As a third-year law student, Estefania Chavez has already dealt with complex legal issues and client concerns that would challenge an experienced attorney. In her affiliation with the College of Law’s Immigration Clinic and UT Pro Bono’s Alternative Spring Break, she regularly works with clients who are in need, representing them during some of the most difficult moments of their lives.
From victims of domestic violence to abandoned children, Chavez doesn’t shy away from legal issues that other attorneys might consider too emotionally draining. She volunteered her time at the Immigration Clinic as an interpreter before joining the group as a student attorney.
“I just really like helping people who were being persecuted in their home country and came here to find a better way of living,” says Chavez. “Especially with our U-Visa applicants, they are living in fear because of their status here.”
Chavez, a native of Honduras, has taken her expertise in immigration work into the pro bono area, serving as the organizer for the immigration portion of UT Law’s Alternative Spring Break co-project with law schools in Memphis and Mississippi.
Karla McKanders, associate professor at UT Law and director of the Immigration Clinic, says Chavez’s dedication to her clients’ welfare sets her apart from her peers. “During an immigration case that was before the Memphis Immigration Court, that was not even her own case, she spent numerous hours preparing the client to give testimony related to sexual abuse,” McKanders says. “Instead of getting tired of preparing the client, she spent countless hours reviewing materials, being there for the client when she needed to cry, and also traveling with the client to Memphis in order to support (her).”
[callout]Whether it is through her work in clinical programs or pro bono, Chavez finds that clients often seem to put their trust in her.[/callout]
“A lot of our clients are Spanish speakers, and that certainly helps because I understand them—not just their language, but also their culture,” she says. “It can be hard to get people to open up to you, but you have to look at them as a person and not just as a client. It’s very rewarding. Law school is not just this competitive environment. You can do something different. You can help someone.”
Photo by Dustin Brown