Immigrants’ Rights Clinic Student Team Reflects on Preparation and Teamwork for Court Hearing

Individuals Facing Deportation 13
Hannah Fleischman, ’25 and Ana Cutts Dougherty, ’24

Hannah Fleischman, ’25:

As intense as the month leading up to the hearing had been, especially in getting our pre- hearing evidentiary filing out, the day before the hearing was surprisingly calm. I think part of this was because our last preparation session went really well. My clinic partner, Ana, had truly mastered the direct examination preparation, moving through questions sensitively yet effectively and was always prepared to follow up or pivot as needed. All of our client’s answers were incredibly powerful, genuine, and honest. L, our client, told us she felt ready for the hearing and that the preparation sessions were helpful and not as stressful as she expected. We left on a really good note which I think made me feel more relaxed and prepared going into the hearing. But I also think these last preparation sessions brought to light a lot of our client’s concerns about her testimony, especially as it related to her prior criminal conviction. As L shared this with us and allowed herself to be truly vulnerable in answering questions about her conviction, I really felt the strength of our relationship and how far she has come and we have come as a team. Though I felt really nervous in the days leading up to the hearing, L’s courage and her telling us she felt ready made me go into the hearing feeling confident. I’ve worked with a lot of clients in the past and I’ve never had the relationship I feel like we developed with L, one of such care, respect and trust in one another. I feel like L has become a huge part of my life and everything she has taught me will forever shape my path as an advocate.

I am so glad that our client won her deportation case. I think it took a while for it to really sink in and maybe hasn’t even fully sunk in yet. It was a profound experience to hear what L was strong enough to share in court, knowing all that she has been through from her incarceration to her criminal court experience.

Hannah Fleischman, ’25 and Ana Cutts Dougherty, ’24, with their supervisor Lisa Weissman Ward, Associate Director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic.

Ultimately, I have been reflecting a lot on how everything that happened at this hearing was not only a testament to all the work that previous student groups, and the whole IRC team has put in, but also truly a testament to how hard L has worked and how much she has grown as an advocate for herself. It was truly such an honor to build on the work of the IRC team, to grow as an advocate myself alongside our client, and to be there for this important moment where she was finally recognized for all she has done and will continue to do to help herself and so many others.

Ana Cutts Dougherty, ‘24:

Since our client’s hearing, I have been reflecting on the value of thorough preparation and teamwork. On the day of the hearing, I felt quite calm and confident, and this was only because we had spent so much time, thought and effort preparing as a team. The level of intentionality and the amount of time that we put into all of the preparations for the hearing was something that I have rarely – if ever – had the chance to experience in my professional (or academic) work so far. It may be an obvious or simple lesson, but I hope to carry it with me going forward.

I am so grateful to have worked together with my clinic partner, Hannah, in this practice. It has been such a great learning experience to be able to bounce ideas off of each other, and divide up our daily tasks. I also feel that creating such a strong and trusting relationship with our client was a true team effort, as we each supported each other through our many meetings with L, and we were on the same page from the beginning about trying to use a client-centered approach. In particular, Hannah helped make sure that we’ve been on top of everything in a timely and efficient way, while always keeping in mind L’s priorities and preferences.

It felt so good going into the hearing knowing that Hannah was prepared for absolutely anything that might come her way in the preliminaries. During direct and cross, Hannah and I passed notes to each other to make sure we were on the same page and to make sure that L’s story was coming across in the best possible way. I really appreciated this teamwork, as well as knowing that we could lean on our clinic supervisor, Lisa, for anything as well. The fact that direct examination went very well also felt like a wonderful team effort. Our client was a star witness, making it incredibly easy to ask her the questions we had prepared, and all of the practice and workshopping of the questions that we’d done before the hearing really helped to refine them and clarify our shared goals.  I’m proud of the fact that we did everything in our power to put the best possible case forward for L. In particular, I’m very happy that we were so prepared!

At the beginning of the quarter, I felt uneasy about whether, as a young and relatively inexperienced professional, I have anything to offer to our client or anything to justify her placing her trust in me. I reflected on the fact that in order to be trustworthy and to strengthen one’s knowledge and skills, one has to cultivate some genuine confidence in them. I also wondered whether lawyers have some sort of ethical obligation to be genuinely convinced of their abilities and usefulness before representing clients. Fortunately, by the time of the hearing, I didn’t have any qualms about my competence or trustworthiness as L’s advocate. On the contrary, I felt fully equipped to play my part in representing her. This is not because of some stroke of brilliance. It is because of the thorough preparation and constant teamwork that I described above. So maybe being a good lawyer is not about being convinced of your abilities and usefulness, but rather knowing how to lean on and learn from others, including your clients. Maybe the ethical obligation is not so much to be confident as to be humble and open. That humility means knowing that even bright people ought to prepare and practice, and that the best work is never dependent upon any one person’s brilliance but rather on the ability to draw on everyone’s unique strengths within a team. I’m so grateful to come away from this experience holding onto this lesson.

L’s hearing went as well as we could have hoped for. I am beyond thrilled for L and her family that they can stay together and move past the anxiety and uncertainty that has been hanging over them for so long. I am so grateful to Hannah for being such an amazing partner through this entire process – I feel very lucky to have worked with her! I’m also very grateful to Lisa for her constant guidance and support, and to the whole IRC for creating a wonderful sense of community around the work we’ve been doing, for helping us with so many aspects of the case along the way, and celebrating our client’s win. And of course, I’m deeply grateful to our client for the trust she placed in us, for her willingness to share her story and life with us, and for inspiring me and all of us in countless ways.