Heather Scavone prepares students for practice and serves the most vulnerable
Each semester, Heather Scavone, Assistant Professor of Law and Director of the Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic, oversees upper level law students who represent refugees, asylees, asylum seekers, parolees and victims of human trafficking with federal immigration benefits.
Under Scavone’s supervision, law students handle approximately 400 federal immigration cases per year. The clinic’s clients come from 47 countries to date, including Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Vietnam.
“The case selection and volume of annual cases make our program stand out from other similar programs nationwide,” says Scavone, noting that Elon’s focus on engaged learning and innovation has allowed her to structure a unique model for practical legal skills education in the clinic.
Scavone’s approach to clinical legal education focuses on teaching transferable lawyering skills that make students ready for any area of legal practice.
“One of the ways that the clinic promotes ‘practice ready’ students is by giving them the opportunity to manage a large and varied caseload,” Scavone says. “Instead of working on one case for the entire academic semester, students often represent multiple clients with different types of federal immigration cases. This way they’re not just learning skills for immigration legal practice—they are learning firsthand how to balance the different responsibilities of lawyering, which include research, writing, depositions and courtroom advocacy, as well as client service, adhering to firm protocols and meeting multiple deadlines.”
Equally important to Scavone’s teaching philosophy is the emphasis on client-centered practice and service learning.
“By representing some of the most vulnerable members of our community, students are able to see how their own advocacy efforts bring significant benefit to a traditionally underrepresented segment of society. This empowers both the student and the client, and prepares students for challenging but rewarding careers.”
“It’s an incredible privilege to work with and mentor students as they cultivate their legal practice skills,” says Scavone. “Working in the clinic is a transformative event for students since, in many cases, it’s the first time they’re able to put their skills into practice with a live client.”
Scavone is an expert on immigration legal issues affecting family reunification benefits for asylees and refugees. In addition to authoring a work-in-progress practice manual on this subject, she has presented on the matter at multiple national forums, including the American Immigration Lawyers Association 2012 National Conference on Immigration Law and the bi-annual Conference on Effective Representation of Refugees and Asylees at Creighton University School of Law.
During the past three years, Scavone has organized an annual immigration law seminar featuring legal experts from government and non-profit agencies as well as immigration law scholars. The seminar has been well attended by law students, members of the immigration bar and members of the broader immigration services community in the region.
“The clinic successfully dovetails the mutually beneficial goals of practical legal skills development and community service, simultaneously broadening the global perspectives of law students, increasing their post-graduation employment prospects and serving the community,” Scavone says, summing up the clinic’s value. “Working with law students in this capacity gives me enormous personal and professional gratification.”