Nixon Peabody’s website boasts impressive pro bono numbers. In 2015, 84% of attorneys firm-wide participated in pro bono projects. The firm logged 34,001 total pro bono hours in 2015 with participation from attorneys, paralegals, professional specialists and staff members.
But behind the numbers are the people. In recognition of Pro Bono Month, we spoke to two associates in Nixon Peabody’s Boston office who have devoted a considerable amount of their time and energy to the Political Asylum/Immigration Representation (PAIR) project in Boston.
The staff at PAIR match attorneys with immigrants who are seeking asylum or have been unjustly detained in Massachusetts. PAIR offers training and
mentorship, particularly to attorneys who may not regularly practice immigration law. That describes Hannah Bornstein and Troy Lieberman, who concentrate on white collar criminal defense and intellectual property litigation, respectively.
Some of their clients have survived horrors like abuse and torture, and are forced to leave family members behind when they flee their home country. Many do not speak English and do not have the funds to hire an attorney to help them navigate the complex process of applying for asylum.
“I have two little kids. Imagine having to leave overnight and go to a country where you don’t know anyone, you don’t speak the language, and the only reason you do it is because if you stay where you are, you’ll be killed,” Bornstein said. “You hear these stories, and everyone is in tears, and it’s really heartbreaking.”
Bornstein began volunteering with PAIR when she was in law school, and has stuck with it for the last 10 years. Her enthusiasm inspired Lieberman to get involved, and he said the work has been appealing and inspiring on many levels.
Attorneys who take part in Nixon Peabody’s various pro bono projects are not only improving the lives of their clients, they are sharpening their professional skills in practice areas that might differ significantly from their own. In these types of immigration and asylum cases, where clients have been through trauma, becoming extremely familiar with documents is important, Bornstein said. Sometimes building their case revolves around telling a story that moves from point A to point B coherently.
Lieberman echoed these comments, and also said working with PAIR clients helps him to gain perspective on his work.
“Clients come in so upbeat and optimistic in spite of everything, and it makes you realize how fortunate we are,” he said.
Volunteering with PAIR does not require expertise in a specific practice area. Bornstein and Lieberman both praised the staff at PAIR for their seemingly endless capacity to work through issues and make themselves available to help. But it does require patience and immense sensitivity.
“The level of trust it takes for these clients to confide in you and talk about these things they’ve been through is what really stays with me. It doesn’t happen in the first, second,
or even third meeting, usually. It takes a high level of trust and a lot of listening. There’s a huge human element to the process,” he said.
Bornstein said working with PAIR clients inspires her to be grateful, particularly for the freedoms Americans have that people in other parts of the world are denied.
“My clients show up with a smile on their face and they are happy and grateful for our help. It speaks to resiliency and how people can overcome a lot. I think it’s the clients that are the heroes of these stories,” she said.
The Political Asylum/Immigration Representation (PAIR) project is a grantee organization of the Boston Bar Foundation. To find out more about their work, please visit http://pairproject.org/.