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    What Experience Does a Young Attorney Need to Practice Immigration Law?

    What Experience Does a Young Attorney Need to Practice Immigration Law?

    How do you get started in immigration law if you’re an early-stage lawyer? Whether you are seeking an entry-level position as an immigration attorney, or you are coming from another practice area and want to switch to practicing immigration law, you already have skills and experience that are transferable and will prove useful in serving an immigrant clientele.

    Motivation is important. Immigration lawyers often have a personal connection to immigration. They may be immigrants themselves or have family members or friends who were. That specific kind of connection isn’t required, though, as long as you feel strongly motivated to work with and help people who come from different countries and backgrounds.

    Like most other lawyers, immigration lawyers like to solve challenging problems and have excellent verbal, writing, and analytical skills. Unlike most other lawyers, though, immigration lawyers also need to be able to speak at least one other language at a conversational level.

    What Experience Do I Need to Practice Immigration Law?

    The experience in immigration law that you’re going to need will depend on what, exactly, you are going to be doing in this new phase of your career. For some positions, you can bring your existing legal experience and learn the specifics of immigration law on the job.

    For entry-level lawyers, your commitments to the people you’ll represent and your general legal skills may be enough. For example, here at NOVO Legal Group, we don’t require specific experience in immigration law for our entry-level criminal defense or family law attorney positions. Instead, we ask for other types of experiences, skills, and commitments:

    • Experience working with marginalized communities
    • Experience managing multiple projects and meeting deadlines
    • Conversational Spanish language skills
    • Outstanding oral-advocacy skills
    • A strong desire to work with the firm’s clientele
    • A demonstrated commitment to civil rights and civil liberties

    We also require a sense of humor!

    For lawyers who are about a year further along in their legal careers, we are still seeking the same set of skills as in our entry-level positions, just with more legal experience.

    What Do I Need to Know to Practice Immigration Law?

    Immigration law is extremely complex. You will probably learn much of what you need to know from experience on the job or from mentors. If you are making a transition from another area of law and you have the time, consider getting a head start by taking MCLE courses that cover immigration law or related areas, or volunteering for organizations that advocate for immigrants.

    The field of immigration law contains a diversity of sub-practice areas. What you’ll need to know will depend, in part, on where you intend to focus your legal work. A practice that specializes in deportation defense, for example, will be very different from one that helps businesses obtain visas for workers.

    The particular “softer” skills you’ll need will also depend, in part, on your practice area. Strong oral advocacy skills, for example, are essential if you are going to be defending clients against deportation in administrative proceedings. If you’re pursuing impact legislation, you’ll need outstanding research skills.

    There are also skills that all, or almost all, immigration lawyers will need to apply regularly, no matter what their sub-practice areas. As an immigration lawyer, you'll need to be proficient in:

    • Communicating effectively with everyone you come in contact with, including other lawyers, paralegals, other legal staff, judges, and clients – in person, on the phone, via online conferences, and in writing. You should be able to talk with your clients in their primary language.
    • Keeping up with changing laws and regulations. In immigration law, public policy changes constantly, which changes the laws as well. You should be able to analyze the law and know how the changes will affect your clients.
    • Being a good problem solver. Your clients have problems that they can’t solve on their own, which is why they need your help. When dealing with the immigration system, you will run into many roadblocks, and you’ll need to be resourceful in dealing with them.

    Getting Your First Position As an Immigration Attorney

    Whether you are seeking your first job practicing law, or you are transitioning to immigration law from a different practice area, you should look for an employer that:

    • Shares your values
    • Handles the kinds of cases you want to be working on
    • Works with communities you’re interested in working with
    • Needs the skills and experience that you already bring to the table
    • Gives you a chance to gain new experience and skills in immigration law
    • Provides opportunities for career growth

    With the right fit, you can make a meaningful impact in the field of immigration law and contribute to positive change.