Nataly Masica, a second-year Miami Law student from Maryland, spent the summer working in the pro bono division of the firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington D.C., where she was lucky enough to take on four cases.
She was most affected by an asylum case involving a Sri Lankan national. Although there were cultural and language obstacles between Masica and her client, she successfully petitioned the Department of Homeland Security to allow the man's wife to join him in the United States and obtain permanent residency.
For Masica, 25, the lessons went far beyond her expectations. "Most importantly, I learned that law impacts the lives of real people," she said. "In law school, the closest I actually came to reality was my legal writing course where we wrote briefs and memos based on fictional issues. Outside of law school, I dealt with real people who had real problems and needed real solutions. And my time was not for a grade; it was for the quality of life of my clients. The actual practice of law is a responsibility. There is no room for error because your client can be held accountable for your mistakes."
Marni Lennon, Assistant Dean for Public Interest and Pro Bono at Miami Law, said Masica "had a unique opportunity to work with a team of lawyers on critically needed work, and fully embraced the pro-bono ethic we hope to cultivate in our students." Under Dean Lennon's guidance, the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center serves as the first stop for students with an interest in developing legal advocacy skills while serving others.
"I believe the time spent at Akin Gump has allowed me to start managing my career from the inside," Masica said. "I was not working for free this past summer. I was investing in myself, in the people I served, and in the industry I am now part of. I understand now that I knew very little about the actual practice of law after my first year of law school, and that there is a missing component to law school that only the actual practice can provide."