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Sometimes, a professor can change the course of your law school career, even your life. Such was the case for Galya Martin ’19, who found a treasured role model for her immigration law career in New England Law | Boston Professor Dina Haynes. This is her story.

Galya Martin had never seen anything like it before.

Images of small children and families, refugees and asylum seekers at the border, desperately fighting for their lives, hoping to escape danger in their home countries and reach safety on the other side. “I'll always remember that,” she says quietly.

It was ostensibly just a video in one of Martin’s undergrad classes—but it changed everything for her, as she became aware of the complex issues and obstacles asylum seekers face the world over. And this was all before the current controversies surrounding U.S. asylum policies.

Now Martin knows: the plight of refugees and asylum seekers isn’t new. “It has always been relevant. It will always be relevant, whether it's in the news or not,” she says. And her passion for helping refugees, asylum seekers, and other immigrants is propelling her legal career.

It was one of the things that drove her to New England Law, where she’ll be graduating from in the spring of 2019. And it led her to a kindred spirit and life-changing mentor: Professor Dina Haynes.

Martin first had Professor Haynes as a professor for her 1L Constitutional Law class, and it didn’t take long for her to discover a treasured role model. “Her character and her accomplishments are exceptional,” Martin gushes. “She has all these impressive credentials…which is just so inspiring, and yet her stories from all of the work she has done around the world are so humbling.”

Professor Haynes would discuss her immigration and asylum law work in class, everything from volunteering at the U.S.-Mexico border to protesting the executive orders barring asylum seekers from certain countries to her past work as an international human rights lawyer, when she served as Director General of the Human Rights Department for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as Human Rights Adviser to the OSCE in Serbia and Montenegro, and as a Protection Officer with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.    

One of Professor Haynes’ most recent volunteer trips, to the border town of Tijuana, really resonated with Martin. “I was sobbing the entire time [reading her recap of the trip],” Martin says. “Everything she told us was so heart-wrenching but I was so proud that she was there.”

Martin met with Professor Haynes early on in law school to discuss her immigration law interests. From there, a meaningful mentorship emerged. She also took two more “incredible” classes with Professor Haynes—Immigration Law, and Refugee and Asylum Law—her second year of law school. “The curriculum simulates real-life practice, and you learn exactly how to think like an immigration lawyer and how to confront various immigration law issues,” Martin says.

She also became Professor Haynes’ research assistant, working on a human trafficking book. “I'm very happy I chose New England Law, just because of her,” Martin says. “I know that she’s inspiring so many others.” Martin plans to follow in her footsteps and become an immigration lawyer, focusing on family law and asylum. “I feel those are the people who need the most help,” she says.

Since coming to New England Law, Martin has interned at two immigration law firms and at the Boston Immigration Court. She is also involved in the school’s Immigration Law Association and student-run journal, the New England Law Review, as an executive articles editor.

Related: Inside My Immigration Law Internship

In January 2019 Martin was accepted into the prestigious U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) Honors Program. This is one of the most competitive programs in the country for entry-level attorneys, and offers are based on outstanding credentials and potential to excel. She will serve a two-year judicial clerkship with the Hartford Immigration Court in Connecticut. After her EOIR Honors Program clerkship, Martin says she wants to work at a law firm and has loved the firms she’s interned at so far, Harrington Law Offices and Savitz Law Offices, which are both in Boston.

For Martin, the study of immigration law is also personal. She was born in Siberia, Russia, and adopted as a baby. “International and immigration issues are very close to home for me,” she says. “I definitely want to practice immigration law because of my own background.” She grew up in Sandwich, New Hampshire, the child of two lawyers (practicing corporate law and estate planning). Martin carried her family’s trade—and her heritage—with her to Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, where she majored in French, Spanish and Art History.

While an undergrad, Martin studied abroad in Grenoble, France; Salamanca, Spain; and Paris, France, learning as much as she could about the world, gaining exposure to different cultures, and absorbing the history of each region she visited. After graduating she took a gap year, gaining varied experiences working at art gallery, as a waitress, and as a varsity tennis coach.

When it was time to pursue her immigration law ambitions, she chose New England Law, in part, for the same reasons she chose a small liberal arts college for undergrad: a tight-knit community, somewhere she could form significant relationships with her peers and professors.

A smaller law school also meant more and better opportunities to work with faculty like Professor Haynes, who she credits with helping her get into the Department of Justice Honors Program. “New England Law and especially Professor Haynes have helped prepare me for everything, from networking to job interviews, and to actually working.” Professor Haynes provided recommendations and references too. “She’s always there,” Martin says.

After her experiences working with law school faculty, Martin’s advice for future law students may not be surprising: “When you get to law school, get out of your comfort zone and really step up to talk to your professors,” she says. “Those connections are invaluable, and I feel that at bigger law schools, it’s going to be harder to establish such connections…I’ve met incredible professors here who are sincerely interested in helping their students succeed.”

For law students interested in immigration and international law in particular, Martin recommends being open-minded and conscientious of policies, because this particular area of law is always changing—and so are public opinions.

“You don't have to pick a side politically. Just look at [the issue] for what it is,” she says. “Being involved in immigration law obviously has its rewarding moments and its anguishing moments, but both of these moments are what have continued to push me to keep working and to keep learning.”

Sage advice from someone who is quickly becoming an immigration law role model herself.

Learn more about becoming an immigration lawyer.