Introducing the March 2024 Issue

From the Editors From The Practice March/April 2024
A letter from the editors

In this issue of The Practice we explore a topic that animates much of the national debate in the United States—and an issue that directly impacts the lives of millions of families and individuals. In keeping with the core mission of the Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession, we shine a light not on specific laws or policy—as important as they are—but rather on the immigration lawyers who are charged with helping clients navigate an all-too-often complicated system. As the articles in this issue demonstrate, being an immigration lawyer is to be part of a bureaucratic, opaque system where lives and futures are often on the line. Just as this issue is not primarily about immigration law, it also barely skims the surface of the wide array of methods, skills, and individuals involved in immigration lawyering—a system bursting at the seams with legal need, which in turn requires even more robust, creative, energetic lawyers.

The lead story of this issue, “Big Law’s Immigration Advocates,” examines the differences between Big Law’s pro bono efforts in immigration matters in federal appellate courts and those of other lawyers. Based on a carefully constructed database of real-world cases from across both the Trump and Obama administrations, authors Jayanth K. Krishnan, Megan Riley, and Vitor M. Dias show that Big Law lawyers have a statistically significant higher success rate in these appellate cases when compared with others. It’s important to note that the authors attribute greater success not to the greater legal prowess of the Big Law lawyers but to a number of potentially compounding factors including greater resources, appellate knowledge, networks, and the ability to choose cases. The authors write: “Big Law’s greater success rates in such matters sadly perpetuate the already existing inequalities within our immigration system and highlight the unfortunate reality that firms with resources are able to procure advantages and benefits that others may not be able to enjoy.”

Throughout the piece, Krishnan, Riley, and Dias underscore the vital importance of lawyers working across the immigration field but also acknowledge they are examining a particular subset of those in the field. To further emphasize the complexity and wide variety of work, we offer two stories that showcase different aspects of immigration lawyering. In “Building Dreams,” we tell the story of Flavia Santos Lloyd, whose early experiences as an immigrant from Brazil and 12 years as an immigration paralegal help her approach her clients and her firm with empathy and a growth mindset. While Santos Lloyd started her career in asylum work, her self-named LA law firm now specializes in visas for those in entertainment, sports, and investing. She approaches both types of immigration work with the same philosophy: People are “trusting us with their dreams—whatever that dream is,” she says.

In “Cultivating Creative Immigration Counsel,” we speak to professors Sabrineh Ardalan and Philip Torrey, who teach immigration and refugee lawyering in clinical settings at Harvard Law School. Ardalan and Torrey emphasize that learning to be an immigration lawyer requires “creative lawyering,” as Torrey says, and “learning how to lawyer when there’s just a dearth of law,” in Ardalan’s words. In particular, the faculty emphasize how immigration lawyering—and what they teach their students—changed post-Trump, from direct representation to policy advocacy, impact litigation, and more. Training the next generation of immigration lawyers, they say, requires zealous, sensitive, empathetic advocacy; it also requires a range of collaborators and skills from both legal and nonlegal spaces.

Last, we offer Speaker’s Corners from lawyers engaging in the immigration system. In “Judging Philosophy,” we speak to Rebecca Jamil, an immigration judge who resigned during the Trump administration. As a judge, she had a philosophy: “I believe what people are telling me unless I have a reason not to. I believe what people are telling me because they’ve given me a declaration and they’re testifying consistently.” In “Fighting for Immigrants’ Rights,” we speak to Adriana Lafaille, a managing attorney at the ACLU of Massachusetts, who takes inspiration from her clients and stresses the need for more lawyers to take on immigration work. “We continue to need people who are interested in this work and who are ready to roll up their sleeves and jump in,” she says.