Lawyering Can Make You Feel Good
Reading a recent PinoyWatchDog.com story about Alma Luna Reyes’s dream of becoming an attorney, see http://www.pinoywatchdog.com/atty-alma-luna-reyes-the-moon-king-continues-to-shine/ caused me to ponder on the thrill of practicing law, in essence, the vision that Reyes had as a child being played out in practical reality. Then, in a casual discussion with a new law clerk at the firm that I presently hold office I asked the standard interview question, ‘why do you want to be a lawyer?’
I have always felt the best answer to that question was a blend of helping your fellow man, and the intellectual stimulation that brings job satisfaction. One of the best examples of those legal challenges is the convergence of issues that arise when a non-U.S. Citizen is charged with a crime, and navigating the criminal and immigration legal minefield to successfully eliminate or lessen the adverse immigration consequences. It is only quite stimulating intellectually, but most satisfying when obtaining a result that will not mar an immigrant’s ability to either remain in, or reenter, the United States.
Obtaining $10,000 for someone on a claim is nice, but assuring someone will not be deported for life is better.
The initial challenge is to make the client understand that immigration law is often the product of Congressional politics, with different policies and interests crafting the text of the statutes at different time periods. The end result is that it cannot be presumed that a criminal conviction for a green card holder has more protection against removal than an illegal alien, or that conviction for a worse sounding crime, or a longer sentence or punishment, means greater adverse immigration consequences.
For instance, joy riding (just taking someone’s car without permission for a short spin but not intending to deprive another permanently) can have drastic immigration consequences, while auto burglary, meaning stealing it forever, can avoid removal problems. Makes little sense, but that’s the reality.
There are various penal code statutes regarding spousal abuse and battery, but choosing the correct code section that the criminal court and prosecutor will find acceptable for the circumstances and balancing it against the review of an immigration officer or judge is a unique responsibility.
I personally found my way into this grand real life intellectual exercise by happenstance. For the first ten years of my legal career I was essentially handling personal injury and employment cases exclusively. Ultimately, your loyal clients have criminal problems, and my first law partner was a former L.A. City Attorney. So taking on some criminal defense did not require major retooling. Handling standard drunk driving and petty theft cases were not complex, but we were helping the clients, and of course making a few extra pesos.
Then, in 1999 I boosted the firm’s immigration practice partnering up with Attorney Franklin Nelson, a gifted legal mind dedicated to assisting immigrants. (His office is in Pasadena if you need him. At PinoyWatchDog.com we can recommend our capable friends in a professional column. All the rules have changed.) Attorney Nelson took on the task of handling a post-conviction relief, a process of going back to the criminal courts after a conviction has been entered and seeking a reversal, sometime years later. Common circumstances would be the client did not receive appropriate legal advice from their prior criminal lawyer in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment interpreted right of ‘effective’ assistance of counsel (simple terms, the lawyer screwed up) or that a witness was lying (ie. the defendant leaves jail when the sobbing accuser admits they lied.)
While Attorney Nelson found the practice area stimulating, the 2000 -2001 deluge of immigration petitions brought on at the end of the Clinton administration (245(i)) essentially lead to the discussion of Nelson to me ‘hey, why don’t you handle these cases? They are your type of law anyway.’
So I did. Being involved in many aspects of immigration, years of civil litigation experience, and a fair smattering of criminal law the criminal/immigration law hybrid was quite an initial adventure. I admit having the criminal judge reverse a conviction hanging over someone’s life for an extended time and then going to immigration court and stopping the removal proceeding flat is, in my view, the essence of legal practice. Having juries acquit your client facing certain deportation if convicted is pretty darn good feeling too.
Attorney Alma Luna Reyes’ is not alone in her vision of the rewards of legal practice.