The Experience of Representing a Client in an Asylum Case: A Student’s Perspective



I started working with E in the spring of 2016 as a full-time clinic student in the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. E was a new client for the clinic who was in removal proceedings and seeking asylum to stay in the United States. In her home country, E had witnessed a brutal murder committed by a powerful gang and a corrupt police officer. She was targeted and severely harmed because she was a witness to the crime. Despite having been victimized, she bravely attempted to pursue justice, even knowing she could never be safe again in her home country.

When we met, E was nervous to share her story, but as I worked with her over the spring quarter, she opened up about many things that happened to her that she had never told anyone before. Toward the end of the quarter I made a decision that I would continue to work on her case even after my full time clinic quarter ended. I enrolled in the clinic as an advanced student so that I could see her case through to the end. E was elated that she was able to continue to work with me and it was clear that she felt a closeness and a comfort with me as her attorney.

Working with E through the final hearing was an incredible learning experience I never imagined I would have as a law student. I handled every aspect of the case from the first meeting through the final hearing.

During the fall 2016 and winter 2017 quarters, I worked diligently and closely with E, meeting with her on a weekly basis. During the fall, I worked with E to finalize her declaration.  The declaration was the lynch pin of the case. It was her narrative and included a detailed depiction of the harm she suffered as well as all of the courage and strength that she possessed. As we reviewed parts of her story in more detail, we became even closer. We communicated every couple of days, often to simply check in on other things in her life. While our meetings were never light, we always found breaks to laugh about mistranslations or cultural differences, and the meetings ended with a hug and a heartfelt thank you from E that inspired me to continue my work each week.

In addition to meeting with E and drafting her declaration, I wrote a pre-hearing brief, interviewed multiple corroborative witnesses, and gathered evidence to support her case. The final evidentiary packet that I filed with the Court also included two expert witness statements and country conditions documentation, in total over 700 pages.

In the winter quarter leading up to the hearing, I focused on preparing E and another key fact witness for testimony. I wrote an opening statement and a closing statement. I even had the opportunity to negotiate with opposing counsel, who ultimately agreed to stipulate to certain key legal issues.

The day before the hearing, while I reviewed my closing statement and practiced my questions for direct and re-direct testimony, I was nervous, but confident that I was the best person to represent her. I had come to really know E and her story, and I knew the record better than anyone. Despite her very understandable nerves, E had faith in me. I’d been with her through it all and she was so grateful to have me be the one by her side and asking her questions at the hearing.


All the time and work I had dedicated was more than worth it when the Judge told E at the hearing that he was granting her asylum. I won’t forget that moment, when we looked at each other, holding back tears, and shared a mutual look of “we did it.” I felt so proud of her. I was relieved and overjoyed that she could stay safely in the United States and have a chance to finally start to move past the traumatic things that had happened in her home country.

Working with E and obtaining asylum for her was one of the most rewarding and inspiring experiences of my life, and I feel privileged to have represented her. As for E, I know that she feels that the most burdensome and heaviest weights in her life have been lifted off her shoulders. The day after the hearing she wrote to me asking for the pictures we had taken following our win. She explained: “I want the pictures so that I can look at them and remember the best day of my life in the United States.” The best day of her life was one of my proudest moments and it is something we will always share and that I will carry with me as I move into the full-time legal profession this fall.


Alice Hall-Partyka (JD ’17) participated as a student attorney in the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, seeing this case through several quarters to a heartfelt victory for her client.  For more on the student experience and the work of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, visit our web page and the Mills Legal Clinic Facebook page.