PUBLISHED:January 27, 2010

Sean Andrussier '92

Now in his first year as a full-time senior lecturing fellow and co-director of Duke’s Appellate Litigation Clinic, Sean Andrussier says he feels like he’s landed in a place where he can combine two of his professional passions: writing and appellate practice.

For Andrussier, coming back to Duke after clerking for two federal judges and working for three large law firms, is a return to the place where he learned to love law, and where he encountered a few of the mentors that would inform his career.

Upon his arrival at the Law School after finishing his undergraduate career at Emory University in Atlanta, Pennsylvania native Andrussier says he was enamored of one professor in particular.

“William Van Alstyne was sort of like a movie character,” he recalls. “The pipe-smoking professor who exists in a stratosphere of ideas.”

Van Alstyne engaged, challenged, and “lit a fire” in the first year law student. Andrussier developed a close relationship with him, and became Van Alstyne’s teaching assistant in his third year. “He was not only an incredible teacher, he was a true mentor,” Andrussier says.

He also credits Kate Bartlett, the A. Kenneth Pye Professor of Law, with being one of the first professors to impart the importance of writing, something that Andrussier considers one of the fundamental themes of his career. “My introduction to legal writing was through Professor Bartlett. She was my small section and legal writing teacher here at the Law School, and she was wonderful.”

Andrussier, who now teaches Legal Analysis, Research & Writing, stresses the importance of skilled writing to his students.

“Writing is how you build your reputation,” he says. “In many ways, it’s how you’re perceived and evaluated as a lawyer. It’s often how you make a first and lasting impression.”

Litigators, in particular, need to continue to develop writing skills throughout their careers, he says.

“If you’re going to be a litigator you’re going to be doing a lot of writing. You’re going to be drafting pleadings and discovery requests that have to be precise. And, of course, you’re also going to be drafting briefs.

“Oral argument is increasingly less frequent in appeals,” he continues, “and even when they are argued, the argument time is very limited. So the emphasis has to be on the written product.”

Andrussier says he has honed his writing skills by paying close attention to the judges and colleagues whose writing he admires.

“One’s writing ability is not fixed,” he says. “You don’t come to law school or leave law school having hit the ceiling of your writing ability. I’m a better writer than I was five years ago, and five years ago I was a better writer than I was five years earlier. It’s a matter of dedication and experience.”

After graduating from law school, Andrussier clerked for three years, first for Judge M. Blane Michael of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, then for Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

“The judges I clerked for take writing very seriously,” he says. “They instilled in me a commitment to simple writing. I think a lot of young lawyers write too legalistically.”

Andrussier was interested in appellate practice and paid close attention as a clerk.

“I learned a lot about both sides of the process – what works and doesn’t work from a practitioner’s side and how judges make decisions,” he says. “I was fortunate to work for two great judges who had substantial litigation experience in both the private and public sectors before they joined the bench.”

Andrussier practiced law in Washington, D.C., first at Hogan & Hartson LLP, then at Gibson Dunn and Crutcher LLP in the firm’s appellate and constitutional law group. There he worked for another mentor who influenced his development, Theodore B. Olson, the former U.S. Solicitor General. “Ted Olson is a gifted lawyer and writer, and I was fortunate to learn from him.” Andrussier then moved back to North Carolina and joined Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC, where he co-chaired the appellate practice group.

“Doing appellate work gives me the chance to be a generalist, to dabble in different kinds of law, and to help shape it,” he says. “Each appeal brings its own set of issues. For me, appellate work has been a natural fit because it combines my love of law, writing, and learning, while enabling me to participate in the development of the law by helping judges resolve complex issues.”

Students hoping to work in appellate practice should work on a diverse and generally applicable skill set as well, Andrussier advises.

“For a young lawyer who is interested in appellate practice, the best thing to do is to show your mettle as an analytical thinker who can translate ideas and arguments with clear, concise, and precise writing; and to exhibit an enthusiasm for law and an ability to work in a variety of legal fields,” he says.

Now that he is back at Duke, Andrussier has discovered a new legal love: teaching. And he thinks Duke Law’s clinical program is uniquely equipped to enable teachers like him to pass along critical skills to students.

“I love teaching,” he says. “I care about developing our students’ practical skills, and Duke is committed to that mission – that’s why I’m here.”