By most measures, the situation in immigration law has never been tougher than it is now. Coming from the wake of an administration that treated immigrants as political pawns in base-rousing nativist rhetoric, multiple regions of the globe face escalating economic, political, and environmental crises. This situation has caused immigration cases at the southern border to soar to near-record highs. Meanwhile, the current administration continues to make it more difficult to enter the country and seek asylum while touting their new policies’ collective ability to reduce unauthorized border crossings. The rhetoric has changed, and so perhaps has the intent, but the challenges inflicted upon people trying to obtain their lawfully permitted asylum hearing continue to compound.
Scenarios like these make it extremely challenging to be an immigration lawyer. A study published in Wake Forest Law Review in 2021 found that immigration attorneys had higher markers of burnout than social workers and prison wardens at that time. Attorneys working in immigration law also had extremely high markers for secondary traumatic stress.
Speaking on the subject to two experts in the field of trauma in legal practice during a 2020 interview, Deepak Ahluwalia revealed his secret to managing trauma while reducing his own burnout: take care of clients, your community, your co-workers, and especially yourself, and give each what is needed at the appropriate time.
Be Honest With Clients and Be Genuinely Ready to Serve Them
In his interview, Ahluwalia revealed one of the biggest sources of frustration, stress, trauma, and self-doubt: the arbitrariness of the immigration system. People’s entire futures often hinge on one hearing, where they get the chance to prove they have a credible threat and deserve to be granted asylum. Their success in these hearings increasingly depends less on actual case merits and more on the judge assigned.
“Unfortunately, merits hearings for asylum cases have become more of a lottery system,” Ahluwalia explained, “where the outcome of your case is decided well before, just based on who your immigration judge is, which we have no control over.”
Many professionals in his field conceal to clients whether or not a judge favorable to their case has been assigned. Ahluwalia, on the other hand, urges that it’s important to be honest and set expectations. This groundwork protects clients — and yourself, as an attorney — mentally by preparing for the possible challenge and potential denial ahead.
Ahluwalia also aims not to spread his firm too thin, only taking on cases they can reasonably give due attention to. Rather than treating clients like numbers, contributing to low case success rates and attorney burnout, he ensures that every client can get their due amount of attention and effort.
To Avoid Burnout, Check In With Everything That’s Important: Values, Family, Friends, Hobbies, and Community
For Ahluwalia, part of the challenge of being in a field with high case volumes and ever-changing legal obstacles is that he identified so closely with his clients’ struggles. His family had to start from scratch when they immigrated to Canada, and then his father passed away when he was just 16. Deepak was left working two jobs and trying to finish high school and put himself through college, all while still helping support the whole family.
Within this high-stakes environment, Ahluwalia recognized the importance of getting one thing done at a time, including the things needed for self-care. He engaged in soccer, made time for his friends, volunteered, and was able to get married and cultivate a healthy home life.
During these activities, it’s vital to turn your lawyer brain off, he says. By the same token, while on a case, it’s important to keep yourself involved but detached personally, in the sense of maintaining professional distance and even composure. Staying connected with family and keeping professional boundaries maintained at the appropriate time keeps stresses from crossing over and bleeding together. Also, be ready to commit to disconnecting from work at times when you need to recharge, take care of yourself, or be there for your family.
Volunteering for him is also fulfilling, even when it involves legal work identical to his job. It’s a critical component of his Sikh faith and one that helps keep him mentally and emotionally strong partially because it “allows me to stay grounded and humbled when I see what others have to deal with,” in his own words.
To Serve Clients Well, Run the Firm You’d Want to Work At
Taking care of others in your firm is also vital because it means they have better space to take care of their own clients. It’s generally important to align values with business practices; Ahluwalia’s old position wasn’t really concerned with giving each case the best shot, and it overcommitted attorneys to a high volume of cases, which became a form of trauma because of the stress of being unable to meet unreasonable expectations.
Being burnt out, though, was a “blessing in disguise,” he says, because it compelled him to strike out with his own firm. Having his own firm enables him to run things in ways that are healthy and supportive of everyone in the environment. He gave the example that they shut down the office when COVID cases first started emerging in early 2020, prior to quarantine mandates, because he wanted to listen to his staff.
These values and ideals don’t take stress away, but it does make it easier to manage — resulting in a higher quality of life for attorneys and a better quality of service for clients.
If you’re interested in working with an immigration attorney who knows how to prioritize you without overpromising or overbooking other clients, Singh Ahluwalia Attorneys at Law is the right place for you. Schedule a no-obligation, confidential consultation for you or a loved one today when you call 559-878-4958 or contact us online today.