Prerna Lal, Esq.

Prerna Lal  Attorney
Work keeps me quite busy so I’m not writing quite as often nowadays.

I do have great news. After various trials and tribulations, I was sworn in as an attorney last Friday. This means I can continue to help thousands of individuals in family and immigration court across the country.

The whole process was smoother and shorter than expected,and everyone at work and home, is thrilled.

I am now working on establishing my own legal practice.

Watch this space for announcement about future plans.

How to Pass the Bar Exam

It’s  crunch-time for the bar exam again, and as someone who took and passed the bar, here are some words of advice.

1. It doesn’t matter what program — KAPLAN, BARBRI, whatever else — you use as long as you actually carve out the time to study and treat it like a full-time job. If you know where you want to practice, it is probably wise to sign up with one of the programs in the first year of law school. If not, many bar prep materials are also available second-hand on Ebay or Craigslist. If you do buy from these sites, I suggest not purchasing anything that is more than two years old.

2. Avoid all distractions — Your family members, friends, and employers might not understand the pressure you are under so try and lay some boundaries early. Deactivate your social media profiles–nothing is a bigger distraction than Facebook and Twitter.

3. Try different study methods, especially if you absolutely cannot sit still and read. Kaplan has a  completely free MBE app that is helpful to brush up on the MBE questions. The PMBR audio CDs are also worth listening to when you are in the car, or taking the train to work or if you are an auditory learner. They helped me more the the actual lectures from Kaplan, though I got them as part of my Kaplan course.

4. Making one sheets is critical because you have to be able condense the entire subject on a tissue paper by the time the bar exam comes up. I have uploaded mine on Scribd for a small price, and uploaded some of the lecture notes for free. They are not perfect and you should make your own, but they help to start the daunting process.

5. Quality over quantity – MBE pays double dividends on most bar exams and practicing questions is the best way to learn, hands down. However, there is no point in doing over 2000 MBE questions if you don’t review your incorrect answers and reason why you got them wrong in the first place. That’s the best way to learn and get ahead on the MBE. For wrong multiple choice answers, figure out why you got them wrong so you don’t get them wrong again.

6. Don’t put off the essay writing – Start doing past test questions from the first week of review. If you don’t know the law, make it up. You’ll learn the law as you go. Make sure to practice questions from past essays, and not just from the test prep program. You can find past MEE essays for purchase on the NCBE site.

If you have any questions or need some pep talk, feel free to shoot me an email.

Undocumented Law Student? Tips for Surviving Law School From An Undocumented Law School Graduate

Law school books

You’ll be reading a lot of books like these every semester

Evaluate whether law school is really for you.

I am assuming you have taken the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), and are applying for law school. If you are still undecided on whether to take the LSAT, I’d like to note that the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) now provides fee waivers to DACA students, which gives you two free tests, and waives most application fees. From the moment you start this journey with taking the LSAT till when it ends with your swearing-in ceremony as an attorney, can take a minimum of 5 years, so if you are going to law school because it is less work than a PhD program, you should reconsider your decision. Before law school, during law school, and after law school, you have to rigorously do the work assigned, and more. There are no shortcuts to success here. You may have to break up with your significant other to actually make it through this so before you truly commit, I’d like you to read this piece by Dean Spade to see whether law school is really for you.

How to pay for it?

You are undocumented and likely ineligible for federal loans. So how do you pay for the hefty $200,000 endeavor without borrowing private loans that make you indebted for life to Sallie Mae or Wells Fargo?

Beyond private loans, crowd-sourcing is one tactic, and how several of us have paid for law school so there is no shame in asking your friends, family and community to chip-in through Go Fund Me, host parties for you and so on. Most people are happy to help. For costs of living that aren’t related to tuition, like rent and food – student flat coops like Downing Students in London are always available and happy to help students find a cheap flat to live in while in school. Another popular idea is to work hard and save up money now, so you are in a more comfortable financial position later.

There are some private scholarships available from institutions such as MALDEF and NAPABA, but they are competitive. I do remember that MALDEF’s scholarship helped me pay for rent in my second year, and NAPABA’s helped me finish law school, so don’t discount them even if the sums seem small when compared to the high tuition rates.

My advice is to score as high as possible on the LSAT, and try to get various full-ride or merit-based scholarships, and pick the school that gives you the most money or the school that costs you the least. Sometimes you may need to pay half-sticker at a better school as opposed to a full-ride at a lesser-ranked school. To make the best decision, you’ve to figure out early whether you have big law aspirations, or whether you just want to practice solo or work in public interest. If you want to practice on your own or at a small firm or non-profit, I’d suggest taking the full-ride at a lesser ranked law school.

Your very last option should be to get a full-time job while in law school. Law school students are advised against working more than 20 hours a week but sometimes we have to do this out of necessity to pay rent or buy groceries. You’ve come this far and you may need to hustle a little longer to get where you want to go.

Invest in bar exam outlines early

If you do decide to go despite the number of people warning you against it, then I have some useful advice for you. I wish I knew this during my 1L year of law school, as I tried to understand all the material from reading textbooks, and commercial outlines. It is not the best kept secret, but BARBRI, PMBR CDs and similar bar review outlines do a much better job of explaining the law than most materials for law students. As you sit and take the bar exam, you wonder why you were not just given these materials in your first year of law school! You’ll find the materials available on sites like Craigslist or eBay at discounted prices.

