National Jurist - November 2009 - 42
CAREER PROFILE International initiative Barbara Leen’s career in international law started with clinic work at UConn law school and has advanced step-by-step to the U.S. Department of Justice thanks to drive and initiative BY URSULA FURI-PERRY, ESQ t all started with National Geographic magazine. For Barbara Leen, her father’s subscription to the popular publication sparked an interest in international affairs as a child. But it has been her own initiative and constant education that has advanced her career from law school to the U.S. Department of Justice. As an associate general counsel, Leen now works on immigration policy and handles regulatory work for attorneys in the Office of Legal Policy. “I like the fact that it’s really intellectually challenging, but it always boils down to somebody’s story,” Leen said, adding that she enjoys hearing where people come from and where they plan on going in the future. A 2005 graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Law, Leen had her first experience with asylum cases as a law student, working in her school’s Asylum and Human Rights Clinic. In that role, she represented refugees who had fled persecution abroad and sought asylum in the United States. Barbara Leen, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, said taking initiative early on can go a long way for a young lawyer’s career. “ I like the fact that it’s intellectually challenging, but it always boils down to somebody’s story. — Barbara Leen, attorney ” Leen described her work at the clinic as “soup-to-nuts asylum cases,” requiring her to handle new clients, interviewing, gathering evidence, submitting applications for asylum and representing clients in immigration court. In one case, for instance, Leen and a fellow student — under the supervision of a professor — represented a Haitian asylum-seeker at a two-day-long hearing. “We won,” she said. “Our client got asylum and eventually got his green card.” The client called Leen recently to tell her that he was granted permanent residency. Leen also received valuable practical experience during a summer internship in immigration court, interning at the Department of Justice as a law student. “There were two judges who [served as] mentors and taught me all about immigra42 THE NATIONAL JURIST October 2009 tion law,” Leen said. She said she valued not only the practical experience but also the networking opportunities. In fact, Leen credits her internship, at least in part, with getting her a coveted position in the Attorney General’s Honors Program, a highly competitive program for hiring entry-level attorneys in the Attorney General’s Office. “When I applied for the Honors Program, I could show that I already had experience in immigration court and had [handled] a case in immigration court,” she said. Just out of law school, Leen accepted a year long position as an immigration court clerk in Philadelphia with responsibilities for the Atlanta immigration court as well, handling legal research, writing and other projects. From there, she applied for
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