True confession: I did not take immigration law in law school and I took Latin as my foreign language class.  AILA members, reading that, I’m sure you just groaned. But the fact was, I did not become an attorney to practice immigration law. About 20 years ago though, my life took a happy turn and I haven’t looked back.

In 1996, after I graduated and passed the bar, I started work as an associate in a small-town general practice firm. One day, I was working on a worker’s compensation matter; the next day, a drunk-driving case; the next day, property division in a divorce. Professionally, I was in a panic. No mentor. No refinement in a particular area of law. I was doing the work, I was helping clients, but it felt more like flailing wildly than moving forward with a purpose. Within months, I decided to explore other options and met with a local attorney to talk through some ideas. On her bookshelf, I saw this paralegal guide to immigration law.  “Hmmm,” I said, “What’s that about?” She invited me to read it and answer my own question.  Funny how a random encounter like that can change the course of one’s life.

A few months later, I moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, and started my own law practice primarily focused on criminal and traffic defense. I decided to pick up immigration law to complement my defense practice and fill an under-served need in the area. As I was setting up shop, a local nonprofit called and asked about Liberian “TPS.” Although I attempted, unsuccessfully, to cover my ignorance, the truth was I had never heard of Temporary Protected Status (TPS)  – or Liberia for that matter. I needed help. I had the desire to help people, but not the knowledge.

So that’s why 20 years ago, I joined AILA. This association became the immigration law professor I never had. I soaked up resources on the basics at every Annual Conference, and using AILA, developed a network of other new members and veteran practitioners who would answer my questions. I learned what I needed to be the best immigration lawyer I could be by going to every chapter meeting and attending every CLE I could possibly attend. When the time came to devote my entire practice to immigration law, I was ready thanks to AILA.

To anyone new to the practice of immigration law, there’s no better place to take advantage of your AILA membership and build a solid foundation than the upcoming Fundamentals conference. You will meet colleagues from all over the country and learn from practitioners who have been in the field, can teach you the necessary skills, and answer your questions.

You’ve undoubtedly heard it before and you will certainly hear it again: Immigration law is complicated. But AILA has the resources and tools you need to set you and your clients up for success. I’m living proof.