The University of Chicago Law School will launch a new Immigrants’ Rights Clinic in January, adding to the school’s robust set of clinical offerings and giving students a chance to work in a pressing, and often fast-changing, area of the law with a rising star in the field. Nicole Hallett, a Yale Law School graduate and former Skadden Fellow who founded two clinics at the University at Buffalo School of Law, will join UChicago as an associate clinical professor of law and the director of the new project, which will be a part of the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic.
“Nicole brings stellar credentials and a deep passion for teaching, and we are absolutely delighted to welcome her to the Law School,” said Dean Thomas J. Miles, the Clifton R. Musser Professor of Law and Economics. “The Immigrants’ Rights Clinic will be an excellent addition to our exemplary clinical program, and we look forward to seeing all the ways in which Nicole will impart experiential skills to our students in this important and growing field of legal practice.”
Before joining the faculty at Buffalo in 2016, Hallett co-taught the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School and, before that, the Community Development and Economic Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law. Much of her research has focused on the intersection of immigration, labor, and employment law, and at Buffalo she founded and led the Community Justice Clinic (CJC), which represents low-income residents of Buffalo on issues related to immigration, workers’ rights, civil rights, and housing. Early on, she identified a gap in representation in western New York: the needs of rural immigrants, many of them farmworkers, often weren’t met adequately by many of the city-focused programs in Buffalo. In addition to projects aimed at that population, the clinic was instrumental in helping form the nonprofit Justice for Migrant Families, Buffalo’s first organization devoted to supporting the area’s undocumented population. Hallett also founded the school’s “pop-up” US-Mexico Border Clinic, which occasionally takes students to the southern border to represent asylum-seekers.
When she arrives in Chicago, Hallett envisions pursuing a mix of litigation and policy work with a focus on providing students a range of experiences. She said she’ll begin by identifying areas of un- or undermet need and figuring out how the clinic can apply its resources to best fit the existing landscape.
“There have been exciting developments in Illinois and in Chicago related to immigration policy recently, and I am very much looking forward to joining [the involved] coalitions and having students engaged in implementation of the new policies,” she said.
Earlier this year, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed two new laws, one banning local governments from allowing private centers that house ICE detainees—it was the first state to do so—and another prohibiting law enforcement agencies from deputizing local officers with certain Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) powers. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot cut ICE off from accessing Chicago police data and said the Chicago Police Department would not assist ICE agents in immigration raids.
“Immigration is a growing area of law and an area where more lawyers are needed, particularly given that there have been so many recent policy changes,” Hallett said.
Learning to adapt to a changing area of law can also offer students a tremendous learning opportunity, she said.
“If they can handle something like this, they can handle almost anything,” she said. “I’m a firm believer that students are capable of so much more than they think. … I treat my clinic students like junior attorneys. It can be uncomfortable at first to run their own cases, which they do with my support, and to have this responsibility—but that’s what it’s like to be a lawyer.”
In addition to her JD, Nicole earned a master’s degree in refugee studies at the University of Oxford, where she received the Gilbert Murray Trust Fellowship, which is awarded to a student pursuing United Nations-related research, and a bachelor’s degree from DePauw University, where she earned a full-tuition scholarship and a host of other awards.
After college graduation, she served as a Luce Scholar for the National Human Rights Commission of Korea in Seoul, where she worked as a human rights researcher and United Nations liaison.
“My time in South Korea was the first time that I had had the chance to work on refugee issues—and it was also the first time I’d lived as an immigrant in another country,” Hallett said. “It was a very challenging and very rewarding year, and I came back with strong interest in immigration and refugee law.”
Those interests continued to grow at Oxford and then at Yale Law School where she signed up for an immigration clinic and made several important discoveries, among them that she loved representing individual clients. She also identified a future career path that would allow her to blend her different skills and interests.
“I learned, really for the first time, that there was this amazing job called ‘clinical law professor’ that would allow me to engage intellectually with the ideas I was interested in while still keeping one foot in the world of practice,” Hallett said. “The icing on the cake was that I would get to teach, too.”
After graduation, Hallett clerked for Judge Mark R. Kravitz on the US District Court for the District of Connecticut and for Judge Rosemary S. Pooler on the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. As a Skadden Fellow beginning in 2010, she represented victims of human trafficking and labor exploitation at the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center in New York.
Hallett said she was drawn to the Law School in part by the overall strength and size of its clinical program, and she looks forward to collaborating with her new colleagues and meeting her new students.
“Nicole is an enthusiastic and effective advocate, a devoted teacher, and a strategic thinker with a deep understanding of both immigration law and clinical legal education,” said Jeff Leslie, the director of clinical and experiential learning, a clinical professor of law, the Paul J. Tierney director of the Housing Initiative, and faculty director of curriculum. “We are excited to welcome her as a colleague and thrilled that our students will have a chance to learn from her.”