Julio Colby ’24 and Sara Kamouni ’24 have been selected as recipients of the Skadden Fellowship. The two-year fellowship, launched by the Skadden Foundation in 1988, supports newly graduated lawyers to pursue public interest law on a full-time basis with a mission to improve legal services for the poor and encourage economic independence.  

Colby and Kamouni have been avid participants in the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRCP) clinics as students, doing critical client-centered legal work which inspired each of their fellowship projects, at the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition and The Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts, respectively. We caught up with the fellows to learn more about their fellowship projects and how their clinical experiences have influenced their career plans.   

Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs (OCP): What drew you to apply for the Skadden Fellowship?  

Julio Colby: After my summer and clinical experiences, I knew that I wanted to be at a workers’ center–type organization where I could work directly with immigrant worker communities in the South. There are only a handful of these kinds of organizations in the country, fewer still that have sufficient resources to employ a lawyer, and almost none that could hire a junior attorney. Fellowships seemed to be the surest path to allow me to do the kind of work I was interested in doing, so I decided to apply. I had the privilege of being taught by amazing former Skadden Fellows like Professors Ben Sachs and JJ Rosenbaum, as well as working with other former Fellows (including HLS alumni), so I was familiar with the foundation and knew it funded fantastic community-centered work. 

Sara Kamouni: I worked in immigration direct services before law school, and I knew I wanted to continue doing that work once I’d graduated. The Skadden Fellowship felt like a great fit for me and my host organization because it allowed us to work together to design a project that’s responsive to our clients’ current needs, while giving us the flexibility to adapt the project should things change during the fellowship. In immigration, the work can change at a moments’ notice, whether that’s because of a local policy decision about something like shelter availability, or a conflict overseas forcing people to flee. So, I appreciated knowing that whatever the immigration landscape looks like during the fellowship, we’ll have the freedom to adjust the project as needed. 

OCP: Can you describe the project you’ll be working on during your fellowship? What inspired you to pursue this work? 

Colby: I will be working at the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), an immigrant- and refugee-led community organization in Nashville, Tennessee. My fellowship project will focus on direct representation, systemic advocacy, and community outreach and education to low-wage immigrant workers in Tennessee, initially focusing on meat processing workers in East Tennessee. Specifically, I will be leveraging Deferred Action for Labor Enforcement to secure immigration relief for workers and engage in administrative advocacy to pressure state labor agencies to enforce and improve workplace protections. 

I was inspired to purse community-based systemic advocacy for immigrant workers after my 1L summer experience at Southern Migrant Legal Services (SMLS), a farmworker legal aid in Nashville. Conducting outreach to communities of Latin American farmworkers across rural Tennessee, I witnessed the awful conditions of worker housing, rampant wage theft and health and safety violations, and the persistent threat of immigration-related retaliation that kept workers from speaking up. While SMLS does incredible work to represent these clients, I wanted to pursue a systemic advocacy approach to these systemic issues facing immigrant workers. In TIRRC, I found an organization with deep roots in the community that wanted to engage in systemic advocacy, and I worked with my supervisor to design a project that was responsive to the pressing needs of immigrant workers in Tennessee. 

Kamouni: In Massachusetts’s south coastal counties, the demand from immigration lawyers far outpaces the supply, so there’s a real need to be strategic about distributing legal resources among the region’s immigrant communities. The Justice Center is already a go-to source for immigration legal knowledge in the region, and our project will increase access to that expertise by launching the region’s first centralized, digital immigration legal resource hub. The goal is to place reliable, trustworthy and accessible self-help information into people’s hands, and we’re also planning to incorporate these resources into community programming, so community members can be supported in meeting their legal needs through a combination of self-help and limited attorney assistance. 

Any time we go to immigration court to file something or participate in the clinic’s immigration courtwatch program, my clinical classmates and I see how a lack of basic, accessible information about what’s going on feeds confusion and disempowerment and denies people their rights and their dignity in the process. At the same time, across my experiences in immigration advocacy, I’ve seen how motivated people are to engage in self-help—and how effective that can be when people have accurate and trustworthy information. So, I wanted my fellowship project to work towards democratizing legal knowledge. 

OCP: Julio, please tell us about your clinical experiences with the Crimmigration Clinic and the Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Clinic; why were you interested in joining these clinics at HLS? Are there any projects you worked on in these clinics that stick out as particularly significant in shaping how you think about public service legal work? 

