I still remember the anxiety and excitement I felt sitting around the table of a seminar classroom my 1L year, learning about an opportunity to volunteer at a family detention center in Dilley, Texas, over spring break. Like any first-year student, I was worried about doing well my second semester and so I felt conflicted about the wisdom of spending my spring break volunteering rather than getting a jump-start on reviewing for finals. But I also wanted to seize the opportunity to get a real-life taste for what being a lawyer was all about, and that is exactly what Dilley did for me. The experience put a face—actually, hundreds of mothers’ and children’s faces—to the work of a lawyer; it helped me see beyond the doctrinal 1L curriculum to witness how the law affects marginalized individuals, and to envision my role as an advocate for the immigrant community.
My time spent volunteering in Dilley helped me develop various skills that are essential to effective advocacy. Client interviewing and counseling, affidavit drafting, oral advocacy, resilience in the face of ever-changing policies—these are all skills that I first deployed in Dilley, and which I will continue to use as I begin my career as an immigration attorney. More than mere practical training, volunteering in Dilley also helped me make the best of my time in law school by focusing my course selection priorities and motivating me to find more experiential learning opportunities. Having witnessed the byzantine inner workings of immigration law and seeing the harsh impact of detention on families, I sought a broader understanding of how the entire legal system affects immigrants. I enrolled in courses such as Emergency and The Rule of Law, Family Law, Language of the Constitution, and Children and Immigration Law to study a different facet of the law affecting vulnerable individuals and their ability to vindicate their rights. Realizing that immigration practice is at its core a litigation and oral advocacy practice, I tried out for Trial Advocacy and Moot Court, gaining valuable experience and constantly thinking back to how the skills I was sharpening would be useful in representing clients. Wanting to become part of the effort to reform immigration law later in my career, I joined the Legislation and Policy Advocacy Clinic in my final year to begin learning about the work of changing the law.
My decision to attend the service trip in Dilley as a first-year student was the best decision I ever made in law school. I gained early practical experience and emerged with a clearer goal for my time in law school, and along the way I met many wonderful role models and mentors who connected me to internships that further advanced my learning. Perhaps most importantly, the experience volunteering in Dilley ushered me into a community of advocates that works tirelessly “in the service of others,” as our School’s motto instructs. I am privileged and grateful to have gained this inspiring experience, and to have been a part of the Feerick Center’s commitment to improving access to justice for some of the most marginalized and vulnerable populations of our time.