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Celebrate Pro Bono Guest Post: Patricia Malone, Immigration Advocates Network

Posted in Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Immigration

In honor of National Celebrate Pro Bono Week, Pro Bono Net has lined up a variety of guest bloggers from law firms, legal aid organizations and elsewhere to share their pro bono ideas and experiences. Check back each day between Oct. 22-26 for new posts, and visit the Celebrate Pro Bono site to learn how you can get involved in events near you.

Below, we are pleased to present a guest post from Patricia Malone, Staff Attorney at Immigration Advocates Network, a collaborative effort of leading immigrants’ rights organizations and Pro Bono Net designed to increase access to justice for low-income immigrants.

For a short while last year I was recruiting volunteer attorneys to represent children in immigration court.  The kids were predominantly Central American, from fragmented and troubled families.  Some had been abused or neglected, others fled gang violence.  They came to the U.S. to reunite with other family members or escape persecution. The children were facing an immigration court system they would barely understand if they had grown up here. Its hard to imagine a more compelling scenario, or a client less capable of appearing pro se.

I knew it was a lot to ask an attorney to represent a child pro bono in immigration court.  These clients would need substantial support in a process that is intimidating to the uninitiated.  Their attorneys would need support too.  Did we offer training and technical assistance?  Would our project be available to help throughout the case?

On the recruiting side of the equation, I couldn’t know all the considerations that go into accepting a pro bono case.  For the solo or small practices, the question of capacity must loom large.  What if this case gets busy at the wrong time?  For many practices, the attorney or pro bono partner must consider whether a case helps the practice achieve other objectives, such as  getting a new associate into court, fitting into a colleague’s busy schedule, developing a “signature” project, building a relationship with the community, meeting the firm’s annual goal for pro bono hours, and more.

It seemed attorneys accepted the kids cases for personal reasons too.  One chose a case in part because the client was the same age as his son.  A young associate who took a case told his mother about his volunteer work, on an issue near and dear to her heart.  Another attorney was an immigrant working as in-house counsel.  He was thinking about opening an immigration practice and wanted the technical support that came with the project.

Working on the project, I didn’t think about the firm’s considerations or the attorney’s motives.  I only worried about placing a case.  It was hard to make the calls for help, and a relief to move the child’s name to the list of matched cases.  Most attorneys or firms declined to work with us. Over time I realized how remarkable it is that others accepted cases.

When the project closed I wished I’d had time to send handwritten thank-you notes, and post every volunteer attorney’s name on a website to recognize the tremendous contribution.  Whatever the motive – charity, learning something new, a sense of duty in the profession, public relations – it  is brave and generous to take a pro bono case.  Thank you for your volunteer work!

Interested in immigration?  You may want to check out Immigration Advocates’ e-conference, “Cutting Edge Issues in Immigration Law,” from October 29 to November 2.  Topics include deferred action, U-visas, asylum and more.