This month we chat with corporate immigration attorney, Miatrai Brown. Miatrai is a recipient of the National Black Lawyers Top 40 Under 40 Award and her decision to specialize in immigration is rooted in her passion to become an agent of change. In this interview she stresses the importance of surrounding yourself with motivated, inspired, and open-minded individuals on your journey as a legal professional.
FWIL: What inspired you to study law and why a specific interest in immigration law?
MB: I went to law school to become an agent of change. From a young age, I learned the importance of cross-cultural exchange as I was able to travel internationally both for sports and to volunteer. The exchange had a meaningful impact and was the impetus to deciding to attend law school.
FWIL: What does being an alpha female mean to you and would you describe yourself as one?
MB: An alpha female is an individual who embodies the best traits of leadership, empathy, and tact. I consider myself an alpha female as I strive to lead with empathy and tact. These traits help to improve many aspects which include my decisions and the trajectory of my life, professional relationship building, and working with the larger community.
FWIL: Do you identify as a feminist? (Why/why not)
MB: I strongly believe in the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. Based on this belief, I do identify as a feminist. I do not believe that one gender is better or should be treated differently solely because of their sex. Something that you are merely born with should not dictate how you are treated as a person. We all have feelings, we all bleed the same, and we all deserve respect and equality.
FWIL: The journey of most legal professionals is not always easy. What are some of the lessons you have learned along the way and how have they shaped your outlook on life?
MB: The best lesson I have learned can be shortened to an infamous line: “patience, young grasshopper.” When entering the legal community, there are many avenues you can take and the idea of an attorney, paralegal, or other legal professional can sometimes be glamourized. However, it takes time to learn the laws, to fill out the forms, write the briefs, and learn how best to engage with and advise on a life changing issue that not only affects your client, but hundreds of thousands in the community or in the world. You will want to learn faster, understand more, and work with higher-level clients and individuals, but you must take the time to learn and grow. It will create a better version of you. Further, regardless of the delivery, you must take all criticism as a chance to build a better version of you.
FWIL: What is the best advice you would give to a woman in law?
MB: Use your formal education as a foundation in the practice of law. But equally, surround yourself with motivated, inspired, and open-minded individuals. Look for formal and informal mentors to advance your social skills, as they will give you practical knowledge in the field, and professionalism tips which will open up more opportunities in the future.
FWIL: What attributes do you think every young lawyer must have?
MB: Focus and endurance.
FWIL: What recent change/amendment in the law (in your country/state) has caught your attention? (Do you agree with the change? Why/why not)
MB: A recent change that has caught my attention is the increase in disclosure to the government. Specific to U.S. federal law as it relates to immigration, green card applications and H-1B petitions have an expanded list on fiduciary responsibility. The forms have always requested extensive financial documentation such as tax records and corporate financial documents to show the financial health of the individual or corporation, but a recent change requires additional disclosure. The change has expanded the list of requirements to include disclosure of credit score and disclosure of whether an individual has ever held or is certified to receive a public benefit.
The change has sparked many meaningful conversations around the issue. Many sides agree that there is a need for the financial security of the individual requesting the visa as well as the financial security of the nation. However, there are varied degrees of belief on how to prove the likeliness of financial security for both parties.
In reality, there are public benefits and financial relief set aside for those in need, regardless of status. However, once an individual has obtained his or her green card, that individual may benefit from additional public benefits not previously offered had the individual not held status as a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident (green card holder). There are many that agree that disclosure of a credit score, which includes unbiased proof of the individual’s financial tendencies and history, and disclosure of use or future use of public benefits paints a clearer storyline of where the individual is financially and the individual’s financial future. While there are other groups that believe that the individual’s most recent tax return or the individual’s three most recent tax returns are sufficient to show financial security and viability.
The forms have previously included an area for a financial sponsor if the individual does not earn enough at the time of filing for the immigration benefit. The form is used as a contract indicating that the sponsor will assume all financial responsibility of the individual if needed. However, further disclosure is now required.
