Removal defense can be daunting, especially for newer practitioners. The thought of holding a person's life and livelihood in your hands is scary. In essence, you and your client are the only people who have a vested interest in the outcome of the case. if the TA loses or wins, her life is not affected personally in any way nor is that of the judge. This makes the burden even heavier on the defense attorney.
Consider the following to help guide you through your first (or first several) removal cases:
1. Observe Master Calendar Hearings
Since Master Calendar Hearings (MCH) are open hearings, you can attend and observe. If you have a mentor or colleague who is going to an MCH, it is worthwhile to tag along because they can explain some of the ins and outs to you. It is a helpful way to learn the judge's inclinations and demeanor, in addition to seeing what other practitioners do well and not so well.
As an anecdote, there was a judge, now retired, in my jurisdiction that hated to be called "Your Honor" and did not want anyone to stand when he walked into the courtroom. If someone called him "Your Honor" or stood up, he would start screaming at the person who did so. One time he even yelled at an interpreter, "Sit down! We are not going to be jumping up and down in this courtroom like it is a dog and pony show!" I say this as a cautionary tale: at your first MCH you will be nervous enough, the last thing you want is the judge yelling about something that could be easily avoided.
2. Find a Mentor
It is extremely helpful to have someone to whom you can ask the "stupid questions" that you fear asking a listserv. Oftentimes the basics are the hardest, such as how to plea to the NTA, whether or not to designate a country of removal, in what circumstances you should reach out to the TA before court, etc. Our AMIGA community is a positive, uplifting place that is safe for you to ask questions, though that one-on-one in-person mentorship is priceless.
Our AMIGA Community is a great first place to seek guidance. We are a positive, safe resource for you to ask questions or look for advice. But there are times that a one-on-one mentorship is priceless. It is extremely helpful to have someone to whom you can ask the "stupid questions" that you fear asking a listserv. Oftentimes the basics are the hardest, such as how to plea to the NTA, whether or not to designate a country of removal, in what circumstances you should reach out to the TA before court, etc. Through AMIGA, we offer "Handling Your First Removal Case," one-on-one mentoring and coaching. Click here for more details.
3. Read the Court Practice Manual
Yes, it a bit of a boring read but it has excellent information and answers some of the basics. It provides templates on how to structure filings, what to submit and where to submit it, filing deadlines, and more.
The Court Practice Manual is updated regularly and it is worth it for even seasoned practitioners to take a glance through it every year or so.
If you are unable to find the answer in the Practice Manual, sometimes calling the Court Administrator can be helpful.
4. Learn the Lingo
In Court, you can say that your client is applying for "E-42B," which is the same as saying, "Cancellation of Removal" or "Cancellation of Removal for Non-Lawful Permanent Residents." Also, most practitioners apply not just for asylum, but also for Withholding of Removal ("Withholding"), and Convention Against Torture Relief (also referred to as "CAT" but pronounced like cat, the household animal). Almost everyone applies for Voluntary Departure, or VD, in the alternative. Judges throw around the acronyms as much as private practitioners do, and you will want to know what the judge means when she asks, "Is your client applying for CAT also?" or "Do you have an E-42B ready to submit to me today?"
5. Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help
All of us seasoned litigation veterans were once new practitioners. We understand what you are going through and most of us are happy to help.
Here at AMIGA, we were frustrated by the fact that though many organizations offer CLE's and other materials to help you learn about removal defense, there was no way to learn by someone actually walking you through step-by-step on how to prepare a case. For this reason, we have begun offering consulting to practitioners who are Removal Defense Beginners. We will walk you through all aspects of removal cases such as how to prepare questions for the ICH, what documents you need in order to apply for non-LPR COR (another acronym for Cancellation of Removal for Non-Permanent Residents), how to lodge an asylum application to start the clock for a work permit (and maybe you don't even know about the requirements on how to obtain a work permit with an asylum application-- hey, it's okay! We are here to help!). Click here for more information.
It can take years before you are completely comfortable in court, but as I heard an attorney say one time: "That law degree hanging on your wall means that you have to get tough and grow a backbone!" She was one tough cookie litigator but her message applies to all of us: we have the skills to do this. We all have to learn along the way and like fine wine, we get better and better with time.
About your Ally in Life, Business and Law:
Alexandra "Ally" Kennedy is a national award-winning attorney and the founder of AMIGA Lawyers and Alexandra Kennedy Immigration Law.. After becoming a mother, and in a matter of 3 months, Ally transformed her practice from earning in pesos to earning 6-figures and she is passionate about teaching attorneys how they can do the same. Ally empowers lawyers to be the CEOs of their law firms with her weekly blog, webinars, and conferences where she teaches step-by-step how to do the work they love while running a profitable legal business. Ally lives outside of Seattle with her partner and their 5 children.