Comprehensive immigration reform looks more promising now than at any time in the last 15 years. Approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants—your neighbors, co-workers, and classmates—could benefit from the proposed changes. More immediately, the Supreme Court just eliminated DOMA’s barrier to same-sex spousal visa petitions, and about a third of the U.S. population now lives in a marriage-equality state.
What does this mean for young lawyers? A lot of prospective clients in a frequently overlooked area of the law and the chance to put your law degree to work making dreams come true!
Corny, perhaps, but true.
At the same time, immigration law is notoriously complex; equal parts rewarding and frustrating.
Remember your administrative law class? Your favorite subject? Yeah, me neither.
Where does a young lawyer begin when faced with such a challenge? First, why not talk to some immigration lawyers to see if the practice area interests you? We don’t bite, and you can find a bunch of us at AILAlawyer.com. If this piques your legal interest, consider taking a pro bono case through the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. You will be matched with a client in desperate need of your services and an experienced mentor.
Okay, so you’ve finished your pro bono case, and now you’re hooked. How do you become a competent immigration lawyer? One way is to land a job as an associate at an immigration firm, but these scarce positions can be highly competitive and may require years of experience. Another way is to start your own firm or an immigration practice within an existing firm. If you choose one of these options, the following could be your life raft.
- Reach out ~ Join the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the Immigration Section of the Colorado Bar Association. Meet all the immigration lawyers you can. They will be your best resource.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel ~ Ask about the best treatises and research tools for your immigration niche. Check out free resources from the National Immigration Project, American Immigration Counsel, AILA (which you joined, right?), and other non-profits.
- Address language and cultural differences ~ No one can be proficient in every language and culture. Learn to work with translators and interpreters. Understand that your clients may see the judicial system differently and take time to talk through their fears, expectations, rights, and responsibilities.
- Expect the unexpected ~ Each immigration case is unique. The stakes for your client may range from career advancement, to family unity, to protection from torture. Take time to assess (and re-asses) every case to be sure you are safeguarding your client’s immediate and long-term interests.
Don’t stop here. Your curiosity, sense of adventure, and willingness to admit what you don’t know will serve you well as an immigration practitioner. When the wave of new immigration lawyers hits, your preparation will help you ride the tide to an intellectually and personally rewarding career.