U-M Law School alumnus strikes a balance between Big Law and public interest

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By Kristy Demas
U-M Law

Near the end of a long week in Laredo, Texas, George Barchini pulled an all-nighter—but not for the reasons typical of young associates at Big Law firms. Instead, he was trying to stop the deportation of a Central American woman.

“I was a junior associate at Jones Day with no real background in immigration law, but I couldn’t stand by knowing this person would face certain persecution and possibly death if she were forced to leave the United States,” he said.

Barchini, a 2015 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, was due back in New York when the local asylum office denied his latest request for reconsideration for his client. Her removal from the United States imminent, Barchini frantically made calls from the airport in a last-ditch effort to overturn the decision. He finally reached a fellow MLaw classmate who suggested how to delay or halt deportation.

Ultimately, Barchini’s client was able to remain in the United States.

Public service has long been part of Barchini’s life. Inspired by his family’s volunteerism and his own sense of civic duty, his undergraduate days at Northeastern University were filled with public service activities. Before law school, he worked for the U.S. Department of Defense, the governor of Massachusetts, and the CEO of City Year, part of the AmeriCorps network. During his 1L summer, Barchini worked for the U.S. Department of Justice.

At Michigan Law School, Barchini threw himself into service activities. “The many opportunities to get involved are a large part of Michigan’s appeal—and its reputation. I wanted to attend a law school that would give me the tools to succeed as a lawyer while also allowing me to give back. I was struck by the overall commitment to social justice issues at Michigan.”

Barchini was president of the Law School Student Senate, the race and curriculum editor of the Michigan Journal of Race & Law, a lead facilitator of the Michigan Access Program, and a member of numerous executive boards and advisory committees, including the Organization of Public Interest Students.

He remembers the charge that Professor Eve Primus gave his graduating class at Senior Day about the importance of social justice work after graduation.

“She encouraged us to handle at least one pro bono case per year—no matter where we landed. Finding a firm where I could balance traditional legal work with pro bono work was key for me.”

Today, Barchini is a third-year associate at Jones Day in New York, where his mentors have helped him build a flexible commercial litigation and investigations practice. The firm’s strong philanthropic mission has empowered him in his social justice work—somewhat of an outlier in the context of Big Law.

Barchini’s pro bono work at Jones Day has ranged from representing clients in unaccompanied minor and domestic violence cases to participating in the Justice Department’s Clemency Initiative. He also chairs the Young Professional Board of buildOn, an international nonprofit organization.

But it is his immigration work that has been life-changing. Each week since early 2017, Jones Day attorneys travel to a pop-up office near the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Laredo, where they offer “know your rights” presentations and represent detainees—mostly women with fear-based claims who are facing deportation—in immigration proceedings. Those whom Jones Day attorneys represent receive legal assistance for the duration of their cases, making the firm’s initiative the only comprehensive program of its kind. Accordingly, Jones Day recently was honored by the State Bar of Texas for providing “truly exceptional legal services to the poor.”

For Barchini, it has given him the opportunity to strike the right balance in his practice.

“There’s a perceived divide between the public and private sectors—but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re a lawyer working in the private sector, you can chase the career you want while also serving others through pro bono or public service work. It’s a balance that I have been fortunate enough to achieve, and I am grateful.”
 

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