This is the second installment of our new Alumni Spotlight series, which features interviews with former IRAP students who have become strong advocates and leaders in their fields of practice.
Meet Ali Alsarraf, founder of the IRAP chapter at the University of Southern California and a current attorney at Gibson Dunn, and find out more about the impact working with IRAP had on his career.
How did you become involved with IRAP and how did IRAP impact your law school experience?
I learned about IRAP from a friend at Stanford Law School, which was one of only eight schools at the time with an IRAP chapter. I was fascinated with IRAP’s work, so I contacted Becca Heller, IRAP’s Director, to inquire about starting a chapter at USC. I started the USC chapter with a few of my classmates after finishing my first semester of law school. We took on our first cases in the spring of 2011.
IRAP allowed me to re-engage with global issues about which I am passionate. Working with IRAP gave me a greater sense of purpose and focus in law school. It took the law from the realm of theory into reality.
IRAP has a unique model of partnering law students with pro bono lawyers — please describe your experience working with attorneys on urgent refugee resettlement cases.
The supervising attorney-law student partnership is an incredibly creative and effective model. It matches the availability of law students with the experience of pro bono attorneys and combines the passion of both. It also provides the students and attorneys with experiences that allow them to grow as lawyers.
Law students gain valuable skills in one of their first opportunities to practice law. They get to experience what it’s like to be a lawyer representing a client in a high stakes scenario. The pro bono attorneys also get to develop skills necessary to grow in their practice. Many of the pro bono attorneys are junior associates at large law firms. Through IRAP, these associates get their first opportunity to manage a case and a team.
On both sides, the law students and attorneys get to have an exceptionally rewarding experience, using their legal skills to positively impact the lives of refugees living in dire circumstances.
What have you been doing since you graduated from the University of Southern California in 2013?
I moved to New York after graduating and have been practicing at Gibson Dunn. I rotated through the Real Estate Department my first year before joining the Litigation Department. I’ve had the opportunity to work on complex civil litigation and criminal investigations, including going to trial in a federal civil RICO case.
In what ways has your involvement with IRAP in law school impacted your career?
I strongly believe my work with IRAP helped me get my current job at Gibson Dunn. Working with IRAP gave me a platform to interact with supervising attorneys and learn about the life of an associate at different law firms. That helped me decide on the law firms to which I would apply. I even encountered some of our chapter’s supervising attorneys during the law firm hiring process. They were able to vouch for my work ethic because they had seen it first-hand.
IRAP also expanded my network beyond my law school and law firm. During law school I met scores of other students at law schools around the country, many of whom I’ve stayed in touch with to this day. As we move through our careers, these lasting relationships enrich our lives and open doors to new opportunities.
I have also stayed connected with IRAP since graduating. I took on an IRAP case as a supervising attorney, helping an Iraqi national and his family with their applications for Special Immigrant Visas to the United States.
The world is currently facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Why is IRAP’s work — mission and model — so important?
IRAP’s work is critical to helping thousands of refugees facing a morass of legal hoops while fleeing from war and persecution. IRAP gives a voice to a particularly vulnerable but resilient population.
IRAP’s model of combining direct client representation with policy advocacy is central to its efficacy. IRAP knows the challenges facing refugees and its direct services give it the credibility to effectively advocate for policy changes based on its experience.
IRAP’s mission is vital to redeeming our nation’s values of freedom and pursuit of happiness for all. At a time when refugees are rebuffed at every turn as they flee from war or the prospect of persecution or death, IRAP steps up to advocate for them. When innocent refugees are rejected from resettlement programs by mistake or because of trivial technicalities, IRAP steps in to clear the way for their resettlement. IRAP fights against the misconceptions plaguing public sentiment about refugees and attempts to embody the words etched on the Statute of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
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