Pro Bono Profile: Fish & Richardson Associate Irene Hwang – Learning a New Area of Law Expands Your Network and Skill Set

In November 2023, Fish & Richardson Associate Irene Hwang secured asylum for a mother and son from Guatemala, the culmination of a ten-year effort spearheaded by Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic at Greater Boston Legal Services (HIRC at GBLS). 

Hwang first worked with HIRC at GBLS as a student at Harvard Law School. Since joining Fish, Hwang has continued to partner on asylum cases with HIRC at GBLS and has contributed to Fish’s ongoing support of GBLS.  

Reflecting on the case, Hwang discussed how learning a new area of the law is challenging yet rewarding. 

Q: What type of pro bono cases do you handle and why? 

A: I mostly handle immigration and asylum cases. I have always been drawn to immigration work because I also immigrated to the United States, so I understand how hard it can be to navigate a new country. I also enjoy working with the Spanish-speaking community because I learned Spanish while on an educational mission in Mexico, which has greatly benefited my immigration practice.   

Q: Why did you get involved in pro bono work? 

A: I wanted to give back by doing pro bono work and I wanted to do so in an area I found challenging. Asylum is interesting work for me because the clients need someone to tell their story in a way that fits the legal framework. I enjoy serving in that role because while it’s their story to tell, my duty is to help communicate it responsibly and effectively. And because I had such a great experience as a clinical student at HIRC at GBLS, I wanted to continue working with them as a pro bono partner when I started at Fish.   

Q: Will you tell us about your most recent case securing asylum for a mother and son who fled Guatemala? 

A: My clients were a mother and son who experienced prolonged racial and politically motivated persecution and violence in Guatemala. They fled to the United States and filed for asylum.  It then took about 10 years for them to have an asylum hearing.  When I first met my clients, the mother was reluctant to share her story because of the pain it triggered, but by the end of the case, she found the confidence to voice her story and helped her son to find his voice too. As they testified in court, I was reminded of the amount of pain and fear they had overcome to get there. It was humbling to be part of the moment when the judge granted them asylum and ended their long wait. 

Q: What unexpected benefit have you received from doing pro bono work? 

A: Doing pro bono work helps you build great connections with colleagues in other fields. One of my favorite parts of my job at Fish is the relationships I foster with my coworkers, and pro bono work adds another layer to that. I have a wider network of people that I can learn from, which makes me a better lawyer and colleague.  

Q: How has pro bono work contributed to your professional and personal fulfillment? 

A: When you practice in any one area of law, you’re steeped in it 24/7. Pro bono work is an opportunity to delve into a different area of the law. While it can be challenging, it provides diversity in my docket and forces me to practice learning something new. It serves as a reminder that I can learn many different things and do them well. 

Q: What is your favorite part of pro bono work? 

A: I appreciate how pro bono work allows me to be a different type of attorney. When I was preparing to apply to law school, I was told that patent lawyers don’t do immigration law. It’s refreshing to see that this doesn’t have to be true. I stand up in court representing immigration clients and do so with confidence. I’m appreciative of the support from my pro bono partners and Fish, which makes that possible. 

Q: What advice would you give to a new attorney interested in getting more involved in pro bono? 

A: If someone has an interest, whether in a type of client or a topic, I encourage them to try identifying pro bono cases in that area. The more engaged you are in the case, the easier it is to stay focused and balance your pro bono docket along with your regular docket.