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- Written by Adiyah Ali
Douglas Doskocil is a partner in Goodwin Procter LLP's Litigation Department, where he concentrates on intellectual property litigation. Doug's clients are often major systems engineering and technology development corporations based both in the United States and abroad; he represents them in cases regarding patent infringement, trade secret, and software copyright issues. Doug also represents a very different type of clientele from abroad – children who migrated to the United States without a parent or legal guardian.
In his role as coordinator of Goodwin Procter's Unaccompanied Minors Pro Bono Program, Doug oversees the firm's work on KIND cases, which currently consist of child clients from Belize, El Salvador, Guinea, Honduras, and Mexico. Though the children – who range in age from 13 to 18 years old – hail from different countries in the world and experienced unique upbringings, they each came to the United States alone because they had been abused, abandoned, or neglected, or were fleeing from persecution in their home country.
Each of the cases that Doug oversees involves a vulnerable child who did not speak English before coming to the United States, was unfamiliar with the laws and customs of this country, and who made the dangerous journey with the hope of finding protection. One of these children is 16-year-old Walter*.
Walter has a traumatic history of abuse and neglect. His father died when he was a few months old; his mother died when he was eight years old. Upon his mother's death, Walter moved into the home of his maternal uncle, the uncle's wife, and their two daughters. Walter said that he had a positive and loving relationship with his uncle who treated him well and ensured that he attended school and had everything he needed.
This period of contentment was short lived, however, because his uncle died when Walter was 12 years old. Walter's aunt began to mistreat him. She no longer allowed him to attend school. She forced him to work long hours in a store, in which he had to sell alcohol. Some of the customers sexually abused Walter. Walter was not allowed to play outside or even to socialize with other children. His aunt also emotionally, verbally, and physically abused him. She often hit him with electrical cords and belts. She at times threw him out of the house, and he slept on the streets.
After several years of living in this abusive environment, Walter came to the United States seeking protection. KIND placed Walter's case with Goodwin Procter's Daniel White, an associate in the firm's Business Law Department. Doug oversaw the case but gave much credit to Dan for developing the case strategy and successfully petitioning the courts for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) for Walter. Walter recently received legal permanent residency. Now, a year and a half later, not only is he able to communicate well in English, he will attend college this fall. By excelling in school, Walter is demonstrating that he truly appreciates having the opportunity to legally remain in the United States. He is making positive strides to enrich the community in which he now calls home.
*Name changed to protect child's identity
Q&A with Goodwin Procter's Doug Doskocil
KIND: What is it about KIND cases that you, and other attorneys at your firm, find compelling?
Doug Doskocil: Like me, many attorneys at Goodwin have diverse focus areas in which they specialize in a particular part of law and work on those cases on a daily basis. Working on a KIND case provides us with a unique experience. Not only is it different from our fee-for-service work, but it is also very rewarding because we are helping children. The mere fact that the client is a child without parents in the United States is enough to warrant our help. Working on KIND cases also gives younger attorneys an opportunity to take the lead on a case early in their career, to argue merits before a judge, and ultimately to make a real difference in someone's life.
KIND: What are some challenges faced by attorneys representing child clients?
DD: In general, the children initially are not very forthcoming. They are sometimes even under the perception that our attorneys are immigration officers, so a big part of our job is dispelling any myths and building trust with the children. Gaining their trust comes with time. Once they understand that our attorneys are looking out for their best legal interests, they feel comfortable to tell us more in-depth information. Getting their whole story is critical for us to ascertain the forms of relief for which they may be eligible. Another challenge in SIJS cases relates to issues concerning their parents. Sometimes a child is reluctant to say, for example, that his/her parents abused, abandoned or neglected them. A child sometimes believes that saying, for example, that his parents neglected him means that they were bad people. Our attorneys must make the child understand the SIJS process and the outcomes. Also, determining a parent's whereabouts can be a challenge. In one case, we had to use a newspaper article from a child's home country which contained information about his parent's death as proof of the parent being deceased.
KIND: Why did Goodwin Procter begin an Unaccompanied Minors Pro Bono Program?
DD: We had a long history of doing work in the area of asylum law, so when we were approached to help unaccompanied minors in the area of immigration law, it seemed like a logical extension of our current knowledge base. As it turned out, we advertised the opportunity internally, and we received a number of partners and associates who volunteered to work in this area. We like to form informal practice groups in areas where we have a critical number of pro bono clients, and this was a great opportunity to grow a practice area where our lawyers could work together and share knowledge as we expanded our expertise. So, since these types of cases often have similar challenges and arguments that can be posed and other commonalities, we developed the Unaccompanied Minors Pro Bono Program in order to provide the space for attorneys to share information and support one another. This ultimately led to more efficiency.
KIND: How do attorneys at your firm learn about the Unaccompanied Minors Pro Bono Program?
DD: A portion of our welcome program for each incoming class is devoted to informing attorneys about opportunities to get involved in pro bono work. Carolyn Rosenthal, Goodwin's Pro Bono Manager, routes requests to the liaisons of the different pro bono practice areas. Our attorneys will express interest in representing unaccompanied minors in deportation proceedings, and when we receive case requests from organizations such as KIND, Carolyn and I work together to align the request with a volunteer, and recruit a partner supervisor from the established group. Goodwin is a formidable advocate and supporter of pro bono work. Last year our attorneys dedicated over 45,000 hours to various pro bono matters.
KIND: What are you most proud of?
DD: I spend a lot of time with children. I'm a parent. I manage several youth baseball teams. I run a local Boy Scout troop, and have taught Sunday School. However, working on KIND cases lends a new perspective to helping children. These children have been through so much and often only want the opportunity to succeed. Anything that I can do to help with their citizenship integration, character development, or anything that will help them access opportunity is well worth it. I am very proud to be doing something that can improve the trajectory of a child's life for the common good.