Justice for Immigrants
Law student W. Paul Alvarez '16 is in the classroom, in the courtroom, and making a difference in the lives of immigrants thanks to his experience at Pace Law School's Immigration Justice Clinic.
Less than one year after W. Paul Alvarez ’16 began law school as part of Pace’s Spring Start Program, he was representing actual clients in court through the Immigration Justice Clinic. Below, Paul describes some of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of the program.
Day in the Life
Paul spends Thursdays at the clinic, which requires a minimum commitment of six hours per week. He typically arrives at 1:00 and dives into one of his two assigned cases. “We have a Family Court hearing tomorrow in New Rochelle,” Paul explains. “I’ll be calling the clients first to remind them. I’ll also call the court to make sure everything’s still on. And then I’ll get together whatever documents we’re going to need.”
In addition to his court appearances—Paul has been to court five times during his clinic tenure—other duties include interviewing and counseling clients, liaising with government agencies, educating the community through local outreach, and drafting motions.
Paul records every client interaction in a case log, which he says helps to strategize and cultivate the habit of keeping records.
Most Rewarding Experience
“The most exciting part of all of this is that you are the attorney of record in the case,” Paul says. “This isn’t practice—this is a real case. You’re changing someone’s life. The fact that you get the privilege to do that while still going to law school is pretty amazing.”
He describes one particularly trying case with an incarcerated client, who Paul met for the first time in a Brooklyn jail. Although ultimately unable to avoid deportation as a result of multiple arrests, Paul and his partner were able to litigate and successfully argue a number of the charges. “It was one of the hardest cases,” Paul says. “It was an incredible learning experience. We did everything we possibly could.”
Paul describes his faculty supervisor, Professor Vanessa Merton, as “brilliant” and cites her unwavering dedication. “She’s one of my biggest mentors,” Paul says. “She expects everything you work on to be done extremely well. With motions I wrote, I went through a good eight drafts before it was ready. She always wants to make sure we conduct ourselves in the best possible way.”
Professor Merton’s training begins even before the school year officially starts during an intensive, weeklong boot camp.
“You have to be ready to be worked,” Paul says. “You will be representing people. This is real. One day, we had to draft a motion that was due. My partner and I were here until 4:00 in the morning. As Professor Merton always likes to joke, our clients don’t have spring break.”
Path to Practice
“I went from suffering through contracts just a year before and to standing before the judge at a court hearing,” Paul says. “It’s amazing that with the right skills and mentoring, you’re able to do that.”
Paul entered Pace Law School with six years of experience as a paralegal for an immigration lawyer. He plans to continue his practical training with the Criminal Justice Clinic next year and ultimately pursue a career in the immigration law field.
“The cases we take in the clinic are so complicated,” Paul says, “that when I do go out into the world to practice, it’s going to seem like a piece of cake in comparison.”
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