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Learning While Doing

The takeaway for David Kete ’14 is a lifelong lesson in how to think on his feet.

Photograph by Suzi Camarata

When Professor Hong asked me if I would want to participate in the Ninth Circuit Appeals Project (NCAP), I thought there was no possible way I could do it. I could not fathom how she could trust me, a third-year law student with absolutely no immigration law experience, to represent an undocumented immigrant on his appeal before the Ninth Circuit. Once I realized she was serious, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to brief and argue a case before a federal appellate court.

My client had worked as an informant for the US government before being removed to Mexico. In Mexico, he was attacked and seriously disabled by one of the individuals whom he had helped the government to catch. We argued that he should be granted asylum in the US, because he would be subjected to further torture if he was returned to Mexico.

One of the most exciting aspects of working on his case was getting to apply Supreme Court precedent from just last year to legal issues that are at the forefront of immigration law. This new case law involved the immigration consequences of our client’s criminal convictions. I participated in the prosecution clinic last fall, so these issues were especially interesting for me. These can be some of the hardest issues to deal with for both prosecutors and defense attorneys, so this opportunity to represent an applicant in an immigration case was the perfect way to round out my law school education.

While the project taught me many lessons, the most valuable of these was how to learn a new substantive area of the law while working on a client’s case. In practice, I know I won’t have the chance to take a course every time some new issue comes up. It was great for me to learn how to “learn while doing” at the beginning of my career. It’s a skill I will be able to apply to any type of practice I may encounter in the future.

David Kete, who participated in the pilot year of the Ninth Circuit Appeals Project, reflects on his experience arguing a complicated immigration case before a federal appeals court.