Make friends in the school administration

Even before I arrived at The George Washington University Law School, I had been the subject of some controversy as their first undocumented admit. I developed a relationship with the Dean of Admissions through various tortured email and phone conversations as we tried to settle on a financial package that would allow me to go to law school as an undocumented student. I was blessed with having a Dean of Students who stood up for me, and guided me through law school, with tips on how to network, get free therapy, where to find the best chiropractor in the city and so on. When I could not afford second semester of law school, the Deans put their heads together and magically found a pot of money for me. The lesson here is that you’ve to be an advocate for yourself so do not be shy about asking for help, and do not miss opportunities to make such connections.

Get as many mentors as possible

This goes hand in hand with making connections and networking. Law school is all about networking both inside and outside law school. If you are introverted like me, you have to work extra hard to make conversation and connections with people. Kindly tell lawyers about yourself and ask them to take you out for lunch. Trust me, people usually bend over backwards to help an undocumented law student, and are interested in your life experiences. Go to seminars and conferences in areas of law that you are interested in and make connections. Reach out to other undocumented students, but also expand your network beyond that. Participate in class, and go to the after-class meetings and office hours of your professors. Serve as a research assistant to get a few good recommendations from professors. And do not discount the relationships you can make with your peers, and your alumni network.

Make the law school curve work for you

Most students go from having straight As to earning Bs and Cs for the first time in their life in law school. That’s completely normal, and do not let it deter you or scare you. Most law school exams are graded on a curve so the majority of the class gets a B+ as an average. Learn to play the curve–you may end up getting a B+ no matter so why spend all your time studying the same thing? After the first year, try to take seminar classes, which are easier on your grades.

Have a life outside law school

This can be difficult, but do not give up on your activism and civic engagement. It is vital to maintain a life outside of law school to give you some perspective. Speak on those panels, go to the rally, lobby Congress, testify before the City Council, continue to do speaking engagements, and so on. The more people that know you and your story, and the more experiences you have with public speaking, the more help you can get in your journey.

Don’t stress about job offers

You have lived the undocumented experience. Chances are you are heavily involved in the community, testified at various hearings, helped to stop a few deportations, and even passed a bill. These outside-the-law-school experiences are vital and the networks you have already established will help you land jobs. Send your resumes around, and reach out to lawyers you have worked with in the past.

If you don’t get lucky through networking, there is always the option of going solo. I had several job offers during my third-year of law school but I was never ready to make any long-term commitments. Additionally, I needed to take some time off to enjoy married life, put an end to my immigration saga, and travel the world. And I am doing just that and having a blast! Chances are, you will have many more options by the time you graduate, and if nothing, decide to go solo. Don’t sweat it now, but work steadily towards your goals. And remember, law school is probably one of the easier things you’d have to do in life.

Figure out where to take the bar and start the moral character process early

Being undocumented may also interfere with bar admission, so either have a plan to adjust your immigration status by the time you take the bar exam, or take the bar exam in a friendly state such as California or Maryland. Additionally, if you do not have a job offer lined up, you may want to take the bar in various states to increase your chances of passing, so try doing a NY/NJ or NY/PA combo, or take the exam in a UBE/MEE jurisdiction, which would allow you to practice in multiple states. Whatever you do, you don’t want to wait many more years before you are licensed to practice.

If you have any additional questions or suggestions, feel free to shoot me an email or join the DREAM Bar Association for more advice and mentorship!

California Supreme Court Admits Sergio Garcia, Paving the Way for Undocumented Law Graduates in California to Become Licensed Attorneys

English: Seal of the Supreme Court of California

English: Seal of the Supreme Court of California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The New Year comes with some great news. After a five year battle, Sergio Garcia was admitted to the California State Bar today, which paves the way for any and all undocumented law graduates who pass the bar exam in California.

The California Supreme Court wrote:

In light of the recently enacted state legislation, we conclude that the Committee‟s motion to admit Garcia to the State Bar should be granted. The new legislation removes any potential statutory obstacle to Garcia‟s admission posed by section 1621, and there is no other federal statute that purports to preclude a state from granting a license to practice law to an undocumented immigrant. The new statute also reflects that the Legislature and the Governor have concluded that the admission of an undocumented immigrant who has met all the qualifications for admission to the State Bar is fully consistent with this state‟s public policy, and, as this opinion explains, we find no basis to disagree with that conclusion. Finally, we agree with the Committee‟s determination that Garcia possesses the requisite good moral character to warrant admission to the State Bar and, pursuant to our constitutional authority, grant the Committee‟s motion to admit Garcia to the State Bar.

Undocumented law graduates should no longer have to deal with immigration status as a barrier to attaining “good moral character” or licensing as attorneys in California. The California Supreme Court ruling was unanimous, leaving no room for dissent.

Last month, the California State Bar wrote to my lawyers raising issues with licensure since I had not yet obtained a green card, even though I am legally authorized to work in the United States with a pending green card application. As of today, the California Supreme Court decision renders immigration status as a non-factor when admitting undocumented law graduates to the state bar association.

It looks like I will get to practice law sooner than I thought possible. I am hoping that other jurisdictions follow suit in licensing undocumented law graduates. As California goes, so goes the country, right?

Distinguished Accomplishment

This is what I call an embarrassing video, but it is brought to you by popular demand. It is a short clip of the academic awards ceremony from my law school graduation a few months ago, where I received a distinguished accomplishment award for civil rights and civil liberties, and my entire family screamed the roof down.

Awards are like confetti; liberation is the real goal.