Immigration law clinic offered at Washington University law school
Starting this semester, Washington University’s law school now offers a clinic in immigration law for second and third-year law students. The clinic is structured to provide students with practical experience representing and counseling non-U.S. citizens in immigration law cases.
The clinic is the newest of 18 clinics offered to law students. Katie Meyer, law professor and clinic director, who previously worked at the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project (MICA) in St. Louis, will oversee the work of the 10 students enrolled in the clinic this semester.
According to Meyer, as immigration has become a major topic in American politics over the last decade, student organizations such as the Immigration Law Society alongside faculty such as Professor Emeritus Stephen Legomsky have been constantly advocating for such an immigration clinic. In response to these efforts, the University was able to fund the clinic this year by matching the contributions of a law school alumnus who expressed interest in the program.
Both students and faculty expressed gratitude for the alumni contributions that funded the new clinic.
“It really was a resource issue for a long time,” Associate Dean of Clinical Education Robert Kuehn said. “The interest in having a clinic has been there for a number of years, but I would say that it began in earnest about a year and a half ago when we finally felt like we had a person who was going to fund it, so we were able to put it all together.”
This semester, Meyer’s students will spend approximately 21 hours in the clinic every week to meet with clients, complete research and prepare arguments.
“It’s only been two weeks, but we are already hitting the ground running,” law student Martin Martinez said. “[Meyer] worked as the managing attorney at MICA and she brought a lot of cases with her.”
In addition to improving their knowledge of doctrinal immigration law, Meyer hopes that students will learn practical and transferable skills that will be applicable in any type of legal career.
“Students in the clinic are getting to learn: How do we interview and counsel clients? How do we craft good examination questions for when a client goes to trial? How do we prepare good written filings that will represent the client’s interests? How do we go before a judge and argue for a client effectively?” Meyer said. “Those are the sort of skills that the clinic really hopes to teach; skills that you can’t learn from reading in a book, you have to practice in order to learn those.”
The clinic is structured in a way that gives students independence to manage their cases themselves, while still being able to rely on the professor for guidance.
“In a clinic, there is always a law faculty as this sort of supervising lawyer, and then the law students work under them,” Kuehn said. “But the theory of the clinic as much as possible particularly as the semester goes on…is to have the student doing the work and meeting with clients, and the professor sort of guiding them along the way and making sure they don’t do something wrong.”
In addition to the impact that this clinic will have on enrolled students, it will also provide free legal counsel to non-U.S. citizens who would otherwise have no access to a lawyer.
“The dual idea of all clinics—and especially this clinic—is to educate new attorneys in these practices so they can go on and represent clients, but also to provide a much needed service to the immigrant community,” Meyer said.
Meyer and the rest of the law school faculty hope that the clinic will continue to serve the interest of both the law students and the greater St. Louis community in the future, citing the immense student interest in immigration law.
“Going back to when I was a student here at the Washington University School of Law and possibly before that, students have been asking for an immigration law clinic,” Meyer said. “The interest among law students in immigration law has always been high and I think has just increased over the last few years as immigration has become such a hot topic.”
The establishment of this clinic represents the culmination of years of work by Washington University faculty and students.
“When I came in, there was already a big push for having this clinic, but I am really grateful for everybody for making this happen. I realize that it was a long time coming,” Martinez said. “It feels like Wash. U. law history.”