Thankful for the Opportunity to Serve the Greater Good

by Richard Lupinsky

Growing up, I never dreamed about going to law school to become an attorney; however, a combination of experiences in the public sector took me to law school, which fit my innate ambition of working for the “greater good.”

Most notably, my first experience working in the public service sector resulted from the influence of my grandfather having fought in the Battle of the Bulge in France and Luxemburg during World War II, and my father having piloted Army helicopters in the U.S. and Honduras. Like them, I enlisted in the Army while still in high school and served in the infantry as a paratrooper for four years in the 82nd Airborne Division. I think soldiers are great, in part, because they come from everywhere: a hodgepodge of different social and economic backgrounds, sharing the commonality of voluntarily leaving home to serve together and of a willingness to risk their lives for the sake of one another. This comradery, which materializes out of shared suffering, forms a special bond. It is the times out in the field, ruck marching, on-guard duty, picking up cigarette butts on a police call, out in the rain and cold or in the heat, dirty, tired and sick of it all, making jokes and commiserating as Soldiers do, that makes military life so endearing. I did not know it at the time, but those impressions would eventually play an unquestionable factor in the trajectory of my future — now current — legal career.

After college, I served in a much different capacity; namely, as a Peace Corps Volunteer. For two years, I taught biology and health education as a secondary school teacher in a small, rural village in Tanzania. It was there that I first experienced living in the developing world. I witnessed how Tanzanians overcame, with a certain resigned dignity, the challenges of chronic underdevelopment and a systemic lack of infrastructure, education, employment, and government services. My Tanzanian friends and colleagues, who otherwise had very little in the way of material things, were nevertheless always eager to greet me with “karibu” to welcome me into their home. They were always ready to share a bowl of rice and beans and a cup of super sweet scalding hot chai. We sat on the floor, with the yellow glow of a gas lamp casting shadows on the wall or on a back porch quietly sharing stories under a canopy of stars brilliant and undiminished by electric light. It was in these small moments that I came to appreciate that trying to accomplish some big project was not the focus. It was about being willing to share yourself, your time, knowledge, and humor, in an effort to leave a positive impression on someone’s life. This all reinforced my belief in service to help make the world better than I found it, a little more reasoned and just.

It was my father who first suggested to me that law school could provide a good foundation for a career in public service. With that seed sewn firmly in mind and knowing next to nothing about the law, I applied to law school. In my law school application essay, I referenced Pennsylvania Middle District Judge John E. Jones III’s decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District,[i] which was announced the year before. Judge Jones ruled that the teaching of “intelligent design” in public school was unconstitutional because it violated the Establishment Clause. It was a great victory, specifically for education in science for American students, as well as for upholding the principles of the Enlightenment in general terms and philosophy. If the legal system could provide lawyers with the skills and knowledge to achieve just outcomes like Kitzmiller, I thought law school might just be a good fit for me.

During my time at law school, I first became drawn to Penn State Law’s Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic (“Clinic”) because it seemed like a good way to help the underserved. My roommate had nothing but great things to say about the Clinic and the Director, Professor Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia. I worked with another law student under the guidance and supervision of Professor Wadhia, in collaboration with the Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center and Human Rights First. Together we reviewed over three thousand Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decided in a three-year period and garnered through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Asylum seekers, after arriving in the United States, have one year to apply for asylum.[ii] Asylum is a type of protection available to those physically present in the United States who have suffered or face a well-founded fear of persecution for specific reasons at the hands of the government or a group of persons that government is unwilling or unable to control.[iii] Their applications can be rejected on the basis of the deadline alone, unless they can demonstrate one of two exceptions to the filing deadline.[iv] Our job was to determine what effects the one-year application deadline had on the outcome of those asylum applications. We found that the BIA denied asylum applications for a large number of refugees fleeing prosecution based on the deadline alone and that the BIA violated congressional intent by failing to apply the deadline in a “flexible and rational manner.”

Our work culminated in the publication of a white paper, which we presented in Washington, D.C. to the Department of Justice. Having the opportunity to work with other public interest immigration groups gave me firsthand insight into how collaboration occurs remotely over a period of a few short months. The project was more than just an academic exercise. The process of taking a germ of an idea, requesting information from the government, analyzing the data through shared collaboration, formulating clear findings, and generating a comprehensible resource that others could use for education, practical application, and social change was really inspiring and professionally satisfying. This project illustrated for me that the application of law is not always done to the original intent of the drafters. It can be detrimental to the very parties the law is designed to protect, especially for those who lack the means to hire professional legal representation. The project reinforced the importance of pro bono work. If some of these asylum seekers had professional legal help at the outset, I suspect that many of their applications would have been timely or met an exception.

I was proud to work for the Clinic under the tutelage of Professor Wadhia. I felt that the Clinic’s mission coincided with my ideals developed in the Peace Corps in wanting to serve the underserved and make the world a bit more just. Professor Wadhia’s professional standards are more demanding and rigorous than the most zealous Army drill sergeant. She balanced a serious demeanor with patience and a genuine concern for my professional growth. I remember pulling long hours in the clinic and at least one all-nighter towards the end of the semester when the final draft of the paper was due. She pushed me beyond my limits and made me a better researcher, writer, and more exacting attorney in the process. Her personal recommendation also put me over the top of other job seekers and helped me land my first employment opportunity outside of law school.

