January 2014 Bar Bulletin
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January 2014 Bar Bulletin

Doing Good, Feeling Good

By Qingqing Miao


I recently had a conversation with a law student about career plans in this still-challenging job market. "How about doing volunteer or pro bono work to get started?" I suggested. "No, no, I made it all the way to law school and I need to be paid," the student responded. I was, for a moment, speechless.

As I thought about it more, I decided that I understood exactly how the student felt. We each sacrificed to get our law degree and we are rightfully entitled to rewards for the self discipline and hard work. Also, I believe that doing good is a should and not a must - it is a personal choice for each of us.

But I do hope that more of us, lawyers and students alike, will eventually realize that doing good is a rewarding experience itself and that it serves a dual purpose. It helps us be better lawyers and better people.

I have been involved in various pro bono activities since the beginning of my attorney career. Although there were moments when I was not sure whether doing pro bono was actually worth my time and efforts, those activities have been immensely valuable. Practically, I have had the great opportunity to learn from fellow pro bono lawyers, increasing my legal know-how. At the same time, pro bono work helps me feel good and worthy. I am constantly thankful for the inspiration that I glean from my volunteer legal work.

In October, I volunteered as an attorney at a free, one-day legal clinic open to permanent residents who would like to become U.S. citizens. I have to confess that I struggled with whether I was willing to give up half of my weekend for this cause, but every minute was worth it. I have already decided that I will participate again this year and the years to come.

We assisted clients with their naturalization applications. We drafted or reviewed their naturalization forms and gave them advice. It was an eye-opening experience for me. I was able to serve clients from countries and regions that my private practice generally does not give me much opportunity to meet. I was amazed to be shown a permanent-resident card that was issued more than 30 years ago; it has no expiration date.

I also learned strategies and practice tips from other experienced immigration attorneys, such as what to do with paid-off traffic tickets when filling out an N-400; what the consequences are of certain criminal charges in naturalization proceedings; how to best handle complex travel records; or how to deal with applicants who were unable to comply with certain oath requirements for legitimate reasons.

I handled cases with unfamiliar fact patterns and resolved questions I had not encountered previously. I definitely felt a lot more confident with naturalization cases when I completed my session. This clinic is probably one of the best opportunities for any immigration lawyer to polish his or her skills in naturalization.

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