Volunteer lawyers are integral to our organization and the work we do. But how does working with HRI and our clients impact the volunteer lawyers? Below are a few testimonials from various pro bono attorneys who have worked on cases with us in the past.
In October 2014, Sarah Crow was placed on secondment at Human Rights Initiative through the generosity of her law firm, Akin Gump. Sarah was a champion for young unaccompanied minors and helped our legal team work through an extremely hectic and difficult period of work. Here’s what she has to say at the end of her time with HRI.
I saved a life today. I saved a ten-year-old girl from certain poverty, abuse, trauma, and even death. And she knew that I saved her, so she hugged me. It brought me to tears.
As a lawyer in private practice, it’s easy to get lost in my routine and to forget how much power lies in my law license. I sincerely enjoy my practice as a financial restructuring lawyer at Akin Gump. I like the adrenaline that a new case brings, working on a large team of sophisticated professionals across the globe, and studying complex legal and factual issues. But sometimes I forget that I have the power to help a person who needs it. Not that I can save the world. But today there was one sweet, sassy, little girl who had suffered mind-blowing trauma and fled her home country of Honduras to find a little bit of peace in the United States, and I had the knowledge and power to help her and to stop her from being returned to an unspeakable horror.
That’s why I love HRI’s mission: to promote international human rights through local service to refugees and immigrants who have suffered human rights abuses. I don’t have all the answers—I don’t know how to #bringbackourgirls or how to address the “border surge.” But when one of those innocent children ends up in my hometown of Dallas, Texas, and—by the grace of God—finds their way to HRI, I can help by volunteering to take her case.
HRI excels at its mission by providing volunteer attorneys with all the necessary resources to succeed. At the outset, the HRI legal team carefully analyzes each client’s case and formulates a custom strategic plan. When an attorney volunteers to take a case, they are provided with that plan, plus a complete packet of case-specific information and step-by-step instructions. The HRI legal team then guides the attorney through the whole process, start to finish. No specific experience, immigration or otherwise, is needed. Just the desire to help someone and the motivation to see it through.
Sarah Crow – In-house Volunteer Attorney, Akin Gump
Working with HRI and its top-notch team of professionals has been one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences of my career. It feels good to have changed a client’s life for the better, but this experience has also changed me. I’ve never been more personally committed to helping those around me, one client at a time.
We successfully represented an asylum client from Uganda. The client was a young married man with a small child. He formerly worked high in the Ugandan government before taking the fall for a public scandal. He then unfortunately started work for a company affiliated with a prominent opposition party, and the Ugandan government accused him leaking secrets to that party to obtain his job. He was detained on three occasions, beaten, and his life and the lives of his family were threatened. He eventually escaped a hospital, and after living in hiding for five months, traveled to the United States and sought asylum.
When you go to law school, you have lofty dreams of using your newfound skills to help those in need. While I enjoy helping all of my clients address their challenges, winning this asylum case is unique. A life has been permanently changed for the better. A man will be reunited with his family, who he hasn’t seen in over a year. As a young lawyer, I certainly received other benefits, including gaining courtroom experience and managing a matter on my own. But seeing my client’s joy when the Court granted the application was worth every hour dedicated to his case.
Lance Currie – Volunteer Attorney, Carrington Coleman
“As a first year lawyer at a big law firm, I was like many newly minted lawyers–eager and ready to “make a difference” and anxious to get started doing “real” legal work. I was also like many new lawyers in that the opportunity to do “real” legal work (whatever that means to each of us) was likely going to be a long ways’ off, unless researching and reading cases and writing legal memos was my idea of real legal work (it was not). So, with that in mind, I decided early in my career to become involved in pro bono work. I joined the Dallas Bar Association’s pro bono activities committee, and I got involved with my firm’s pro bono committee as well. Very soon thereafter, I participated in a legal training class taught by Betsy Healy of Human Rights Initiative (HRI). It was (somewhat to my dismay and embarrassment) my first real exposure to the types of international human rights abuses that all too often take place all over the globe, and to say I was shocked and affected by what I heard is an understatement. I instantly became an admirer of Betsy and HRI, and I very much wanted to get involved and do my part to help.
Thus, as a first year lawyer, I accepted my first asylum case from HRI, which involved a gentleman from Zimbabwe who had been tortured, terrorized, and threatened at every turn for having the courage to oppose the tyrannical government of Robert Mugabe. My client, Joseph, was an educated, professional, and very gentle and sweet young man, who had a wife and daughter back in Zimbabwe whom he had been forced to leave behind when he fled the country in fear of his life. I was handling the case at the affirmative stage and was told not to have too high of hopes or expectations, as the percentage of individuals who are granted asylum at the affirmative stage are very low. Undaunted (at least from a high hopes perspective), Joseph and I embarked upon the process of completing the lengthy and painful application for political asylum. We met several times to discuss his story and to complete the application, and each time, we got to know one another better. As he shared his family photos and memories and experiences with me, I learned just how special an individual Joseph was, how courageous and filled with hope and love of country (his own country, which he had been forced to leave), which in turn made me realize how unjust, horrific, and infuriating Mugabe’s actions were. Learning about Zimbabwe and the reign of terror imposed by Mugabe, I never felt more proud to live in this country and never appreciated more the freedoms, rights, and liberties we take for granted every day in the U.S. Joseph appreciated those rights and freedoms as well, in a way that most Americans never have or will.
After a fair amount of work, we completed the application, went to Houston for the immigration interview, and awaited the outcome of Joseph’s fate. A few months later, I received a phone call from an elated Joseph, telling me that he had been granted asylum, and he was celebrating. I instantly began to cry, tears of relief and joy. I had never imagined that I could really make a difference of that magnitude in an individual’s life working as a civil “big firm” defense lawyer, but the truth was, I had made a difference–just assisting Joseph through the application process and accompanying him and advocating on his behalf at his interview. Upon his granting of asylum, I knew that now, not only could Joseph begin a new life for himself in this country, his wife and daughter could also join him, and they too, could experience life without fear of tyranny and brutality in the face of free speech and assembly. I was deeply appreciative of and changed by the experience, and have been an ardent advocate of HRI ever since.”
Laura J. O’Rourke, HRI Board Member & Volunteer Attorney, Baker & McKenzie LLP