[Blogger’s Note: Readers of this blog may know a little of my family background. Recently, however, the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers (CLEL) invited me to “Tell Us Your Story” for publication in the August 2023 edition of its monthly newsletter. So I’m sharing it here. It’s a story of serendipity, of how twists and turns lead to an unforeseen destiny.
By the way, the photo was taken about the time I began practicing immigration law in my hometown, Detroit, Michigan, circa 1979.]
Telling My Story — the Birth of An Immigration Lawyer
I grew up in Detroit’s inner city among immigrants from Poland and Italy, as well as African Americans, many of whom migrated with their families from the South. This gave me a sense of solidarity with society’s underdogs, persons who – against all odds – persevere and achieve their own versions of the American Dream. I attended an inner-city law school, Wayne State University, and thrived on a wide palette of courses, from constitutional law to real property, tax and international business transactions. Unbeknownst to me, my international business transactions professor submitted my paper on the extraterritorial reach of the U.S. securities law into a writing competition. No one was more surprised than I when my name was called as author of the winning article.
I traveled to Europe during college summers (my uncle, a travel agent who had his own Italian radio hour, graciously saved a seat for me on his summer charter flights to Italy). My international travel bug, and surprising success in the international business transactions seminar, led me to join a small, well-regarded local firm where one of the partners practiced international business and tax law – with the notion that this would be a springboard to see the world.
It didn’t pan out as I had planned; I found myself figuratively chained to my desk drafting contracts. This partner encouraged me, however, to become the firm’s immigration law resource, and offered me the chance to spend a week in Puerto Rico far from Detroit’s harsh winter to begin to learn the field at an immigration bar conference. The warmth of the Puerto Rican sun was matched only by the immigration lawyers whom I met there. They were largely happy, prosperous and thriving and they welcomed me into their midst. I’ve never looked back.
I moved in 1982 to Los Angeles where the prospect of practicing immigration law for a larger potential population of clients from around the world seemed brighter. Initial struggles and stumbles ultimately led me to join a large firm which wanted my immigration law expertise, followed by another large firm, and yet another (in between the last two firms, I started my own immigration boutique and grew it over 11 years to 15 lawyers).
Immigration law is a subcategory of labor and employment law, but with a twist. Rather than facing off against opposing parties, I help employers, their noncitizen employees and family members apply for and receive life-transforming benefits – a work visa, work permit, permanent residency and citizenship. They too are pursuing their own self-defined version of the American Dream. I get a lift and am still inspired now, as ever, over a career spanning 40+ years helping strivers thrive.
Last June I made another big career move. I joined Vialto Law (US) PLLC, an independently operated start-up firm affiliated with Vialto Partners, a $2.2 billion spinoff of PwC’s immigration, tax and global mobility practice groups. My mission is to grow the U.S. law firm in talent and clients who value the delivery of employee-friendly, technology-enhanced immigration legal services.
I’m so lucky to have stumbled into immigration practice and am grateful to be the second management-side immigration lawyer elected as a Fellow of CLEL. (The first, desevedly so, is my friend and colleague, Mary Pivec.)