What do you do for a living?
I am an immigration attorney.
How would you describe what you do?
I represent individuals and families before federal immigration agencies, including the immigration courts. I help families file immigrant petitions for their family members living abroad and I defend those who find themselves in removal (deportation) proceedings.
What does your work entail?
Speaking with clients and their families, making phone calls, interacting with federal immigration agencies and employees of those agencies including judges and enforcement officers, filling out and preparing immigration forms, spending time in immigration court and immigration offices. Because I own my own business, I also spend time preparing budgets, engaging in social media and other forms of marketing, attending networking events and other business and administrative tasks such as billing.
What’s a typical work week like?
My office hours are roughly 8:00 – 5:00. I usually meet with clients two or three afternoons per week and spend the rest of my time split between client work and administrative tasks. Before I opened my own office, I worked at a larger firm and most of my time was split between meeting with clients and doing casework.
How did you get started?
I have always been interested in the flow of people across international boundaries. Still, if I had to point to something concrete, it would be when I was about 20. I was serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Madrid, Spain. Because I was in the country for two years, I had to pass through the immigration process myself and was just fascinated by it all. Also, the church had contacts within the U.N. Refugee Agency. As missionaries, we would sometimes accompany members and friends of the church to a meeting with agency employees. These individuals were usually undocumented immigrants in Spain and the agency would evaluate their situation to see if they might qualify for some form of refugee status. I thought it was great. I was fascinated by the process and started delving deeper into the issue of global immigration. I haven’t looked back since.
What do you like about what you do?
I feel like I get to travel the world without ever leaving my desk. I meet so many people from so many different international backgrounds. I never know who is going to call or walk through the door. That’s a lot of fun.
What do you dislike?
I do not like chasing the dollar. If I could do my job for free, I would. Of course, I have a family and mouths to feed, so that isn’t possible.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
I charge mostly flat fees for each case I work on. A portion of the fee goes back into the business and another portion goes to me.
How much money does an Immigration Attorney make?
I think the stereotype is that immigration attorneys do not make as much as other attorneys. Like many stereotypes, I don’t think this is true. A lot of immigration attorneys work for nonprofit organizations, and they may not make as much. Many immigration attorneys work for large law firms or have large businesses as their clients, and they can make $100,000.00 plus.
How much money did/do you make starting out as an Immigration Attorney?
All of my job offers out of law school were in the $30,000.00 – $40,000.00 range. After a year of experience, I looked into the market again and interviewed for jobs in the $60,000.00 – $80,000.00 range.
What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?
At a minimum, you will need to go to law school. I studied Latin American Studies and Political Science in undergrad, and it probably would have been a waste of time had I entered any other field. However, I had a pretty good knowledge of my client base and the government agencies I would be working with thanks to those courses. If you have the chance, you should also clerk or intern at a law firm or non-profit organization focusing on immigration. I would also recommend going to a law school with immigration coursework, or better yet, with an immigration clinic. If the school is located in a metro area with an immigration court, that would be great too. The fact of the matter is that immigration is vastly different from other areas of the law, and you are unlikely to learn a lot about immigration law in law school. However, if you look for a law school meeting the criteria mentioned above, you should graduate ahead of the curve for this field.
What is most challenging about what you do?
Accepting that sometimes there isn’t a solution. The avenues of relief available to immigrants in the United States, whether those facing deportation or those wanting to be reunited with their loved ones are very narrow. This is the case even in families with U.S. citizen spouses or children. I meet with a lot of people who I can do nothing for. That gets frustrating after a while.
What is most rewarding?
Knowing that I helped improve somebody’s life. I work to unite families and help deserving people pursue a better life. It doesn’t really get much better than that.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
Have a heart. A lot of young attorneys can become very cynical after law school and the first few years of practice. Sure, the real world isn’t kind. Still, in this area of the law, you can actually do what a lot of people enter law school to do in the first place; make the world a better place.
How much time off do you get/take?
Because I own my own business, I theoretically get to take off all the time I want. In reality, like most lawyers, my client’s needs often run 24/7, so I have to be very strategic about how I take time off. My goal is to take about 4 weeks off each year. My wife would probably tell you I’m lucky to take three.
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
Like most attorneys, I think there is a conception that immigration attorneys are just in it for the money and that as long as they get paid they will say and do anything. That stereotype certainly exists for a reason, and there are unscrupulous lawyers out there. Still, most immigration attorneys I have come across are generally very cooperative, love what they do and work hard to get better at it.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
I would like to grow my firm. Because of the federal nature of immigration work, it would be nice to have offices in a few states and to bring on a few partners to really maximize my office’s potential.
What else would you like people to know about your job/career?
I have tried to be very honest about the good and the bad of my job. Still, I would like to say that it really is a blast. I wake up every day happy about what it is I do in life and I go to bed feeling good about it too. That’s a hard thing to find in life for many people and if you’re able to find it, hang on to it at all costs.