Meet Sidley Austin, HRI’s 2020 Angel of Freedom Law Firm honoree

Angel of Freedom 2020 Law Firm Honoree Sidley Austin has cultivated a tradition of, and commitment to, pro bono service. As they have grown, so has the reach of their pro bono efforts. From Alabama to Arizona, Colombia to Madagascar, Sidley lawyers and staff devote more than 100,000 hours annually to serving those most in need.

Each year, HRI celebrates the law firms, institutions, and individuals that help people fleeing violence find safety in Dallas by honoring them for their contributions to HRI’s clients, who are immigrant survivors of human rights abuses from across the world. This honor is called the Angel of Freedom Award.

Recently, HRI had a chat with David Siller, an attorney at Sidley and a pro bono lawyer for HRI.

How did you first hear about HRI?

I was introduced to HRI by Sarita Prabu, Senior Legal Counsel at AT&T, who hosted an event for outside counsel interested in pro bono partnerships.  I am so very happy I attended because it started a long-term and tremendously rewarding relationship.

What is your driving force in volunteering with our agency?

The opportunity to literally change the lives of people who have been oppressed through no fault of their own.  While this may seem high-minded, I truly believe that one of the great things about America is that we shelter those who have been persecuted in their home country because of their political beliefs, their religious beliefs, and their sexual orientation.  The Congress of the United States has made the asylum statute very specific and limited to those situations, and the current political climate makes it very hard for even deserving clients to obtain asylum.  All the rules must be followed, and there are many places to potentially slip up.  Similarly, HRI’s work in this area is the best part about our legal system; specifically, that skilled and capable people donate their time and energy to do good for others.  In this case, the good that HRI does in partnership with outside counsel is one of the things I feel most proud of since I started my career.

Please briefly share an ‘aha moment’ (a moment of discovery or insight) that stood out to you during your time with HRI.

The aha moment is when I first did an asylum interview with our first client.  Her history of torture and oppression literally brought me to tears.  It made me understand just how lucky we are to enjoy the freedoms we take for granted sometimes in this country.  The second “aha” moment was when we received her grant of asylum.  It was the happiest moment in my entire professional career, and dwarfs in importance anything else I have done with my law degree.  I am now good friends with a former client who lives in peace and security with her daughter in part because of my and HRI’s efforts.

What is something you have learned from your experience working with HRI?

I’ve learned a lot of things working with HRI.  One of the most important is how much good can be done in this space if deserving applicants had proper legal representation.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of meritorious cases that get denied because there is a technical requirement missed or the narrative is not told in an optimal way.  If attorneys would volunteer more of their time to work with HRI, more of the meritorious cases could be granted.

Can you tell us:

–           Why is immigration work so important to you?

–           Why do you support this cause?

–           Why do you believe it is important to fight alongside vulnerable immigrants and refugees?

The answer to all three is that these clients are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, and our country gives them a unique opportunity to help them live in peace and security. There are few higher callings than to use your skills to obtain life changing results for those eligible under our asylum laws. 

Anything else you would like to share about volunteering here at HRI?

Working with HRI is one of the most rewarding things I have done as an attorney, and I urge all who are able to volunteer their time (and if not time, funds) to help them. 

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