Fellow Story

Fellow feature: Jennifer Sturman

Jennifer Sturman, a 2023 Justice Fellow in New Mexico, shares a part of her job that surprises people, how she’s learning that mistakes are okay, and the hobbies she has been enjoying outside of work.

What was something you wish you had known on your first day?

I wish that I had known that it’s okay to make mistakes. I feel like everybody hears that going in, but it’s such a different thing to actually internalize it. Coming from law school you’re expected to not have any issues with learning things. At the beginning of my Fellowship, I was really hard on myself for not understanding everything. But thankfully, I have really great supervisors here who constantly reassure me, saying ‘this is literally your first rodeo, you’re not going to know a lot of the things that a more seasoned attorney would think of first.’ And they’ve said that as long as somebody is not dying or being deported immediately, it’s not the end of the world, and we can probably fix it. So that’s something that I wish I’d known, to not be so hard on myself. 

What strategies have you been using to take care of yourself outside of work?

I’m definitely a work in progress on that. I definitely still dwell on a lot of things that I hear. Thankfully, my host organization really places a value on taking some time for yourself. They’re not expecting me to work past five in the evening. They’re not expecting me to work on weekends. So what I’ve been trying to do is just come home, put my phone in my backpack pocket, turn off my computer and just leave it until the next day that I’m at work. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. I definitely will still obsessively check my phone sometimes if I feel like I have a client that might need me. I’m trying to implement some boundaries on my personal time outside of work, and then taking up some hobbies. I’ve been running a lot since the weather’s fairly nice down here now, and I started ballet classes and knitting. I’m trying to do a lot of things that I used to really enjoy that I kind of lost time for in law school. Those hobbies are helping me stay grounded.

What are you most proud of so far during your Fellowship?

So far I’m the most proud of all of the growth that I’ve made. When I started the Fellowship, I spoke okay Spanish but not super great. I started in the fall using an interpreter with my clients. But I’ve been able to take some Spanish classes down here, and I’m glad to say that I’ve been doing all my client consultations and meetings in Spanish by myself since February.

It’s been a big step forward for me, and I think a lot of it was a confidence thing. I think that I’ve grown in my confidence and in speaking to clients. I remember before my first couple consults, I was so nervous. I was talking to my supervisor, asking ‘What if I miss something? What if something huge happened and I don’t know what to tell them?” But I just needed to calm down. I’m really proud of how far I’ve come in communicating with my clients.

What is a part of your job that would surprise people?

The amount of time that it takes to get things done. Since I’m new, it takes me a lot longer than any of the senior attorneys on my team. Even though you’re getting through predicate orders really quickly, so that you can move on to the SIJS stage, it takes such a long time after that to be able to move on to the adjustment of status stage. We did a clinic recently for renewals of work permits, and a lot of those kids have been waiting years to adjust status and still aren’t able to. Thankfully, we’ve seen some movement in the visa bulletins recently, but for most of my clients it will still take years to adjust status. I think people might think that it’s just a quick process – you come in, file your paperwork, and then you’re good. That’s not the case.