This past summer, I worked at a large law firm that does corporate transactional work. While I did devote some of my time during the summer to working on corporate or finance matters, at the end of the summer I realized that the majority of my time had actually been spent on pro bono matters. In particular, I spent a lot of my time last summer working on two immigration cases: one Asylum case and one Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) case.
Asylum cases are applications made to lawfully stay in the United States due to fear of persecution in the applicant’s home country based on factors such as the applicant’s race, religion, or political opinion. These cases involve showing that the applicant has been persecuted in the past and/or has credible fear of persecution in the future based on one of the protected grounds — essentially that the applicant will not be safe if forced to return to their home country due to, for example, political opinion, which could be something like opposing an authoritarian regime in the home country.
SIJS cases serve to reunite immigrant children with their family members in the United States. These are essentially a hybrid of a family law case and an immigration case. The family law component involves showing that the child has been abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents or caretakers in their home country, followed by a showing that someone who is currently in the United States, such as a brother or sister, is willing to take on the responsibility of caring for the child. After the family law showing has been made, an immigration application can be filed for lawful status in the United States.
Working on these cases was deeply rewarding and provided the opportunity to really take ownership over a case. There is ample opportunity for client contact in immigration cases because multiple client interviews are necessary to get all of the information required to draft the legal memos and other documents that will be submitted with the application. In addition to interviewing clients, I drafted the documents that would actually be submitted with the applications. I found immigration to be interesting intellectually, but it was an especially rewarding practice because of its deeply personal nature. I was inspired to take an immigration law class this semester to learn more about this area of law.
I did not expect to find to a passion for a new field within public service during my summer at a big corporate law firm, but I am so glad that I did. Spending time on pro bono during the summer was not only interesting and rewarding, but also enhanced my experience at the firm in general. Through incorporating pro bono into my work, I developed relationships with more of the attorneys at the firm, particularly the pro bono coordinator from my office. Although I know that I will not be able to spend the majority of my time on pro bono once I start at the firm full-time, the connections I made and the experience I got on these two cases over the summer have prepared me to be able to incorporate immigration pro bono work into my practice right from the start of my career.
Michelle Synhorst is a 3L from Tucson, Arizona. She studied history at Rice University and will be returning to Houston to start at a law firm following graduation.