Phillip Rutahweire: Focus on immigration law

After relocating from Uganda when he was 13, Phillip Rutahweire, JD candidate '18, pursued U.S. citizenship while at UMass Law.

Phillip Rutahweire professional headshot
  • Year: 2018
  • Program: Juris Doctor
  • Hometown: Foxboro, MA
  • Internships: Lider, Fogarty & Ribeiro, P.C., Fall River, MA; Legal Center for Nonprofits, Inc., New Bedford, MA
  • Research: “Redefining ‘Crimes of Violence’ for Consistency in Federal Sentencing”
  • Leadership: Executive Board of the Black Law Students Association, Lead Editor of UMass Law Review
  • Law clinic: Community Development Clinic
  • Awards: Law Review Editor of the Year, Marshall & Barbara Sloan Foundation Scholarship Recipient

Inspired to study law

I decided to study law because I was inspired by the professionalism and skill of the attorney who helped my mother and me with the process of applying for lawful permanent residency.

Although it was far from certain that our applications would be approved, just knowing that we had the assistance of someone as experienced and knowledgeable as him made us very hopeful for a positive outcome. Because of this experience, I wanted to assist clients seeking legal status in the United States and hoped to, one day, instill the kind of confidence that our attorney had instilled in us.

I chose UMass Law because of the school’s strong focus on public interest work and the high-quality education it provides at a much lower cost than all other law schools in the state.

From internship to career placement

I’ve worked at Lider, Fogarty, & Ribeiro, P.C. since the summer after my first year in law school. In my time there, I’ve worked primarily on immigration matters. I’ve drafted applications and memoranda for asylum, various nonimmigrant visas, and provisional waivers of inadmissibility.

My work with the firm is always rewarding. It gave me my first taste of what it really means to be a lawyer. The weight of knowing that the quality of your work will have a significant impact on a client’s life can be a heavy one to bear.

At the firm, the stakes are very high as many clients are in removal proceedings and face deportation if we do not succeed. I’ve learned that success in these matters requires everyone involved to go above and beyond in executing their assigned tasks. All the hard work is worth it in the end, as there is nothing like the feeling of knowing you had a hand in keeping a family together.

I was offered an Associate position at Lider, Fogarty, and Ribeiro, P.C. and will continue working on immigration matters at the firm.

Becoming a U.S. citizen

I wouldn’t have pursued U.S. citizenship when I did were it not for my internship at Lider, Fogarty, & Ribeiro, P.C. The firm is so successful with their cases that I knew I had to apply for naturalization with their help.

At the beginning of the fall 2016 semester, I asked the managing partner if the firm would assist me, and she told me they were more than happy to help. I wanted to pay for their services, but the only thing they had me pay for was the filing fee.

The application was filed in early September, and I was notified by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services to appear for my Biometrics in late October. At that appointment, I was given a book with questions and answers that I needed to know for the naturalization test.

To my surprise, much of the information in the book was information I was learning that year in law school. Many of the questions dealt with constitutional law and administrative law. My naturalization interview took place in late March, and shortly thereafter, I was notified to appear for the naturalization ceremony in mid-May.

The ceremony is held in Faneuil Hall in Boston. It’s a beautiful ceremony that’s treated like a quasi-judicial proceeding, as there is a clerk and Justice who preside over it. Everything came full circle; I had started the academic year by filing the application and ended it as a naturalized citizen. It really felt special.

Helping nonprofit start-ups

The Legal Center for Nonprofits is a nonprofit law firm that provides low-cost legal assistance in the areas of nonprofit formations, dissolutions, mergers, and compliance. I worked there last semester, helping prepare formation documents such as articles of incorporation and bylaws for nonprofit start-ups.

My most memorable experience there was assisting a client who wanted to form a nonprofit corporation that would provide relief in the wake of natural disasters. She was particularly moved by the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico and wanted to use her experience in construction to help with the rebuilding process.

She was very passionate about her mission and wanted to get the nonprofit formed as quickly as possible, so that she could begin fundraising. I was able to get the entity incorporated within two weeks of our initial meeting with the client, and by the end of the semester, I had filed the nonprofit’s charity registration with the Attorney General and drafted its IRS tax exempt application.

Helping this client is so memorable because of the worthwhile cause and also because I drafted and filed all of the required filings for formation myself. Because I wanted to continue working with nonprofits, I enrolled in the Community Development Clinic, as it handles the same kind of transactional legal work for nonprofits and small businesses.

Intellectual property law workshop

This year in the Community Development Clinic, Katelyn Golsby, a fellow clinic student, and I put together a workshop designed to educate artists about how they can use intellectual property law to protect their artistic creations and to avoid infringing on the works of others.

The workshop was geared towards graduate students in the UMassD College of Visual & Performing Arts who were art teachers with students of their own. Our goal was to talk to them about federal copyright and trademark law in a way that was both engaging and insightful.

It took us more than two-thirds of the semester to prepare. When we finally held the workshop in late March, it was very satisfying to see how well-received our presentation was. I then volunteered to present a modified version of this workshop to business students at Endicott College with help from the clinic director, Prof. Christyne Vachon, Esq.

Developing a professional identity

My experiences at UMass Law have helped me sharpen the practical skills that I will need once I become a practicing attorney. The Community Development Clinic and my internships have provided numerous opportunities to interact with clients and helped me begin to develop a professional identity. All of this has, in-turn, allowed me to gain more confidence in myself on a personal level as well.

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