Alex Potapov

2017 Temple Bar Scholar Report

The Temple Bar Scholarship was a remarkable and enriching experience. I left with a far deeper understanding of the British legal system, and with a lasting appreciation for the warm welcome we received.

Our first week began with the Opening of the Legal Year ceremony at Westminster Abbey. We then met with a number of legal luminaries, including the two most senior judges of England and Wales—the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls—as well as with the President of the Supreme Court. We also observed criminal trials at the Old Bailey, and visited each of the four Inns of Court. 

Each of us spent the next two weeks embedded at two different barristers’ chambers. I was able to go into court several times to observe a variety of interesting matters. In particular, two of the barristers I was sitting in with sought and obtained a headline-making injunction during the few days that I spent with them. It was wonderful to get an inside look at such a high-profile and fast-moving case.

Our final week was largely spent at the UK Supreme Court. For three of the days, we sat behind the Justices as an important case was being argued. Each of us was assigned to a particular Justice, all of whom were remarkably generous with their time. In an especially memorable highlight, we got to have dinner with those four Justices at the House of Lords.

Several themes emerged from our many meetings and conversations. The first was the significance of largely limiting the right to appear in court to a small, selective, and collegial group of attorneys. The second was the much greater emphasis that is placed on oral—as opposed to written—advocacy in the British legal system. The third was the pervasive concern about the impact of Brexit. It was fascinating to explore these issues, and I hope that in the future I will be able to reciprocate the kindness and hospitality of our British hosts.

Alex Potapov is a clerk for Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito of the Supreme Court of the United States. A graduate of Harvard University, he earned his bachelor’s degree in social studies magna cum laude and was national champion of the American Parliamentary Debate Association. Potapov worked for five years as an associate at the law firm of Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber; and for two years as an assistant solicitor general in the Office of the Texas Attorney General before beginning his current clerkship. Potapov was born in the Soviet Union and is a native Russian speaker. In his personal statement, he described avidly following legal and political developments in Russia since his family’s emigration to the United States; and notes that American judges enjoy far more independence than do jurists in his native country.