The Pennsylvania Bar examiners happened to publish the list of successful test takers on the same day I received my first full time legal job offer. Needless to say, that was a good day. My first job was a clerkship with the Honorable Jolene Grubb Kopriva, President Judge in Blair County, Pennsylvania, who was also the first female judge in the history of Blair County. As a clerk for a Common Pleas Court, I got to see firsthand how the law operates in a rural Pennsylvania jurisdiction. I researched, drafted opinions, and performed a myriad of other tasks and responsibilities. Under the patient mentorship of Judge Kopriva, I became an even better legal writer. A clerkship is great for getting to see a side-by-side comparison of best and worst practices of attorneys in brief writing, in the courtroom, and in professional social situations. It was during my time as a law clerk that I realized there was something I had been missing for a long period of time. I missed wearing the uniform and getting to work alongside soldiers. After a long absence, I decided to offer up my education and experience and jump back into military life by applying to be an Army Judge Advocate in the Pennsylvania National Guard.

As a Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG) officer, the military trains you to work and rotate through different areas of the law required by the armed forces. These focus areas are, for all intents and purposes, the same as most civilian legal practice areas. These include criminal prosecution and defense in Courts-Martial, administrative law, contract litigation, international law, legal assistance, and commander’s legal counsel. JAGs also have unique legal responsibilities to serve as legal counsel to victims of rape and sexual assault as well as to serve in the theatre of combat. JAGs can serve either on Active Duty or in a Reserve or National Guard component.  I am a commissioned JAG officer in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

After graduating from both the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School at the University of Virginia and the Direct Commission Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, my first assignment was to represent commanders at administrative separation board hearings. I argued the merits of separation and type of discharge characterizations for soldiers accused of serious misconduct. I trained and performed my periodic JAG obligations while simultaneously maintaining my clerkship, until finally accepting a full-time mobilization to Fort Campbell, Kentucky with the 101st Airborne Division. As a legal team, JAGs and paralegals physically train together every morning, participate in weekly professional development trainings, and socialize in both official and unofficial settings. It all makes for a close-knit legal office and the type of legal environment I was looking for. I worked primarily as a Legal Assistance Attorney, providing free legal advice and advocacy on behalf of soldiers, dependents, and retirees in our Client Services office.

At the Fort Campbell Client Services Office, we provided legal counsel, generated court documentation, and advocated for a variety of civil and military legal issues ranging from divorce, custody, step-parent adoption, landlord-tenant disputes, contracts, wills, medical, and other powers of attorney, as well as written rebuttals to the various flavors of military non-judicial punishment and liability for property loss. I worked with several other JAG attorneys, paralegals, and civilian attorney counterparts in our Clients Services office.

I met with an average of approximately five clients a day devoting to each up to an hour or more of consultation. I think the best part was that every day I met with colorful clients with interesting and sometimes heartbreaking legal issues. I remember sending a demand letter[v] to convince a seamstress to finally send my client her order of over $500 for denim jean skirts that had been languishing for over a year. I had another client inquire if there was any legal possibility of getting out of a home mortgage for failure to disclose a known deficiency because he claimed his house was haunted. I successfully negotiated a large medical bill down to a reasonable sum for a client whose child’s injury occurred during a lapse in insurance coverage. I traveled to local hospitals and hospices and drafted and executed several wills for terminally ill clients. As the step-parent adoption attorney, I created step-parent adoption packets for over fifty client-couples for both Kentucky and Tennessee adoptions, which included both male and female same-sex couples. Like any firm, we could not represent everyone nor were we always successful in our efforts. But the importance is that we were an available resource for many people, soldiers and civilians alike, who otherwise did not have the means to hire a private attorney. We represented folks who might have just gone it alone or resigned themselves to never achieving a resolution to their legal matter.

The client-centered advocacy skills I learned in law school and in the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic definitely prepared me to be an effective advocate for the underserved. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve.

[i] Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 400 F. Supp. 2d 707 (M.D. Pa. 2005).

[ii] Questions and Answers: Asylum Eligibility and Applications, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (Sept. 21, 2017),

[iii] Immigration and Nationality (McCarran) Act § 208, 8 U.S.C.A. § 1158 (2009).

[iv] Questions and Answers: Asylum Eligibility and Applications, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (Sept. 21, 2017),

[v] A letter stating a legal claim and making a demand for restitution or performance of some obligation, in response to the recipient’s perceived legal wrong or breach.


Citation: Richard Lupinsky, Thankful for the Opportunity to Serve the Greater Goodin Back Into the Future of Immigration: Personal Stories by the Penn State Law Center for Immigrants' Rights Clinic (Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia ed., 2018).

Richard Lupinsky

Captain Richard Lupinsky is a U.S. Army JAG attorney currently serving in Kuwait. As a trial counsel, his area of focus is military justice, which includes advising commanders, administrative discipline, working closely with criminal investigators, and prosecuting courts martial.

Class of 2010
Richard Lupinsky