AILA members are sharing their first person accounts of life and work at the moment – if you’re an AILA member, please email your 400-800 word submission to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration. Thank you for all you do!
Practicing U.S. immigration law outside of the United States has always been different. As non-stateside practitioners, we pride ourselves on being able to take our clients all the way over the finish line in real time, while navigating the ins and outs of consular processing at U.S. embassies around the world. We are used to meeting with our clients in person to prepare them for their visa interviews and on occasion, toasting their approvals together over a glass of bubbly.
By way of background, I am the founding partner of a boutique U.S. immigration firm based in Tel-Aviv, Israel where restrictions relating to containment of the coronavirus are amongst the most stringent globally. Thankfully, going to work every day is permissible, albeit under strict guidelines and limitations on the number of employees that may be present in the workplace. As a result, I have been holding down the fort together with one blessed paralegal while the rest of my team works from home. The highlight of our days at the office is the arrival of the Fedex delivery guy who never fails to mention (through his mask) how good it is to see people still working. Times are tough!
So how does practicing U.S. immigration law in a foreign country look during a global pandemic? It means that I am compiling exhibits and stapling forms. I am boxing up petitions and running down to the lobby to pick up the checks for USCIS filing fees from clients while “apologizing” on behalf of USCIS for making them leave their homes. Sorry, USCIS will not accept credit card payments during a public health crisis in the year 2020. I am helping my paralegal put together I-944 packets from hell to make sure we get those AOS filings in while EB-1 is still current.
Despite the obvious challenges of running an immigration firm during the COVID-19 crisis, there are opportunities that I had not considered when this began. Now that the daily “noise” of phone calls, meetings and conferences has been turned down so to speak, I have gained valuable insights into law firm management, productivity, efficiency, what and who is truly essential. For this to happen, I had to step down from being the founding partner of my firm and become the “Head Paralegal” for a while. Pride went out the window when this whole nightmare started and now, we must do whatever it takes to keep our boat afloat. And you know what? I am OK with it. For now.
To illustrate, I started a data analytics project at my firm over a year ago. Like many immigration firms, we bill on a flat fee basis for most matters, but employee work hours are recorded internally. Having previously worked in a large full-service commercial firm where almost everything is billed hourly, I wanted to ensure profitability vs. time spent. It took me hours to analyze the reports and figure out why some files took so much longer than others even though they were of the same type and difficulty level. Even after “drilling down” there were still holes that were hard to account for.
Now that I am doing a great deal of the production work myself, I have been able to identify problematic internal practices and processes which have led to epic wastes of time and money. As a result, I did a whole lot of reengineering work that I could never seem to find the time to do under normal circumstances. Although it has only been two months, I am already seeing positive results and significant financial savings. I simply couldn’t see the forest for the trees before this all began.
In many ways, I feel like I am starting over from scratch with these new business insights. It’s true that I am engaging in some “non-qualifying” tasks, but I do believe that within far less than one year of this crisis ending I’ll be able to (re)establish managerial capacity and show that my post-corona era new office is doing business, perhaps even better than before!