This is the twentieth 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 Alyssa Isidoridy, former member of the IRAP chapter at NYU School of Law, and current Associate at Kaufman Lieb Lebowitz & Frick LLP.
The views expressed here are entirely her own.
How did you become involved with IRAP and how did IRAP impact your law school experience?
Coming into law school, I knew I wanted to work with displaced persons in some capacity. A close friend of mine from high school was an exchange student from Afghanistan who later gained asylum here. She shared so much with me about the many difficulties she faced on her path to safety, and introduced me to the reality that, beyond the emotional challenges of leaving home and family, persecuted individuals are frequently tasked with navigating an opaque and protracted legal process on their own. Just before law school, I worked as a grants writer for a non-profit organization that serves women and girls fleeing gender-based violence. At NYU, I joined IRAP as a way to continue working on behalf of displaced individuals, and to expand that work to include direct client relationships.
In addition to the many practical skills I gained, my involvement with IRAP helped to center me and focus my attention on life beyond the walls of the school. It’s easy to get lost in textbooks and outlines, particularly as a 1L. But by cultivating a direct relationship with my clients and the pro bono attorney on my case, my work with IRAP helped to ground me and remind me why I went to law school in the first place.
IRAP’s law school chapter members provide aid to our clients and support for our legal, litigation, and policy advocacy initiatives. Please describe your experience working on IRAP projects to secure and expand pathways to safety for displaced people.
As an IRAP student advocate, I assisted an Iraqi citizen and his family to secure visas through the Special Immigrant Visa program. This involved drafting briefs, facilitating transfers through several different consulates, preparing for the interview, and coordinating resettlement benefits. Every step of the way, my team and I encountered logistical challenges associated with representing clients remotely. As he and his family experienced lengthy resettlement delays caused by a backlogged system, the Trump administration began enacting new procedural barriers for displaced persons. We endeavored to stay in contact with our client to relay up-to-date information about those barriers and the extent to which they would affect him because there was a lot of fear and misinformation at that time. I’m happy to say that he and his family are here now.
What have you been doing since you graduated from law school?
Currently, I am an associate at Kaufman, Lieb, Lebowitz & Frick LLP, a litigation boutique in New York City with a focus on civil rights. Previously, I spent two years clerking: first, for a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the Southern District of New York, and second, for a U.S. District Judge in the Eastern District of New York. Prior to clerking, I completed a fellowship with the Refugee Protection team at Human Rights First, through which I conducted research along the U.S.-Mexico border on conditions for asylum seekers forced to wait at ports of entry under the Trump administration and represented a detained asylum-seeker in immigration court.
In what ways has your involvement with IRAP in law school impacted your career?
IRAP occupies such a unique space because it is one of the only organizations connecting refugees abroad with legal professionals in the U.S. to assist with the resettlement process. In some ways, working with my IRAP client was a crash course in client management: navigating different time zones, using translators, and working with a family who did not always have safe access to technology are some of the unique challenges involved in this kind of work. I learned how to set priorities for communication, stay on top of deadlines, and collaborate with practitioners, which are all skills I regularly use in my work today. I also learned that, in working with displaced clients–just as any other client who may come from a different background than my own–it’s important to meet the person “where they are.” My involvement with IRAP helped me to develop a client-centered practice grounded in adaptability, empathy, and understanding, which continues to serve me in my career.
At a time when refugees have been more politicized than ever, how do you engage with the issue on a personal level?
I try to stay in contact with people I know who fled persecution to come to the U.S. and help in whatever capacity I can, including by creating or contributing to individual fundraisers, assisting with green card applications, or reviewing résumés and job applications. While it’s important to stay on top of global developments affecting refugees and to cultivate an informed view about refugee rights as a political issue, I feel most engaged when I can offer direct assistance to those who are in the process of adjusting and rebuilding a life in safety.