As a law student who arrived at UVA knowing that I wanted to do public service immigration work, I have at times felt like I was swimming upstream. Most 1Ls either plan to work in the private sector or have not yet found their niche within the legal community. As someone who did not fit in either of those categories, I have realized the importance of being able to explain to family, friends, fellow students, and faculty that I have chosen my career path in public service immigration. By demonstrating my dedication to the field through words and actions, I have persuaded the skeptics in my life that my less-conventional path is the right one for me.
When people ask me why I want to do public service immigration, usually I start by explaining how I got into the field. During college, I interned at the Legal Aid Society of Rochester’s Immigration Program and discovered my passion for working with immigrants from around the world and helping solve their legal problems. I was amazed by the enormous impact their immigration status could have on other aspects of their lives. Usually this explanation shows the skeptics that I care about immigrants, but it still leaves them wondering why I did not go the firm route.
I have never made the kind of money my peers will make at their firms, and I probably never will. But I have come home at the end of the day feeling fulfilled by my work. It is easier for me to picture myself happy because of the work I am doing than the salary I am making. The problem with this answer is that the skeptic asking the question often has an easier time conceptualizing the salary than the work fulfillment. Because of my work in the field and the actions of the immigration legal community in the last few months, even these skeptics in my life have come around.
After much second-guessing, I decided to not participate in OGI. The skeptics in my life had held out hope until that point that I would work at a firm. That would have been a clearer and more certain path. By taking a concrete step toward my goal of being a public service immigration lawyer, I convinced them that I was serious about my decision. I am confident that my choice to forgo OGI was the right one for me.
My 2L summer internship search happened later in the fall, and I accepted an internship the day after the election. When the Travel Ban Executive Order first came out, I was inspired by my professional community’s mobilization and heartened to witness the huge outpouring of popular support against the Order. Seeing stories of people whose lives had been impacted by the Order and the lawyers who showed up in their defense convinced the skeptics in my life of the importance of immigration lawyers and the validity of my career path.
My advice to people who are fairly certain of what they want to do but have skeptical family, friends, peers, or professors is the following: be persistent, find comfort in your work, and take deliberate steps in the direction of your goals. The rest will fall into place.
Aviva Schaffer is a 2L from Rochester, NY. After studying International Relations and Arabic at the University of Rochester, she spent a year working in Washington, DC. She has interned for the Immigration Program at the Legal Aid Society of Rochester and for the Arlington Immigration Court. She plans to practice immigration law in the future.