Although the new forms are cumbersome in nature, I believe that it is more helpful in understanding the financial health of the individual and the likelihood of financial viability in the future. Receipt of public benefit or a low/non-existent credit score will not bar an individual from obtaining a green card or an H-1B visa, but it will assist in learning more about the individual. In reality, a sponsor may not always be able to financially support the individual. In tandem, the individual may have a less favourable financial history, but can change the trajectory in a meaningful way. The new regulation is only in place to understand the individual’s financial history to make a determination on one aspect about the individual. There are many other determinations that take place to confirm whether the individual may change status in the U.S. and how the U.S. is able to respond to additional temporary or more permanent individuals. These factors include health, criminal history, willing involvement in groups that the world frowns upon such as illegal trade of weapons and humans, and more. Overall, most individuals requesting immigration benefits are not engaged in such illegal activities, and additional disclosure in one aspect is helpful for the adjudicating officers.
FWIL: Our world is constantly changing, in your opinion, what are some of the challenges that legal professionals will face in future?
MB: The legal community is currently facing challenges with diversity. These challenges will only become worse if changes are not made to ensure inclusive behaviour based on life experience, intelligence, and work ethic. To combat this issue, clients are now requiring diverse legal teams to work on their matters. Diversity comes in many forms to include diversity of sex, race, religion, disability, gender, age, and thought. Many larger law firms lack the diverse legal teams that clients require, and are losing work because of it. Clients are requiring diversity because statistics have shown that diversity incubates higher levels of thought and quality of work. In response, firms are now focusing more on more inclusive hiring practices to find the best and brightest legal professionals.
FWIL: As a legal professional, it is quite important to effectively use your network. How do you meet other professionals and what are some of your effective networking skills?
MB: LinkedIn is a wonderful tool to network. It allows you to reach a vast number of professionals in different geographical locations. In addition to LinkedIn, volunteering and joining trade or bar associations are also helpful in networking and building relationships in your community.
FWIL: What does the term “role model” mean to you? Is there a particular woman in your life that you consider a role model?
MB: A role model is an important figure people use as an internal sounding board. Although the term “role model” is often used in a singular context, an individual can have many role models for different areas in their life and/or during different stages of their life. For me, a role model is not necessarily an attorney or a woman. A role model is an individual who works smart and continues to exude positive aspects of leadership. In circling back to the idea of feminism and equality, I look at the individual based on the actions, not necessarily his or her words. In watching and learning from a role model, I look to see how much that individual has achieved despite the setbacks, how forward thinking the individual is, how inclusive the individual is while ensuring it does not overstep his/her boundaries.
I have had one consistent role model my entire life and have had additional role models that I have looked up to during different stages of my life. My consistent role model has been my mother, while I have had additional role models throughout my life that have included my sister and brother, attorneys, philanthropists, and business owners.
FWIL: What books have you read that have greatly influenced your life?
MB: So many. At the moment, I am currently reading The 5AM Club which is helping me restructure my routine, maximize productivity, and keep stress levels down.
FWIL: What’s a quote that you live by? Your mantra
MB: If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan, but never the goal.
FWIL: How do you remain autonomous while working in the legal field?
MB: Truly there is never autonomy in the legal field because there are constraints with regard to client needs, business practices, collaborating with colleagues, and where you fall within the hierarchy of the firm. However, despite the above, it is best to think of your caseload through ownership. When you think that way, you will likely produce a better product for the client while feeling a sense of autonomy in practice.
FWIL: What is your take on mentorship and are you open to mentoring young lawyers or law students?
MB: Mentorship and sponsorship are critical to shaping an individual who wants to learn different avenues to achieving their goals. I currently mentor law students and college students and am open to mentoring more.
FWIL: How can people reach out to you? (social media handles)
MB: LinkedIn: Miatrai Brown