Associate Life

Owen Allen

Pro Bono at WilmerHale

September 5, 2012 10:26 AM | Permalink | Print

Beginning in the fall of 2011, I had the opportunity to work on a very meaningful pro bono case. The case involved a refugee from a country in western Africa who was seeking asylum in the United States. When we became involved, our client’s case had been scheduled for trial at the Baltimore Immigration Court in about five months.

Our team consisted of three attorneys—fellow Senior Associate Jacob Oyloe, Partner David Cavanaugh and myself—all from the IP Department in Washington DC. Even though this was a new area of law to us, we were able to utilize the experience of multiple other resources at the firm, including attorneys in our Boston office who had considerable experience in immigration and asylum law, to quickly get caught up to speed. We also received invaluable assistance from the staff attorneys at the nonprofit agency who referred the case to us.

Over the course of several months, Jake and I met with our client on a weekly basis, with an interpreter, and became intimately familiar with his story and experiences in his home country. This was slow and tedious work at times, especially given the language barrier, but the importance of gaining a complete understanding of his story was of paramount importance to our case. We also worked to gather affidavit testimony from various people in our client’s home country, which was easier said than done, as well as affidavit testimony from three different expert witnesses. Two weeks before trial, we compiled all of our evidence, prepared a pre-trial brief and submitted it to the court.

To prepare for trial, we observed another trial at the Immigration Court to familiarize ourselves with the courtroom decorum and procedures, and then held several mock trials in the firm’s mock courtroom with our client, where we re-created the courtroom atmosphere right down to the seating positions of the witness and the interpreter. We wanted there to be no surprises come trial day.

The trial lasted for about three hours and took all sorts of twists and turns, some of which we anticipated, some of which were unexpected. When all was said and done, the judge issued his ruling from the bench—he granted our client asylum in the United States. Needless to say, our client was overwhelmed with relief and gratitude, as were we!

What was really amazing about this whole experience was the support that we received from others at the firm, as well as from the firm itself. The firm gave its unbridled support to our case by giving us the time to devote to the case, providing the resources necessary to develop an effective case, and by giving us full credit for the time that we spent working on the case. In addition, the moral support and notes of encouragement from various people at the firm was invaluable. I’ve had a lot of great experiences at the firm, but this was by far the most meaningful.