Blog Entry 17

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

Sometimes one of the hardest lessons to learn is that our clients are not our friends and, rather, we are their lawyers and not their therapists or social workers.  Clients with lawyers who treat them with kid gloves lose.  This point was brought home to students in the Immigration Law Clinic this term.

Our client is a political activist who was jailed and tortured in his home country.  We had one day of testimony in Immigration Court and he held up fairly well to direct examination but the second hearing was reserved for cross-examination by the prosecutor.  The prosecutor assigned to this case is particularly aggressive and inquisitorial. 

In our practice session with the client for the cross-examination, students played the part of the prosecutor and laid into the client, questioning everything about his claim for asylum:  whether he was a political activist, whether he was arrested and how and what happened to him when he was arrested.  Our students treated him as if he was lying about everything; he was stunned and did not know how to react.  Eventually, he found the ability to stand up to tough questioning and he slowly improved.  On the day of the cross-examination, his answers were perfect because we had anticipated the exact questions the prosecutor asked.

Had we not treated our client in a mean and, frankly, offensive manner, there is little doubt that his asylum claim would have collapsed on cross-examination.  Sometimes we have to be cruel to be kind.  That is a hard lesson to teach law students who want their clients to like them and to like their clients.  Sometimes that happens but, if a lawyer is doing a good job, the client will understand. 

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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.