Civil Practice Clinic Wins Asylum Case

July 24, 2013

When Clinical Professor Norm Aaronson was selecting cases for the Civil Practice Clinic at Colorado Law, he was uncertain if they could win asylum for their client, a young man born in Africa.*

“It did not appear to be a very strong case at first,” Aaronson said. “He was a young boy when he came to the United States, so there was no past persecution or political involvement.” 

However, the clinic took the case and with the help of two experts, uncovered evidence that significantly strengthened the case. 

“A professor of political science with expertise in African politics here at CU uncovered some information…of persecution or targeting against our client’s mother’s family,” Aaronson said. “He felt like our client would be a target if sent back.” 

The team further received a report that westerners—including natives who relocate to a western country—are often distrusted and viewed as outsiders. John Scarboro (’13), a student-attorney on the case, said the team became very concerned about the client’s safety and felt the gravity of the asylum claim.

“It definitely kicks up your game a level because there’s this person really depending on you,” Scarboro said. “It was one of the strongest and most thorough learning experiences that I had in law school.”

The yearlong Civil Practice Clinic is one of nine clinics currently offered at Colorado Law. Students work with clients in state civil court and federal administrative agency matters, taking a case during the fall semester and completing it in the spring. 

“One of the core goals of the Clinical Program is to have students experience law ‘in action,’” said Deborah Cantrell, associate professor and director of clinical programs. “By experiencing law and the legal system through actual cases and projects, we help students develop some key lawyerly competencies, including effective writing and speaking, to strategic planning, problem solving, and practical wisdom.” 

“My students are practicing in three areas of the law: family law, disability law, and immigration,” Aaronson said. “The idea is to give them a broader experience where they are really acting as attorneys.”

Scarboro said that although Aaronson would meet regularly with students to talk strategy and provide guidance, the student-attorneys were really the ones in charge of the case.

“There’s a lot of back-and-forth between the students and professors,” Scarboro said. “Everyone wants it to be done right, but the professor also wants the students to have as much control and valuable experience as possible.”

When discussing how clinic experience has impacted his legal education, Scarboro said that one of the most valuable aspects was the practical experience rarely found in substantive classes or even most internships.

“Getting up in court, dealing with clients and opposing counsel, writing the horrible accidental email, or misstating your position to opposing counsel—those are really valuable experiences,” Scarboro said. “And clinic gives you the opportunity to experience those aspects of being a lawyer under the watchful eye of a firm but compassionate instructor.”

“We want our students to graduate not only with technical competencies, but also with judgment and emotional intelligence,” Cantrell said.

*Names and locations redacted to maintain confidentiality.