Jacob Tingen (L '12) started volunteering the with Pro Bono Immigration Assistance Project at the University of Richmond School of Law as a law student, representing clients and serving as an interpreter alongside local attorneys.
Two years later, after graduating and starting his own legal practice, he directs the entire program.
The Pro Bono Immigration Assistance Project involves a partnership between Richmond law students, private attorneys and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said Tara Casey, director of the Carrico Center for Pro Bono Service. The Hispanic Chamber hosts intake session twice a month for people seeking legal assistance and Richmond students attend those sessions to work as interpreters and assist local attorneys.
Casey recruits students to participate in the program and after they apply, Tingen interviews and selects students to participate.
Emma Hilbert (L' 15) is one of the students working with Tingen this year. Hilbert began volunteering with the pro bono immigration program during the Fall of 2013 and continued into her 3L year.
"I decided to get involved with the Immigration Assistance Program because it really seemed to touch on why I chose to apply to law school," Hilbert said. "I wanted to help those who ordinarily wouldn't be able to afford representation gain access to the justice system."
Hilbert is currently working on an asylum case, which would allow her client to remain in the United States to avoid persecution in her home country.
Hilbert's client faced threats in her home country after her boyfriend, who tried to leave a gang, was murdered. The gang then threatened to kill the client and her daughter, so she fled to the United States to seek safety.
"The key to an asylum case is linking membership in a particular social group with a credible fear of violence or persecution," Hilbert said. "Our biggest issue with this case is identifying a social group to which the client belongs that makes her fear of gang violence reasonable."
In January, Hilbert will represent her client in front of the immigration court in Arlington, Va. She said Richmond law gave her the confidence and skills she needed to turn her interest in immigration issues into action.
"Before coming to law school, I may have been just as interested in immigration issues as I am today, but I really had little practical ability and certainly no legal ability to actually help anyone facing an immigration judge," Hilbert said. "The program and the professors really help you gain the competence —  and more importantly the confidence — to put your best foot forward, stand up and hopefully make a positive difference in someone's life."
As for Tingen, he credits his work with the pro bono program for allowing him to grow his private law practice and gain respect in the legal community.
"I wouldn't have a firm if I had not been willing to take over the program," Tingen said. "The judges in immigration court know me by name now; they know me for doing pro bono. People know that I care. The good will that you gain from doing legal work for free is incredible."