Career Opportunities in Immigration Law

Career Opportunities in Immigration Law

Summer M. Woodson

On February 6, 2006, at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, the Committee on Law Student Perspectives sponsored a career panel discussion, where a diverse panel of practitioners addressed current issues in immigration law and discussed how to enter into a career in this field of law.

Moderator Julie B. Krasnogor, Partner, Krasnogor & Krasnogor LLP, introduced the panelists: Alexis S. Axelrad, Counselor at Law, Barst & Mukamal, LLP; Peter T. Schiron, Jr., Assistant General Counsel, Deloitte & Touche USA, LLP; Alan J. Pollack, Attorney, Law Offices of Lubiner & Schmidt; and Gemma Solimene, Clinical Associate Professor of Law, Fordham School of Law.

Ms. Krasnogor began by prefacing that immigration law is generally subdivided into three areas, business, family, and deportation/asylum practice, and that most lawyers practice in only one of these areas. In their introductory remarks, the panelists touched upon the area of immigration law each practiced, what types of cases and issues they handle, and how they got started.

Peter Schiron is Internal Counsel for Deloitte & Touche USA, a “Big 4” accounting firm that represents businesses and corporations around the world, a quarter of them Fortune 500 companies. Mr. Schiron provides a range of legal services, which range from strategizing how to obtain visas for his client’s employees, constructing policy for the client-firm on labor and immigration matters, and providing oversight of governmental agencies, such as the United States Departments of State, Labor, and Homeland Security. The more common visas that Mr. Schiron obtains for his clients are the L1 and H4 visas. The L1, inter-company visa, allows an employee, who does not seek to immigrate to the U.S., entry to work for a company. The H4 visa allows a foreigner who is sponsored by a company to obtain a green card. Other specialized visas include those for journalists, religious workers, entertainers/athletes, or the “S” visas for informants with vital information for the U.S. government.

Alexis Axelrad practices primarily family immigration law, but she has also handled removal and naturalization proceedings. She initially started at a small firm and, after working on a special immigration book, she was inspired to practice in this field. In addition to traveling to different consulates in the tri-state area for proceedings, Ms. Axelrad conducts initial client interviews to determine if her firm can provide assistance to obtain visas and green cards. The most common ways a U.S. citizen can bring a family member into the country are by marriage, or where a child sponsors a sibling, parent, or extended family member. Ms. Axelrad feels the most rewarding part of her work is the personal relationships and the shared joy she experiences in bringing families together. Conversely, the more difficult task is managing clients’ expectations of probable results.

Alan Pollack worked through law school and thereafter with an immigration firm where he gained experience in asylum and removal proceedings. He continues to practice in this as well as the business area of immigration law. His work includes deportation proceedings, which involve clients found in the United States with no visa, an expired visa, or who have a green card but have committed a crime. Mr. Pollack also has clients who seek asylum in the United States because of a genuine fear of returning to their home countries.

Gemma Solimene, who runs the Immigration Law Clinic at Fordham Law School, addressed the public interest aspects of the practice. Most of her cases involve low-income clients who wish to obtain or maintain immigrant status in the United States. Professor Solimene’s clinic takes on some of the more challenging cases, such as clients with criminal convictions, seeking political asylum, or petitions for relief by battered women who might lose their legal status if they leave their spouse. A class action lawsuit, challenging governmental immigration restrictions against certain groups of immigrants, is a growing area for public interest practitioners. Professor Solimene stated that getting into this field is much more difficult today then it was 20 years ago. But, she encouraged interested law students to research and to apply for fellowships. She stated, participation in summer internships at public interest organizations are also beneficial.

Practice in immigration law tends to be a “quantity-type” practice. Because an attorney is likely to handle many cases a year, most firms now charge flat rates for their services rather than standard hourly rates. Success requires balancing time and care for each case while maintaining a high volume of cases. All the panelists agree and advise that an aspiring immigration lawyer choose to specialize in one of the three areas of immigration law practice, because it is difficult to do them all. For example, the deportation and family areas require one’s presence at hearings throughout the day which would make tight 24-hour deadlines on visa paperwork filings impossible for one to do if practicing in the business area. Practice in the family and deportation areas have large personal elements to them and can be rewarding, because one meets with the client directly. In the business area, one mostly communicates with a company’s human resources director and rarely gets to meet with the actual immigrants.

All the panelists recommend joining the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Their website is Because it is very difficult to begin practicing in this area on your own, the panelists suggested working at a firm where you can gain experience and knowledge. In addition, having an experienced colleague to consult is necessary, because it is important to know the facts of each case as well as the many regulations, laws, and various programs that exist in order to succeed.

Summer M. Woodson is a second-year law student at New YorkLawSchool, Class of 2008, and is a student member of the Committee on Law Student Perspectives.