A co-op update, brought to you by Amy Pimentel, in the Immigration Unit at Greater Boston Legal Services.
Working in legal services is both challenging and wonderful. It is undeniable that the attorneys at GBLS do some of the most important work there is to be done in our field, and they utilize their interns like we are indispensable assets to them and the clients. Feels SO GOOD to be needed.
I have 6 cases I’m working on this summer, each with its own equally tragic story of violence and persecution in the home country. My clients are primarily indigenous people from Guatemala who were viciously targeted on account of their race, political opinion, imputed political opinion, and membership to particular social groups. They all have warm, keenly perceptive personalities with inherent loyalties to their family and greater community. It amazes me that they have the emotional capacity and trust to tell their very personal stories to a complete stranger (me). Oh, and none of them speak English! It’s a good thing I spent a year in Honduras learning Spanish or else I would feel extremely inadequate.
Being exposed to refugee and asylum law in this very hands-on, real-life kind of way has been extremely challenging and eye opening. Every client that walks through our office door has a story to tell, and it is our job to tell it to a judge, back it up with the best corroborative evidence we can find, and ardently represent our clients. It is work that requires passion, patience, and tenacity. I absolutely love it!
Most of my days are spent interviewing clients, gathering evidence, and writing court memoranda and affidavits. Sometimes (rarely) I get to go to court, and believe me, I jumped at (and beg for) the opportunity to observe a hearing. I almost lost it when my supervisor asked me if I was interested in representing one of my clients before an Immigration Judge during his Master Calendar Hearing. For those unfamiliar, Master Calendar Hearings are short, sweet, and to the point. You state your name for the court, hand the judge papers, your client receives frivolousness warnings and a date for their individual hearing, and then you go on your merry way.
I was ALL OVER IT.
Donned in my new Banana Republic suit, I walked my client over to the court, waited in the courtroom for 2 hours until his A-number was called, and then passed the bar. (Yes!) Things were looking good and I was a total natural, that is, until I screwed up. I misspoke. Turns out its not the end of the world when you mess up in court. The judge was surprisingly supportive. She smiled and said, “Are you suuuuuuure you don’t mean 2012?” “Yes, OF COURSE that’s what I meant… your Honor.” We got the date for his next hearing – November 2013. I’ll almost be a real lawyer by then. Maybe I’ll be back!
There are many things that have surprised and wowed me about this co-op. Besides judges being understanding of first-time jitters, I have been impressed by:
- The amount of work to be done. Our office is stacked, floor to ceiling, with boxes and files. All open cases. It’s incredible.
- The ways in which I’ve been mentored. Sample memos, pep talks, historical explanations, check-ins, etc. All of the makings for a great first co-op.
- Donuts on Fridays. I tell myself I hate donuts so that I don’t eat them. Lying to yourself can only last so long.
- The solidarity and vibe of the unit. It’s a big family, clients included. There are children running around, attorneys collaborating, birthday parties, and going away parties. Did I mention donuts on Fridays? I hate donuts.
- The dedication. People come in early, stay late, work through lunch, and camp out on the weekends. There is so much to do and not enough time and people to do it all in a very structured, 9-to-5 day. All hands are on deck all the time. There is nothing more inspiring.