So many AILA members choose to give back through pro bono opportunities. AILA’s Practice and Professionalism Center wanted to highlight a few recent “Pro Bono High Fives” to inspire and encourage others to use their legal expertise to change lives, and maybe have some fun too!
Emma Buckthal from AILA’s Upstate New York Chapter actually started “doing immigration work by volunteering at an upstate New York non-profit through all three years of law school” and never looked back! She shares, “The most rewarding part of my work is hearing from [clients] with updates about their progress and achievements. The hardest part of my work is supporting clients through the tough times, waiting for application decisions while they have no work authorization.” She describes how several of her approved clients are nearing the point where they can welcome their derivative children and spouses home to America, finally reuniting families. She notes, “Don’t be afraid to take on a pro bono case. You can be the lawyer who helps change someone’s life.”
Kripa Upadhyay of the Washington Chapter got started with pro bono work in undergraduate school, acting as a translator and interpreter for a non-profit that served the South Asian community in Los Angeles. She still uses those language skills (4 languages!) to help “newly arrived individuals who do not speak English or have very limited English language skills. I am able to communicate with them in their own language and explain that I myself have been through the feelings of desperation and despair as a new immigrant having to get accustomed to a completely new way of life” because she arrived from Nepal herself. She shares that “The most challenging and rewarding work has been defending people in removal proceedings. In 2017-2018, at the height of the Taliban’s resurgence, I represented seven Afghans, all of whom had lost immediate family members because of their work/proximity to the US Armed Forces. Some had worked as interpreters; others were engineers, education ministry officials etc. All of them won asylum and I am still in touch with most of them today.” She encourages young lawyers especially to take on pro bono cases, and to use the AILA network of mentors and colleagues along the way.
Tim Farmer from the Iowa/Nebraska Chapter found an immense need for pro bono assistance when young people began to apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He has “also assisted individuals in need in (his) community with things like U visa applications, as well as with non-immigration legal matters, like dissolution of marriage.” He feels it is important to give back to the community and shares that “every time I get a work permit for a DACA recipient, the look of relief on their faces is so strong. I hope that someday we will be able to find a legislative solution for DACA recipients,” adding “I love it when people call me up and say they want to renew their DACA status, and I get to say, ‘Oh, great, I do those for free.’” He encourages others to take on pro bono cases that allow them to practice an area of law they enjoy, noting “The gratitude you get from your clients will make that area of practice even more rewarding.”
Feeling inspired yet? Read more about these and other pro bono champions on AILA’s website and find your own pro bono opportunity!