By Rachel Morley, Class of 2021
Going into the Immigration Clinic in the fall of my 3L year, I had no idea what to expect. Despite the usual polling of friends and peers before signing up for classes, I still was not entirely clear on how it worked, particularly in the times of COVID. Even more stressful, I wasn’t even clear on what exactly I could contribute; I had very little domestic legal experience, and my client interactions were pretty much limited to our simulations during Lawyering Skills classes during our 1L year. While helpful, trying to counsel your Fellow-acting-as-a-client doesn’t count as real-world experience in my book. After my 1L year, I threw myself headlong into classes and internships that provided me with excellent research and analytical experience, but contained few opportunities to interact with clients. Part of this was my own miscalculation; I could have sought out more experiential classes, or externships that would have given me more hands-on experience. So, upon registering for the Clinic, I was dubious as to how exactly my experience (or lack thereof) would be helpful to anyone. I knew that my legal research skills were good, and that I could figure out how to apply the rules to my cases (as all William & Mary Law students are well-trained to do), but that still didn’t put me at ease. How could I possibly be trusted with someone’s future? An entire family’s future? I hadn’t ever interviewed a real client before!
However, my fears were not entirely founded. While I did (and still do) have a lot to learn about the world of immigration law, I was not as lost as I had anticipated. My legal background did have something to offer me. While my experiences were mainly international and outside of the courtroom, they also involved similar and sometimes even identical subject matter as the Clinic. Most of the time, the clients that come to the Clinic are there for help with something that has the potential to change their lives forever; many of them have been through unspeakable trauma, and endured things that no human being should have to. I realized that interviewing clients, engaging with their cases, and finding ways to help was not entirely unlike conversations I had while working in Kosovo with people who had lived through the conflict there, or analysis of sexually based violence in Africa, or research on the civil commitment of sexual offenders in Virginia. Through my seemingly unrelated experience, I had already established some fundamentals that would be honed further by the Clinic. I just didn’t know exactly what these skills were called. However, though my seminar time, trainings (particularly with Avalon), and coursework, I’ve learned their names: trauma-informed interviewing, the ability to engage with difficult fact patterns, and the mitigation of the effects of secondary trauma on myself. The Clinic has helped me find the common thread throughout my legal experience, and has taught me how to use those skills in the most effective ways possible. While I certainly still have a long way to go, I feel infinitely more prepared to tackle my legal future.