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Learning from every client: Penn Law’s Transnational Legal Clinic

September 11, 2017

In the Transnational Legal Clinic, which was founded in 2006, students directly represent clients and organizations in international human rights and immigration legal proceedings. In this video feature clinic director Sarah Paoletti and alumni discuss the clinics work for clients seeking asylum and other forms of immigration relief.



Nermeen Arastu L’08: Growing up, I had been exposed to a lot of different immigrant communities. And I had also seen how when immigrant communities were victimized, whether it was domestic violence situations, or other types of criminal interactions, interactions with the criminal system, how they were especially vulnerable when it came to receiving resources and help. So coming into law school I was really thinking about how best could I serve those populations. With that naturally came an interest in immigration law in and of itself and also family law, gender-based violence, and other topics.

Profesor Sarah Paoletti: When I look at what cases we’re going to take in the clinic, particularly in the immigration cases, I’m always looking for the cases where having a lawyer will make a difference. In the context of immigration, having a lawyer — and it’s been shown in study after study that having a lawyer is the biggest indicator of whether or not you’re going to be successful in pursuing an application for immigration relief.

Arastu: In the Transnational Clinic I remember first being exposed to like academically, this concept of cross-cultural competency. You know, you work in diverse communities, and you kind of have some understanding that there’s some sensitivity needed or understanding, but to really understand how to bring that into lawyering.

Paoletti: In the recent years, we’ve seen a shift towards a lot more clients seeking protection from gang violence and persecution, related to gang violence in Central America. And that’s reflective of what we see in the immigration courts today.

Karen Wiswall L’15: I think what was most gratifying, was taking ownership of a case and working on it for a specific client that I got to meet, to interview, give legal advice to, respond to their questions. In law school, I think you tend to be asking a lot of questions, but not answering them, and understanding what it means to be in a position where someone’s looking to you for the guidance.

Paoletti: Whether that’s in a direct petition, or in immigration court, in filing an application for relief in immigration court, or whether that’s in pursuing a claim before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or whether that’s doing some other form of advocacy to ultimately achieve the goals sought. Each client story is different, right, each client brings a different story, each client brings different goals, a different set of experiences, and from that the student can learn.