Brazilian Legal Professional Spent Four Years Searching for a Job in U.S. Law

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With Upwardly Global’s toolbox, Luana found her dream job at San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

In 2017, with only her law degree and backpack in hand, Luana, a then 23-year-old from Brazil, jumped on a plane to join her long-distance love in the U.S. She was nervous but hopeful, and had no idea what to expect from the U.S. labor market.

“The thing that I really needed was some counseling — someone who’d talk to me and say, ‘These are the options,’” says Luana.

For nearly half a decade, Luana struggled to identify which roles to apply for and which courses to take, sending off hundreds of applications with no luck. She found herself taking jobs as a babysitter and preschool teacher. Besides her partner, she had no connections in the U.S. at all. The exhausting job search alongside a full-time job in childcare proved no easy feat.

“Being a preschool teacher is very stressful,” says Luana. “It’s a contract job, and during the summer, you don’t have payment — it makes you feel unsafe; it makes you feel like you’re never gonna get out of this game and make good money. Looking back, I was dying every day.”

Two years into her job search, Luana took an English course for immigrants in an attempt to improve her professional communication skills, and the teacher referred her to Upwardly Global’s free career coaching and training program. With support from her job coach, she decided to pursue an unpaid internship in law while still working full-time in childcare.

For nearly half a year, she then worked two grueling jobs at once, one as a preschool teacher and another as an unpaid secretary at a law office. For no pay, she filed paperwork and took calls, all after long days of singing the alphabet and herding a class of children.

“Something inside of me said, ‘Keep going. I know it’s hard, but keep going,’” Luana says.

In April of 2022, after making some key connections in the U.S. legal field, Luana finally landed her current role as a Legal Processing Clerk at the San Francisco Public Defender’s office, where she now supports the legal representation of detained immigrants on the brink of deportation. It’s a deeply emotional job, but she knows how to handle the intensity of the work day — she never brings it home.

“Immigrants have a pretty difficult life; [they’re] people who are fighting to have a good job, to help their families, to fit into the system. It’s not an easy system,” says Luana. “Our job [at the Public Defender’s office,] is to give these people the opportunity to defend themselves.

Like the immigrants she works with, Luana’s own resilience is unwavering. Her goal is to one day become a skillful public defender herself, which she knows will require three more years of law school and a face-off with the bar exam.

“I really loved what I did in Brazil — my career — I really loved it. It was my passion, but [when] I decided to move here, I knew that it would be so hard to keep following this dream,” says Luana, now married to her long-distance sweetheart. “[Upwardly Global] was a very good start, and also, it was hope.”

Read our new report on job search barriers for young immigrants here. For all media inquiries, contact media@upwardlyglobal.org.

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