April 6, 2023
Reflections on My Immigration Law Clinic Experience
By Lucía Belén Araque LL.M. '23
Lucía Belén Araque (she/her) is a human rights lawyer, lecturer, and researcher from Argentina. She is currently pursuing an LL.M. at Southwestern as the José Siderman-Fulbright Human Rights Fellow for the 2022-2023 academic year. Lucía received her J.D. and Specialization in International Human Rights Law degrees from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), where she is also a candidate for an LL.M. in International Human Rights Law.
I got into Law School because I am a social justice advocate, and I believe in the power of law to achieve equality. My law school journey—which started almost ten years ago in Buenos Aires—and career in human rights have been driven by a desire to acquire the knowledge and skills required to further systemic change. The Immigration Law Clinic has been a milestone in this quest.
First, I would like to point out three lessons I learned during the Fall 2022 semester at the clinic. Then, I want to address the significance of clinical work for the particular way of practicing law I want to engage in.
The clinic taught me how to work as part of a team. I learned to trust my partner and communicate effectively, and my ability to see things from a different perspective improved considerably. I have always found these things challenging throughout my career because legal education is not focused on developing collaborative skills. Law school (both in Argentina and the U.S.) promotes a quite individualistic approach to lawyering, despite collaboration being fundamental in many practice areas. Defending and promoting human rights is a collective activity, and exposure to learning environments that emphasize teamwork, like the clinic, is fundamental to succeeding in this enterprise.
The clinic has also made me better at interviewing and counseling. Having worked in research for policymaking for most of my professional life, I have always struggled with client interaction. During the semester, I learned to build rapport with clients, to be an active listener and more empathetic, and to recognize and build upon clients’ experiences. As a lawyer who will be working with human rights victims, these skills are much needed. Adopting a trauma-informed perspective is one of the bases of human rights lawyering.
Another thing the clinic has helped me improve is my writing skills. Writing is hard, and writing other people’s stories and staying true to their feelings and experiences is even harder. While preparing my U Visa client declaration, I realized the importance of capturing our clients’ voices when writing on their behalf. It is our way of acknowledging what they have been through. This is a valuable lesson for every lawyer, and, in particular, for human rights lawyers.
I want to highlight an additional aspect of the clinic that has to do with empowerment. The clinic allows us to play an active role in our learning process while helping our clients—who have become “invisible” due to the lack of documents—to own their stories and regain control over their lives. This is the approach to legal practice I am interested in adopting. I am convinced that my job as a human rights lawyer is to accompany the individuals and communities I work with in their capacity-building/strengthening process.
Working at the clinic gave me a deeper understanding of how law can be used as a social justice tool. My advice to future clinic students is: never overlook the importance of what you will be doing here. Clients will share their pain, fears, and dreams with you, and you will walk with them in their empowerment journey. This is a big deal and can be overwhelming sometimes, but I promise the clinic does a great job preparing you for it. Good luck!