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 served as a supervising attorney for the Appellate Project since 2017 and is dedicated to mentoring the next generation of appellate lawyers. Her students have successfully challenged orders of removal in immigration cases and won relief for clients in civil rights lawsuits.

Leah has extensive appellate experience as a litigator and a court staff attorney. For the past decade, she has focused on court-appointed criminal appeals in federal and state court and has handled select civil appeals. Before starting her own practice, Leah worked as a law clerk and a staff attorney at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for five years and has since served as an Appellate Lawyer Representative to the Court. Leah started her career at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, where she litigated both trial and appellate cases. While a student at UC Law San Francisco, Leah externed at the California Supreme Court and the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. She is a proud member of the UC Law moot court family and won the national Lefkowitz Trademark Moot Court Competition with her teammate as a 2L. Leah earned her B.A. in English and Political Science at Duke University.

In addition to supervising the Appellate Project, Leah directs the California Appellate Advocacy Program at UC Law, which provides free moots for attorneys who will be arguing before the California Supreme Court.

Leah is a member of the California Academy of Appellate Lawyers; past Chair of the California Lawyers Association’s Committee on Appellate Courts; and a member of the Association’s Amicus Committee.