Why Did You Become an Immigration Attorney?
Attorney Emily Sumner with a bunny (on a leash) that appeared outside her office window the day of filing the H-1B cap cases in 2013
Many times, clients have asked me why I became an immigration attorney. For those of you who do not know, I absolutely love being an immigration attorney. Some people kind of fall into their professions by happenstance, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that path. However my journey has been a much more deliberate one. In fact, if I couldn’t practice immigration law, I probably wouldn’t practice law at all.
I have always been interested in other countries, and people from other countries. My love affair with international cultures began when my parents took me to Disney World before I could talk. My absolute favorite ride was “It’s a Small World After All.” In fact, I liked it so much that when I learned to talk a few months later, I sang the song from memory!
My interest in international cultures and people continued throughout my childhood and youth. I developed a keen interest in Spanish in middle school, both because I had a natural knack for languages, and because it offered yet another opportunity to study not just one culture, but the many cultures that share that tongue. In high school, I aspired to be the first female Secretary of State, but then Madeleine Albright beat me to it.
In college at Wake Forest University (which my friends and I fondly called Work Forest), I declared Spanish as my major. The spring of my first year, I met with a Spanish professor to talk about internship opportunities to practice speaking Spanish with native speakers. He suggested that I speak with a local immigration attorney who had a large Hispanic client base. Immigration attorney? That thought had never crossed my mind. But I met with her, and followed up with her until she finally offered me an internship. It was love at first practice! I can’t quite put my finger on what I loved so much about it – it was a combination of the amazing people I worked with, both colleagues and clients, the satisfaction of filling out forms (this has been a hobby since childhood – yes, unusual, but now my career is based on filing forms, though there’s complex strategy involved now), and knowing that the work we were doing was helping people navigate an incredibly complex system to achieve huge personal and professional goals.
I continued to work at that firm part-time through the rest of my undergraduate studies, and had a wonderful experience that formed the foundation for the rest of my career. I then attended law school specifically to become an immigration attorney. I had several internships during law school, including working with the immigration department of the Catholic Diocese Immigration and Refugee Services, and with Challa Law Offices here in Richmond. The focus on my work was employment-based and family-based work in both places, and again, I absolutely loved the work, and realized that this is what I was meant to do. I worked for Challa Law Offices for several years after law school, managing high-volume filings for corporate clients, and developing strategies for families, companies and individuals to meet their goals through successful immigration filings. I also served as Special Counsel for Immigration Law for Virginia public universities, appointed by the Virginia Attorney General. Having served in that capacity for more than five years, I became intimately familiar with the unique issues that universities and other institutions of higher education face in hiring foreign national faculty and staff and in sponsoring them for permanent residence.
In September 2011, I left my previous firm to start Sumner Immigration Law, with the mission of offering consistently excellent client service to our clients. Given the large case load of a successful immigration practice, it is difficult to consistently offer excellent client service to clients; it’s much easier to offer such service to select clients, or to newly retained clients. However, we are able to offer consistent excellence by:
- Strategically managing our case load.
- Streamlining our internal office practices and procedures to accomplish tasks quickly and accurately (we have invested a tremendous amount of time and effort creating an internal firm manual that documents every process associated with each type of case; this allows both the attorney and staff to streamline our case preparation, resulting in faster preparation times for clients).
- Creating from scratch and systematically implementing a series of internal case preparation checklists and quality assurance checklists. This allows us to systematically check for potential roadblocks at the beginning of the case (rather than thinking of asking about it down the road when most of the work is complete) and then to proactively advise on solutions to address those potential problems. The clients benefit by knowing the risks and possible obstacles upfront, rather than down the road.
- Investing in an online case management system, and subsequently investing a tremendous amount of time customizing the system. The benefit for the client is a set of streamlined client questionnaires that save the data in our system (rather than filling in multiple forms or questionnaires anew for each case – most of our clients file multiples cases with us such as H-1B, I-140, I-485, or multiple cases for family members).
- The clients also receive automated email updates upon completion of key case steps, such as filing a case with USCIS. It sounds basic, but in a high volume practice, it’s easy to forget to send an email to let the client know that something was filed. The emails are also customized by case type and client to let the client know the estimated timeframes, next steps, and documents required for the next steps.
- Investing in highly trained, diligent paralegals with a demonstrated interest in immigration law (i.e. who also love what they do!). Clients benefit from working with attorneys and paralegals who love their work, and are excited about helping navigate the ever-complicated US immigration system!
Because I like what I do so much, I enjoy spending the time to create and refine these systems that allow for consistent excellent client service. I also enjoy spending the time speaking with clients to understand their ultimate goals and purposes in applying for a US visa, green card, or citizenship, and working on their cases, whether it’s researching the best strategy to use, or advocating on their behalf by drafting clear, elegant arguments based on law and agency guidance.
I look forward to continue helping clients (corporations, universities, institutions, families and individuals) navigate the increasingly complex US immigration system for years to come, and hope you will contact us if you need assistance with employment-based or family-based immigration!
For more information on the unique offerings of Sumner Immigration Law, please click here.