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Second KU Law alumnus to join federal circuit court as clerk

Monday, June 16, 2014
Justin Hendrix, L'09, Dean Stephen Mazza, and Devin Sikes, L'08, at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

From left: Justin Hendrix, L'09, Dean Stephen Mazza, and Devin Sikes, L'08

LAWRENCE — For the second time in a year, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has tapped a KU Law graduate to serve as his law clerk.

Devin Sikes, L’08, will clerk for Judge Evan J. Wallach beginning in August 2015. Class of 2009 graduate Justin Hendrix began a clerkship with Judge Alvin A. Schall in September 2013.

“The faculty and staff of the law school foster a strong sense of community and work hard to prepare students for the professional challenges that await them after graduation,” Sikes said. “Thanks to their efforts, I am not surprised that our graduates increasingly receive favorable attention beyond the state’s borders, particularly in our nation’s federal courts of appeals.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit sits next to the White House in Washington, D.C., and has nationwide jurisdiction over a variety of subject areas, most notably patents, international trade, government contracts, certain money claims against the U.S. government, and veterans’ benefits.  

As clerk to Judge Alvin Schall, Hendrix reads briefs, writes memoranda and helps the judge prepare for oral arguments. The first week of every month is spent in the courtroom, but Hendrix passes the bulk of his time reading and writing independently.

“When I was at a law firm doing patent litigation, we were always rushing to meet deadlines and keep up with client demands. There was never a chance to just sit and really think about things,” said Hendrix, who previously practiced patent law with Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner LLP in Washington, D.C. “At the court it’s different. You’re separated from all of that. You have time to thoroughly research and make sure you get it right. It’s been neat – the closest thing to being a professor.”

Before law school, Hendrix piloted and managed operations on nuclear submarines for the U.S. Navy, putting his undergraduate and graduate engineering degrees to work on deployments through the western Pacific and Arctic oceans. He plans to return to his patent practice – this time in Finnegan’s Palo Alto, California office – when his clerkship ends in September. In the meantime, his caseload at the court feeds his continuing interest in the intersection of law and science.

“All of the patent cases in the country come to this court. It’s cutting-edge technology,” Hendrix said. “It’s a fun part of the job, combining the science and engineering with the law, whether it be software or high-tech inventions or mechanical inventions or chemical. You have to learn the engineering and science aspects, too, and that’s fun for me.”

Sikes likely will contribute to the court’s decisions on administrative and international trade matters. He currently works as an attorney in the Office of the Chief Counsel for Trade Enforcement and Compliance at the U.S. Department of Commerce. He has defended the federal government in international trade disputes before various federal courts, as well as before the Dispute Settlement Body of the World Trade Organization.

In this role, he also worked with members of Congress and their staff in 2012 to draft legislation in response to decisions in interrelated disputes at the Federal Circuit and the WTO and defended the law in constitutional challenges to the same, receiving a gold medal (the highest form of honorary recognition bestowed by the Secretary of Commerce) for his efforts.

Prior to joining the Department of Commerce, Sikes clerked for Judge Judith M. Barzilay on the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York. While serving as her clerk, Sikes assisted Judge Barzilay in trade disputes before her at the Court of International Trade, as well as in cases concerning a number of topics, from patents to habeas corpus petitions, that were assigned to her when she sat by designation on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Sixth, Ninth, and 11th circuits. He earned a Certificate in International Trade and Finance at KU Law and has guest lectured on international trade law at William & Mary Law School.

“I am humbled by the opportunity to clerk for Judge Wallach,” Sikes said. “The position will permit me to concentrate more fully on appellate matters, an area in which I intend to practice after completing the clerkship. Some years from now, with more experience in hand, I also hope to teach and am confident that this position will deepen the knowledge that I could share in the classroom.”