What is your current job/position (title and employer)?
I am an attorney in the legal department of State Compensation Insurance Fund in Fresno, California, a quasi-state agency created by California’s state legislature.
What made you interested taking the Immigrant Rights Project?
My primary motivation was to gain practical, marketable experience. The Immigrant Rights Project (IRP) was actually one of the reasons I chose TU Law. When looking at different law schools, one of my top priorities was a strong clinical program. Though the job market for law grads is better than it was five years, it is still very competitive. A common theme grads will see when they look for jobs is the requirement for experience.
I chose the IRP specifically out of the clinical programs for a couple of reasons. In 2013, my then-fiancé and I were clients of the immigration clinic. They helped us apply for a fiancé visa. At the time, DOMA Section 3 had just fallen in United States v. Windsor, and we were unsure how the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) would handle a fiancé visa application for a same-sex couple. After the immigration clinic helped us navigate those foreign waters, I wanted to give something back. However, even if I hadn’t been a client of the IRP, I would still have chosen the immigration clinic. I have worked internationally a couple of times, and I just like working with people from different cultures and backgrounds.
Did your experience match your expectations? Why or why not?
My internship in the clinic met and exceeded my expectations. The training I received was the most detailed and beneficial that I had both in law school and among other internships. The instruction and guidance was abundant and comprehensive, and I gained experience in many skills not commonly available in the average paid internship, such as project management and extensive interaction with clients. In addition to excellent training, the clinic also had the benefit of feeling like a family—and not just because we pretty much lived there. Professor McCormack, the staff, and the other students and teams were all interested in our client’s cases and available for collaboration, counsel, to act as sounding boards, and for general comradery (took 5 attempts before I spelled that word correctly).
How did your experience in the Immigrant Rights Project prepare you for your current position?
The most important skills I developed in the IRP were project management, client interaction, and interviewing skills. These are the skills I need the most in my current position, and I have to say, I did not get any experience in these areas in my other internships—although my other internships certainly gave me a good deal of practice in other important areas such as legal analysis and writing.
Did your experience in the clinic play any role in helping you get your first position out of law school/current position?
I think that it did. I am sure that it made me a much more impressive candidate both on my resume and in interviews. My first interview was for the job I will be starting next month. It was the craziest interview I have ever had. Although the opening was for an Attorney Level I—an entry level position—the interviewer was asking me behavioral interviewing questions (which I hate) specific to experiences of an experienced attorney. These included such questions as “describe a time when you faced an ethics problem at work” and “describe a settlement you negotiated”—things that no recent graduate will have encountered. While these questions were still tough to answer, I was able to draw heavily upon my experience with the clinic to provide instances of related experience. And I got the job.
I think my experience with the IRP was also instrumental in me getting an interview with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. They requested a statement of qualifications and experience answering several detailed questions about the candidate’s training. While that job was in a completely different field of law, skills I gained at the IRP—project management, client interaction, and interviewing skills—are important for any attorney position. What is more, my description of how I balanced my duties at the IRP, my other internship, student organizations, and studies made me come off looking fairly super-human. So, regarding getting a recent grad his or her first position, I can say that an internship with the IRP will certainly give the applicant a lot of marketable experience to talk about.
What is most rewarding about your current position?
It will keep me off the streets. LOL! After that, it is a state job with a lot of litigation. So, I’ll get lots of interesting, valuable litigation experience, while working normal hours. Working only 40-50 hours per week will give me time to work on my Korean so I can talk to my sweet mother-in-law.
What did you achieve while you were a student in the Immigrant Rights Project?
I helped one client prepare for an adjustment of status interview before USCIS in Oklahoma City, and I helped another client prepare and file a U-Visa petition. During that time, I developed skills in project management, client interaction, interviewing, writing, legal analysis, and during that semester I was more organized that I have ever been in my life.
Is there anything else you would like to share about the experience of being a clinic student?
One of the most rewarding aspects of working in the IRP was the opportunity to develop a close relationship with some of TU Law’s best faculty, staff, and students.
Do you have any advice for currently enrolled/soon-to-be TU graduates?
Do a clinic. Hands-on training and real work experience is the most valuable thing you will take to a job interview, and it will be the most valuable in helping you perform your duties at your first job. You won’t get that many questions about what points of law you learned in classes, but employers will be very interested to know whether or not you know how to do the job and whether they can expect you to be a success in the position.
Do a clinic even if you don’t plan to practice in the fields offered at the clinic. Skills you learn will be useful in any position, and it will set you apart from your peers.
Do a clinic even if you’ve already gained experience in non-clinical internships or externships. A supervising attorney at a non-clinical internship will probably never be able to give you the depth of instruction and feedback you will get at the clinic. At the clinic, your professor will scrutinize all your work, tell you exactly what works and what doesn’t, and give you extensive advice. This is your chance to ask all of your questions and to get some amazing feedback. Also, while externships are great too, you can keep your paid internship while doing a clinic. This is extremely helpful when you already have a paid internship that your hope will blossom into a post-grad offer!