP also serve as moot court board members, LRW teaching assistants, and student coaches to the moot court teams. Every year, HAP 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 Hastings Appellate Program, please contact Prof. Stephen Tollafield.

Meet the Supervising Attorneys of the Hastings 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 U.C. Hastings College of the Law 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 U.C. Hastings’ Ninth Circuit clinical program: the Hastings 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 Hastings, where she served as the Executive Editor of Hastings Law Journal and won the national Lefkowitz Moot Court Competition. As a supervising attorney for HAP, Leah is dedicated to helping students grow as advocates and as writers and enjoys working together as a team on behalf of HAP’s clients.

Tiffany Gates

Supervising Attorney

Tiffany J. Gates is a specialist in appellate law certified by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization.  In her solo practice, she drafts and responds to discovery motions, dispositive motions, post-trial motions, appellate briefs, and writ petitions exclusively on behalf of plaintiffs in various types of civil cases — including but not limited to personal injury, medical malpractice, wrongful death, product liability, and consumer class actions.  She also represents indigent criminal defendants in their appeals from felony convictions as a panel attorney for the First District Appellate Project.  Prior to opening her own practice, Mrs. Gates worked as a Deputy Attorney General in the Criminal Division of the California Department of Justice, where she drafted respondent’s briefs in appeals from felony convictions and responded to petitions for writs of habeas corpus.  She was also an associate with the law firm of Archer Norris in Walnut Creek, where her practice focused primarily on civil appeals and writs. 

Mrs. Gates’ love of appellate work began while she was a law student at Hastings.  She was an active member of the moot court competition team and, in her 3L year, was selected to participate in the newly founded Hastings Appellate Project.  Since graduating from Hastings in May 2011, Mrs. Gates has combined two of her greatest joys in life — appeals and working with students – by serving first as an adjunct professor at Hastings for the classes formerly known as Legal Writing and Research and Moot Court, and now as a Supervising Attorney for HAP.  The drive and dedication shown by the students that she works with continually inspires her in both her professional and her personal life, and she is delighted to remain involved in the program that gave her the building blocks for the career she enjoys today. 

Stephen Tollafield

Supervising Attorney

Stephen Tollafield is the Director of the UC Hastings Legal Research & Writing and Moot Court Department and a Supervising Attorney for the Hastings Appellate Project. In his prior legal practice, Professor Tollafield worked as a civil litigator at a public interest law firm and as a staff attorney at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Putting the nationally recognized advocacy skills of UC Hastings students to work for real clients is just one way that UC Hastings demonstrates its commitment to public interest legal services. Prof. Tollafield is pleased that the Moot Court Department is able to offer this opportunity for students to walk the walk of legal advocacy on behalf of underserved communities.