Colby: As a child of Latin American immigrants, I have always been interested in working with immigrant communities. Working on asylum cases at a previous internship at RAICES Texas is what drew me to public interest law in the first place, and I wanted to build on that experience through clinical work. My first big case at HIRC had a particular impact on me. Alongside an incredible clinical team, I helped a client prepare for her asylum hearing. Her case had been pending in the system for eight years, during which she had no idea whether she would be sent back to a country where she faced serious physical harm or death, or if she would be able to safely remain in the US. As her hearing date got closer, the life-or-death consequences of the Immigration Judge’s ultimate decision really set in, and it imbued the work with a different gravity. I’ll never forget our client’s immense joy and relief when the judge granted her asylum, and how everyone in the room felt it with her. That experience underscored how high the stakes are for immigrant clients, and why it’s so important that they have devoted, invested advocates on their side to represent them. 

OCP: How did your clinical experiences help shape your fellowship project?  

Colby: My first semester at HIRC, I participated in an all-day legal clinic in New Bedford helping workers apply for deferred action under the Biden Administration’s then-brand-new deferred action program. HIRC was on the cutting edge, mobilizing this clinic within a month of the administration’s announcement of the policy. Seeing how effectively this tool could address the systemic immigration retaliation concerns of immigrant workers made me interested in leveraging it in my fellowship project, and my supervisor was excited about the possibility of doing so. That was only possible because of HIRC’s extensive involvement in the community and novel areas of law. 

More broadly, working directly with clients affirmed that the work I wanted to after graduation had to be client focused. The opportunities I had to work with clients in asylum and T-visa cases were fulfilling in a way that no other aspect of law school has been, and I designed a project that would put immigrant worker communities front and center. 

OCP: Sara, As a member of Harvard Defenders since your 1L year, can you tell us about the importance of your SPO experience at HLS? How did your work in Defenders help shape your HLS experience? 

Kamouni: Defenders has been one of my most challenging experiences at HLS—in a good way! In immigration cases, hearing preparation lasts several weeks, but in Defenders, we only have a few days to build trust with clients during an extremely traumatic moment in their lives. So, you’re plunged into the deep end, but Defenders has an incredible community, and everyone is always ready to jump in and help. One of the most rewarding aspects of my Defenders experience has been paying that forward by serving as an “experienced” second seat, which is acting as a mentor to newer Defenders working on their first case. 

OCP: Tell us about your clinical experiences with the Crimmigration Clinic and the Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Clinic; why were you interested in joining these clinics at HLS? Are there any projects you worked on in these clinics that stick out as particularly significant in shaping how you think about public service legal work? 

Kamouni: To be honest, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRCP) was the whole reason I decided to come to HLS! During my master’s studies in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies, I had engaged with a lot of HIRCP scholarship that mapped directly onto my own interests, such as Professor Ardalan’s work on border externalization in the US and EU contexts, and and Professor Anker’s studies on gender-based particular social groups and access to justice in immigration court. At the same time, having worked in immigration detention advocacy, I knew I’d need to understand the intersections of criminal and immigration law to be an effective advocate, and Professor Torrey is without a doubt the best person to learn that from! 

I’ve been lucky to work on cases at all kinds of procedural postures, but what threads all of them together are the moments of genuine human connection with clients. Here’s one example—back in 2L, an asylum client needed to get their fingerprints taken, so we jumped in my car to USCIS. On the drive back, the client said she needed to run a quick errand, which turned out to be stopping at the pet store to buy some live crickets for her daughter’s pet lizard. My clinical partner and I were like, since when do you have a lizard?! It probably sounds ridiculous, but those moments totally shape how I think about my work—my job is to help facilitate my clients living their best lives, and sure, that might be by working on a legal matter, but it’s also stopping to buy lizard snacks. Luckily, none of the crickets escaped in my car. 

OCP: What advice would you give to students considering a career in public interest after graduation? 

Colby: If you think you want to do public interest work after graduating, do as much public interest work as you can before graduating! Every semester and summer in law school is an information gathering opportunity, so make the most of each one and try out different environments or kinds of work that interest you. If you are able, consider doing public interest work both summers — I needed both summers to learn what kind of work I did and didn’t want to do. And sign up for clinics! My clinical experiences were invaluable in helping me understand the work I want to do after graduating, they communicated to fellowship funders that I was interested in that work, and they have provided me with the skills to do it. 

Kamouni: Do a clinic! Not only will you get a taste of the work, but the community and relationships you’ll build will allow you to have the candid conversations you need to have to figure out your path. I came into law school knowing more or less what I wanted to do after graduation, but I still learned so much about different positions and career paths from talking to my peers and clinical professors. Also, even if you have a strong sense of your interests, don’t be afraid to try something new for an internship or a clinical project—there are so many ways to do public interest, it’s just as important to know what isn’t the best fit for you. 

Filed in: Clinical Spotlight

Tags: Class of 2024, Crimmigration Clinic, Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

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