Aug. 07, 2023 — A pro bono team at the Houston office of Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP comprised of four University of Houston Law Center alumni recently secured asylum for a Nigerian mother and her four non-citizen children. The mother endured numerous attacks from her mother-in-law and village for over a decade for refusing to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), which is performed in her home country of Nigeria, before she eventually fled to the United States.
“Our client set an example for the other women in the village that you do not have to put up with this. You can stand up to them,” said Michael Gray ‘05, senior counsel at Shook and advisor to the firm’s pro bono program in Houston. “The most rewarding part of the case, for me, is being able to help a family break free from the cycle of FGM and create a better life for themselves.”
The family applied for asylum after coming to the United States on tourist visas, setting in motion a nearly seven-year-long process. The Shook pro bono team is working next toward securing asylum for the father. In addition to this effort, the team is also focused on obtaining official travel documents for the family.
“It has been over six years since the children have seen their father,” said Anita Liu ‘20, an associate at Shook who acted as lead counsel on the case.
Gray brought in the pro bono case two years ago through a partnership with Tahirih Justice Center, a nonprofit that serves immigrant survivors fleeing gender-based violence. This asylum case was the firm’s first in Houston with the national nonprofit.
Two additional UH Law Center alumni and Shook associates, Lakshmi Achari ‘21 and Andrew Long ’21, joined Gray and Liu on the pro bono team. Achari and Long served as contributors to the team, providing expert witness preparation on psychological impacts and country conditions, respectively.
The alumni reflected on how their legal education at UH Law Center provided a foundation for trial work.
Liu credited an experiential externship during her time at UH Law Center for helping her prepare for the immigration case.
“When I was in law school, I did an externship with an organization that helped refugees obtain travel documents, employment authorization documents, and permanent resident cards,” said Liu. “That experience laid a groundwork so that I was familiar with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and its procedural processes.”
Gray drew upon the knowledge gained from UH Law Center classes in federal pretrial procedure and evidence.
“The procedure class teaches you how to build a case,” said Gray, adding that he uses the federal rules as a guideline because “in immigration law there are no official rules of evidence.”
Gray and Liu encourage students to participate in pro bono work.
“My advice to younger lawyers is to seek out pro bono opportunities. You can help someone, and the experience will make you a better lawyer,” Gray said.
“Being able to adapt very quickly is an important skill that young lawyers and law students should start honing,” Liu added. “Be open to those pro bono opportunities.”
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