ATJ Pro Bono Champion
The ATJ Pro Bono Champion is a quarterly feature highlighting the work of an attorney chosen by the Texas Access to Justice Commission. To learn more about pro bono work in Texas or to get involved, go to probonotexas.org.
Kate Lincoln Goldfinch
Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch is an Austin-based attorney whose work focuses on providing legal services for refugees and immigrants. In addition to maintaining her own practice, she volunteers for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES, traveling to detention centers to help prepare asylum seekers for their credible fear interviews, training and mentoring nonimmigration attorneys on their immigration pro bono work, and handling individual cases for pro bono representation.
How and why did you focus your pro bono efforts on immigration?
I wanted to do social justice work when I went to the University of Texas School of Law in 2005. I tried out several internships during my first year but had not found my calling yet. UT Law has a robust clinical program that makes it possible to represent clients and try various areas of law while you are still studying. Because I speak Spanish, I decided to try the immigration clinic. My first assignment as a student attorney was to do an intake with a family of Iraqi Christians seeking asylum. They had a 5-month-old baby girl who was wearing a onesie issued by the prison. Her mother asked me if I would hold her, because I smelled like the outside world, and take her with me until they could get out. I was devastated to confront the way that we, a nation of immigrants, were treating asylum seekers. I got to represent that family in their asylum case and pick them up from detention when we won. After that experience, I was hooked.
How and when did you link up with RAICES?
RAICES has a strong presence all over Texas, so I have worked with them in many different ways over the years. The most recent project is at the Karnes County Detention Center. When family detention resurfaced in 2014, a pro bono program to represent the families at Karnes was needed. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld came to the immediate rescue, putting an attorney on the ground to set up the project and ensure access to counsel for the families. RAICES took over the project long term and now has a team of employees who run an onsite program there. They have weathered many storms at Karnes, from hunger strikes to battles over prolonged detention. Since 2015, I have led a monthly pro bono trip to Karnes to expose Austin-based attorneys to family detention and to support RAICES’ important work at Karnes.
I can’t imagine how taxing it can be to juggle your own practice and then pro bono work. How do you balance the two?
Pro bono work is part of my business plan. Everyone who works at the firm has either been through the immigration process themselves or has demonstrated a history of activism for the cause. As a result, we have a supportive and hardworking group of people who back each other up and make volunteerism possible.
What keeps you working pro bono?
Not everyone has a career that can provide a public service and enough compensation to raise a family. It’s a privilege. I’ve worked in jobs where my focus was to make rich people richer, and life felt pretty flat to me then. It would be unthinkable for me to have the skills that I do and not use them to give back.
Why should attorneys do pro bono work?
Because we can. There is a need and we have the ability to fulfill it. I know it can be scary to do something new and to have someone’s life in your hands when you don’t feel like an expert. But in the realm of detained asylum seekers, the need is so great that even inexperienced practitioners have a great and often life-changing impact. I’m happy to point pro bono attorneys in the right direction for ways to get involved! firstname.lastname@example.org.TBJ