Many law students dream of someday arguing a case before the state’s highest court. None expect it to happen during their first year of practice. But this past February, that’s exactly what Perry MacLennan did: argue a case before the South Carolina Supreme Court – just after being sworn into the Bar.
MacLennan graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law in May 2014, took the bar exam in July and was sworn in that fall. In November, he was named an associate in Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd’s Greenville office, where he focuses his practice on business, commercial and construction litigation, helping individuals and business with breach of contract and payment disputes. Almost immediately, he began working on a case that would be presented before the state Supreme Court involving enforceability of an arbitration clause in a contract. “The lawyers I work with thought it would be a great opportunity for me,” MacLennan said. “When they were in my shoes, the more senior partners at the firm went out of their way to give them real experiences quickly.”
MacLennan assisted on the case as a law clerk, so he was already familiar with it, but he had a considerable amount of catching up to do. “The case had already been through the trial court and the court of appeals by the time I started working on it,” he said. Leading up to the February court date, MacLennan practiced his argument many times with his colleagues. “I owe a debt of gratitude to them, as well as my mentors at the firm, for giving me the confidence and encouragement that I needed to be effective,” he said.
At the Supreme Court, MacLennan was given just 15 minutes to make his case before the justices, and most of his time was spent in a back-and-forth Q&A, requiring a lot of thinking on his feet. “The justices don’t give you the time to make a pre-rehearsed speech,” he said. “Of course I was nervous, but I felt a measure of comfort thanks in large part to Judge Dennis Shedd’s Fourth Circuit Practice class at USC Law.”
MacLennan took Shedd’s class as a 3L, where he argued in front of a judge from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on a weekly basis. “I thought about my experiences in that class often during the week leading up to my argument,” he said.
Just weeks after hearing the case, the S.C. Supreme Court dismissed it as improvidently granted, meaning the appeal was denied, which was the result that MacLennan was seeking. “I was happy for our client because it was a long road to get to that point,” he said.
MacLennan’s experience at the Supreme Court taught him to see cases from a different perspective – the view from the bench. “Appellate court decisions have a profound impact on the laws of this state,” he said. “I found it helpful to think about the future ramifications of my argument and how a decision in my favor could impact future litigants. I certainly hope that I find my way back to the Supreme Court and take these lessons with me.”