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Transactional Attorneys Should Consider Pro Bono Litigation Work

Claudia Lorenzo and Tracy Faith Buffer

Transactional Attorneys Should Consider Pro Bono Litigation Work

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As second-year associates in the corporate department of a large law firm, we began our legal practice by focusing on a wide array of financial transactions across multiple industries. Shocking some, we volunteered to work on a pro bono impact litigation case intended to affect a broader policy change in immigration law. Working on a large litigation benefited our professional development as transactional associates. 

The Case

We worked on litigation challenging a new policy of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that led to the improper delay and denial of petitions for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). SIJS allows qualified immigrants to remain legally in the United States. To qualify for SIJS under the Immigration and Nationality Act, an immigrant, before turning 21, must first obtain an order from a state juvenile court finding that, because of abuse, abandonment, neglect, or a similar basis under the state’s child welfare laws, it is not in his or her best interest to be returned to the country where his or her parents customarily live. In New Jersey, family court is authorized to make these factual findings for juveniles between the ages of 18 and 21. In 2018, USCIS began denying SIJS applications for older juveniles (ages 18 to 21), erroneously concluding that New Jersey state courts lacked jurisdiction. This policy resulted in delays, denials, and revocations of SIJS petitions for hundreds of juveniles.

For this pro bono matter, we helped draft a class-action complaint, which we filed in April 2019 in the federal court in New Jersey. We also helped prepare a motion for preliminary injunctive relief. On July 3, 2019, the district court granted our motion, barring USCIS from delaying or denying SIJS status because a juvenile is between the ages of 18 and 21.

The Benefits

In addition to the personal gratification that came from helping young immigrants receive the relief to which they were legally entitled, working on this matter also benefited our transactional practice. Corporate attorneys who are hesitant to venture outside their comfort zones should consider the following points.

Client Interaction

We met and interviewed each potential class representative to understand their stories and gauge whether they could adequately represent the class. After several meetings, our team selected the class representatives and our interactions with those individuals became more frequent. We responded to their questions or concerns during scheduled meetings and unexpected phone calls, and we learned to anticipate potential issues and to be prepared with answers. If we did not have those answers, our team would research as necessary to respond to our clients’ needs. Gaining a level of comfort in directly advising clients is invaluable to our practice as corporate associates.

Complicated Legal Research and Drafting

As corporate associates, we are sometimes tasked with researching complicated legal issues relating to corporate governance or federal securities laws. Learning to research immigration law helped hone our research skills for corporate matters. Additionally, we drafted our clients’ affidavits. Learning to listen patiently and express the facts in writing will benefit our corporate practice because we often draft agreements that reflect our clients’ preferences and expectations as communicated to us.

Working with a Large Team and Managing Your Workload

This case involved working with a large team on an extended project with tight deadlines. This translated to our work on large deal teams as we were forced to learn quickly how to manage the competing demands of our corporate practice. We planned our weeks in advance to ensure we had enough time for our corporate and pro bono demands. We quickly learned how to assess the urgency of our assignments to prioritize our work and communicate with our corporate teams regarding our pro bono obligations to manage expectations.

The skills we learned will translate to our corporate practice going forward. Associates, including corporate associates, should reconsider any initial hesitancy to take on a pro bono litigation assignment. If you are presented with an opportunity to assist with a pro bono litigation, take it. Use that opportunity to develop your skills within your practice area and explore new areas of the law.