Pro Bono Practice Tips Series: How to Make the Best Use of Your Pro Bono Mentor

This is the first in a series of posts by our Pro Bono Coordinating Attorney Michael Lukens providing tips and pointers on how attorneys taking pro bono cases from CAIR Coalition can be more efficient and effective while servicing their clients.  In this edition, we discuss making the best use of your pro bono mentor.



When attorneys take on a pro bono case for a detained immigrant with CAIR Coalition, they have the chance to make a momentous difference in the life of their client.  Taking on the case of an unrepresented immigrant, however, can be daunting (or downright terrifying) for attorneys with little or no familiarity with immigration law and immigration courts.  This lack of familiarity should not deter attorneys from taking on the role of pro bono attorney.

At CAIR Coalition, we recognize that many of our volunteers are new to immigration work.  To that end, we have a mentoring system for pro bono attorneys that is robust and continues throughout the course of each case.  Our mentoring includes an initial meeting to discuss the scope and timeline of the case, provision of samples and resource materials, review of draft filings, and assistance with hearing and interview preparation.

To get the most out of your pro bono mentor, follow these simple guidelines throughout your case:


Don’t Go it Alone:  The CAIR Coalition staff are experts in immigration law and routinely practice in front of immigration judges and officers.  Make use of that expertise.  When you run into a complicated legal or practice issue, ask your mentor for guidance.  It is often much more efficient to seek guidance on how to resolve an issue rather than spinning your wheels.  If you get stuck, email your mentor.

Ask for Sources:  It is not easy starting research from scratch in a new area of the law.  You can shortcut initial research inefficiency by asking your mentor to point you in the direction of good legal and background sources.  This is especially important when digging into country conditions for fear-based cases.  There are a variety of great immigration and country condition resources available online.  Let us show you where.

Create a Calendar:  Many of our pro bono cases are fast-paced and have tight deadlines.  Your mentor can work with you to create a timeline for the full scope of the case so that you know exactly what pieces should be done at what pace.

Network and Observe:  CAIR Coalition mentors and directly represents hundreds of cases each year and works closely with many other immigration non-profits.  This means your mentor can often connect you with other pro bono teams that have handled similar cases for insight on what to expect as a pro bono attorney at an interview or hearing.  Even better, if your case has a court hearing component, we can usually direct you to upcoming hearings for other cases that you can observe.

Go Beyond the Law:  Taking on the case of an unrepresented immigrant means working with a client who is detained, separated from family, and possibly a survivor of severe trauma.  Creating a good working relationship with your client requires trust and respect of their circumstances and past.   Your mentor can talk you through how to build this trust, with tips on communication, rapport building, and displaying sensitivity.

Give Time for Review:  Your mentor is happy to review and comment on draft legal briefs and filings to ensure that you have crossed all the legal T’s and dotted the factual I’s.  To get the most out of the review, send your mentor the draft filings with plenty of time for review and subsequent edits.  Asking for review the day before a filing deadline is never a good idea.

Respect Your Mentor’s Time:  Remember that each CAIR Coalition staff member mentors many cases at any one time.  Be kind to your mentor – turn to provided samples and resource materials, along with basic research, before posing questions to your mentor.  It is often that case that the answer to your question can be easily found with limited effort.  We understand that it is tempting to ask your mentor for advice at each turn, but make every effort to respect your mentor’s time.  Doing so will make your mentor happy and your mentor-mentee relationship that much more fruitful.

Interested in taking a case? Check out available cases here