Pro Bono Attorney Spotlight
This month, we are pleased to highlight Rocio Portela-Berrios from Milbank LLP. Rocio took on representation of a young KIND client from Guatemala in the client’s application for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. She shared her thoughts on her pro bono experience thus far below.
When and why did you first take a KIND case?
October 2017. I took my first KIND case because I was a volunteer translator for KIND pro bono attorneys during law school and was eager to be able to manage my own case as soon as I became a practicing attorney. I had seen firsthand what a difference being represented by an attorney in immigration court could make for the children’s cases and I wanted to lend my resources, experience and language skills to KIND clients.
What have you learned from this experience or from your KIND client?
From this experience I have learned to be flexible with my case plans, to think of innovative ways to communicate with clients and to be grateful for the vast amount of resources I have at my disposal. From my KIND clients I have learned how to trust and how to build an attorney-client relationship based on trust.
What is the most surprising thing that you’ve learned about the U.S. immigration system?
The most surprising thing I’ve learned about the U.S. immigration system is the harsh juxtaposition of how clients’ immigration status is usually a life-threatening matter but the process to obtain immigration relief moves at an incredibly slow and bureaucratic pace.
What would you tell other attorneys to encourage them to take a KIND case?
Working with children will open your eyes to view the world with the innocence they do. While it can be emotionally draining, there is nothing more rewarding than knowing you are contributing to helping a child get a chance at a safer life. I always tell myself that one of my KIND clients could be the next Einstein, the next Malala or the next doctor that finds a cure to cancer but that even if they are not they are a special human being that deserves a chance to dream, to hope and to work towards their dreams without having to fear for their safety. Your KIND clients will make you a better attorney but more than anything they will inspire you to be a harder worker and a better person.
Do you have any advice for attorneys who may be taking their first pro bono case?
Use your resources (colleagues at your firm, KIND advisors, immigration court clerks and Google). Be patient and work on your relationship with your client and their parent. Understand that you might be the first person they meet in their immigration journey that is dedicating a significant amount of time to helping them and they might need some time to understand that and to trust you with the details of their life story.