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Experiential Education: From the Middle East to Villanova Law

Yalda Hajavi '19

Externships provide law students with invaluable practical legal experience that can’t be achieved in the classroom. Thanks to a Villanova Law professor, Yalda Hajavi ’19 connected with John Vandenburg ’02, a passionate and dedicated Villanova alum, for the ultimate externship experience in her dream area of work—immigration law.

Hajavi immigrated to the United States from Iran when she was eight years old. Flash forward 15 years and Hajavi entered law school as an aspiring immigration lawyer looking to make a positive impact on people’s lives, much like the life-changing experience she had as a young immigrant when she and her family left everything behind to start a new life.

“My family’s immigration lawyer became our friend,” said Hajavi. “Seeing first-hand the personal connection that immigration attorneys have with their clients and the incredible impact they have on their lives inspired me to follow this career path. As someone who has been in their shoes, I will be able to empathize and connect with clients on an emotional level.”

As a student working in the Clinic for Asylum, Refugee and Emigrant Services (CARES), one of six in-house law clinics at Villanova Law, Hajavi had her first experience representing real clients and helping immigrants navigate the legal system. Her work with the CARES clinic reaffirmed her desire to work in immigration law, and Professor Michele Pistone, Director of CARES, connected her with Vandenburg, co-founder of Hogan & Vandenberg LLC.

During the fall semester of her 3L year, Hajavi externed at Hogan & Vandenberg, a Delaware and Pennsylvania-based firm specializing in immigration law. Treating Hajavi like a seasoned attorney, Vandenberg trusted Hajavi with current cases.

“I was shocked at the amount of responsibility John gave me,” said Hajavi. “I had my own clients. I met with them, worked on their cases and performed client interviews. My day-to-day work was very much what it would be like to work there as a full-time attorney. I learned how to actually be a lawyer, but most importantly, John taught me the critical value of leading with my humanity first, especially when working in the field of immigration.”

Vandenberg is committed to helping Villanova Law students gain practical legal experience. Most semesters he has at least one Villanova Law student working in his office.

Hajavi plans to keep in touch with Vandenberg. “He was more of a mentor than a boss,” she said. “I not only learned about the legal field from him, I also got a glimpse into the dynamic of being a good attorney, as well as a business owner running their own law firm.”

Hajavi will begin as a First Year Associate at Duane Morris in Philadelphia in September. She eventually hopes to open her own immigration law practice.