Blog Entry 16

Posted by David Koelsch
David Koelsch
David C. Koelsch is an Associate Professor and Director of the Immigration Law C
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on Thursday, 20 October 2011
in Faculty Blogs

The summer term (as it always does) flew by this year.  The students in the Immigration Law Clinic were hard at work on a number of interesting cases and the new term promises to be a great experience for our students – and hopefully for our clients.

The past term had a couple highlights in my mind, not strictly in terms of wins on behalf of our clients but how students learned to grow as lawyers and people.  Each term, I experiment with my students and try our new exercises designed to get them to reflect about their work and their clients’ lives and how they want to practice law.  This past term I tried a new exercise.  The exercise was for students to write a description from the perspective of one of their client’s experiences and to forget for a moment that they are attorneys and just put themselves in the physical space their client inhabits.  For some students deeply-wedded to legal analysis and writing, it was a struggle to remember how to imagine again and how to express non-linear thought.  But the results were interesting. 

One student wrote about how much it hurt one of our clients to miss his father’s funeral (our client’s father died and, due to his fear of persecution in his home country, he could not attend the funeral) and to deal with unresolved issues in his relationship with his father and the blame he felt for his father’s death.   Another student wrote about using her body to protect her children as her husband tried to kick and punch them and how each blow felt and her iron-willed resolve to prevent any harm from coming to her children, even if it meant she suffered or even died. 

A third student wrote about how his client was humiliated while testifying before the Immigration Court when the lawyer for the government questioned his credibility and whether he had actually been tortured, despite clearly visible physical scars as well as affidavits from a physician and therapist regarding the physical and psychological toll of the torture; the student wrote that he felt twice-victimized – once when he was tortured and again when he had to relive the torture and not be believed.  The student felt dark feelings of shame and lack of self-worth and just abject debasement.

This exercise prompted students to get out of their black-and-white world of legal analysis and client strategy and zealous representation of their clients and, instead, reflect on their clients’ personal experiences and fears and hopes.  The intention of the exercise was to get students to see their clients as people and not as cases or files and then to think about how they will deal with the clients to minimize their stress and respect their aspirations.  Much has been in the media lately about the demeanor and attitude of physicians.  Attorneys (shocking, I know) also have a public perception problem and are often regarded as imperious, arrogant, cold, and unfeeling – and those are just the kind things that are often said about attorneys!  UDM Law tries, in small and big ways, to produce attorneys who will not be regarded that way by their clients.

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About the author

David Koelsch

David C. Koelsch is an Associate Professor and Director of the Immigration Law Clinic and the Asylum Law Clinic at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. The Immigration Law Clinic represents immigrants on a variety of legal issues, including abandoned immigrant children and abused immigrant women. Professor Koelsch also teaches U.S. Immigration Law and a comparative U.S.-Canada Immigration Law course as well as a Seminar on Spirituality and the Law. Koelsch was named the 2009 Outstanding Immigration Law Professor by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.