This is the third installment of our Alumni Spotlight series, which features interviews with former IRAP students who have become strong advocates and leaders in their fields of practice.
Meet Bonnie Doyle, Chair of the IRAP Chapter Alumni Association, and find out more about how IRAP made her love and appreciate pro bono work.
How did you become involved with IRAP and how did IRAP impact your law school experience?
I joined IRAP the first semester of my 1L year. At Yale, we weren’t allowed to join other clinics until second semester, but I was really eager to get my first taste of real, public interest legal work and I had always been interested in working with refugees so I jumped at the chance. My partner and I worked on a Request for Reconsideration (“RFR”) for an Iraqi living in Syria whose refugee application had been denied, based–we eventually determined–on a pure misunderstanding of what years he had been in primary and middle school. In working on the RFR, we became very close with our Arabic translator, who worked at Yale and whose office we visited many an early morning to make calls to Syria to get all the facts straight. We submitted the application in the spring of 1L year and the RFR was granted, but because of a prolonged security clearance process he wasn’t able to travel to the United States until the year after I graduated! Throughout that process we remained engaged, checking in with the family and making inquiries with the International Organization for Migration.
Working on this case had a major impact on how I chose my activities in law school and thought about my role as a law student, because it showed me in a very poignant way the real world impact that my work could have, even early on in my career. In a case based on a simple misunderstanding, it impressed me how much added value a lawyer could bring, just by setting out the facts of the case clearly and persuasively. This experience led me to seek out more opportunities to work with immigrants in a direct-services capacity.
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.
My partner and I had a fantastic time working with our pro bono lawyer, who had graduated from our law school a few years before and who was working at a big law firm in New York City. She invited us to come into the city to meet with her and discuss the case, and we struck up an excellent partnership. She gave us a lot of agency, but it was really nice to know that we had a backup. Working with her also gave me my first chance to see what it was like to work with the resources of a big firm, and I learned what an influence those resources can have on a case. I was very impressed with the attention to detail that she brought to this pro bono case, even while she was incredibly busy on other matters.
What have you been doing since you graduated from Yale Law School in 2012?
My first year out of law school, I clerked for a justice on the Vermont Supreme Court, and when that concluded I went to work in the New York office of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, a London law firm. As soon as I arrived there I sought out an opportunity to return to my work with IRAP, and that work became a huge part of what I did at the firm. I worked with a team of lawyers at Freshfields and at IRAP on a district court mandamus action to compel the government to process Special Immigrant Visa (“SIV”) applications for Iraqi translators whose cases had been greatly delayed beyond the 9-month time-frame set out in the law. We first brought a case on behalf of one individual, and then after the government processed his case, we withdrew it and brought a larger action on behalf of a group of Iraqis and–later–Afghans. I left Freshfields after two years there to begin a clerkship at the Second Circuit, but after I left the district court ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor on summary judgment, and all of the SIV applications have since been processed.
I have just finished my clerkship at the Second Circuit, and in a few months I will begin work in the Shanghai office of Ropes & Gray. While I don’t know the details of what my involvement will be, I very much hope to continue my work with IRAP, both through the Alumni Organization and as a supervising attorney–if my students won’t mind phone calls at weird times of day to accommodate the time difference!
In what ways has your involvement with IRAP in law school impacted your career?
The realization that I could make a huge difference in the outcome of a case even as a student has helped me to understand the great responsibility we all have as lawyers to do public interest work, whether in a strict public interest position or as pro bono counsel. From my IRAP experience, I gained a particular appreciation for pro bono lawyers, as I saw how crucial it can be to have the resources of a firm supporting a case, and this appreciation was only strengthened by being on the other side of the equation while at Freshfields. I am strongly committed to pro bono work, both as a requirement that I set for myself and as a cause that I hope to promote through my work with IRAP’s Alumni Organization.
The world is currently facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Why is IRAP’s work — mission and model — so important?
We all know that the need for legal assistance for refugees is enormous, and this incredible need underscores for me the importance of marshaling resources from private entities like law firms. The need for legal representation is far greater than could ever be met by pure public interest lawyers, particularly as there is no funding of the public defender type for refugee cases. The brilliance of IRAP’s model is the way it has found other ways to provide these services free of charge while providing guidance and an overall framework for the tasks it gives its students and pro bono lawyers. By pairing students–who often have the time and flexibility to gather the facts and to draft and edit early versions of documents–with experienced attorneys at firms who are eager to do their part, I think IRAP has hit on a really smart model that should not only be expanded but emulated by other organizations.
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