United States: Law Student Perspective: An Interview with AILA Member Jonathan Grode

In the interview below, published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA),  Practice Director Jonathan Grode discusses his personal experiences that led him to pursue a career in immigration.

AILA Doc. No. 17050504 | Dated May 5, 2017

By Alexis Dutt

For Jonathan Grode, the U.S. Practice Director at Philadelphia's Green and Spiegel law firm, the introduction to immigration law happened at a hospital. "My father died when I was thirteen. I spent all my teen years thinking the world owed me something. I didn't try very hard in school."

Grode's mother suggested that he learn more about the illness that took his father's life, leukemia. With this in mind, he spent a summer at a leukemia institute working with a Nigerian doctor. Grode remembers, "He instilled in me a remarkable amount of power. He told me that 'people might feel sorry for you now, but nobody is going to do 'it' for you but you.'"

His time at the leukemia institute confirmed that, despite his mother's best intentions, young Grode had no interest in pursuing a career in medicine. It did, however, spark his interest in what he calls "culture cultivation."

During his senior year at Case Western Reserve University, Grode attended a job fair where he saw an advertisement for a position as a paralegal at an immigration law firm. He remembered the lessons he had learned from the Nigerian doctor and decided to apply. He spent the next few years working as a paralegal before deciding to apply for law school. "Ultimately, I didn't want to be a paralegal forever. It was time for a promotion," he laughs.

Grode continued to work full-time while he was going to night school at Temple University, Beasley School of Law. Because of his substantial experience, the plan was always to continue to practice in immigration after graduating with his J.D. Looking back, he recognizes that his background uniquely prepared him for this line of work and that if he had gone straight to law school after undergrad, he would not have ended up in immigration law because, he "wouldn't have known what it was about."

Thankfully, Grode had a job waiting for him after law school at the firm where he worked as a paralegal; "I went into law school saying I was going to pass." However, after he arrived, he "fell in love with the law and the Constitution." Grode excelled in law school, something he also attributes to his non-traditional program. "There's something special about being a night student. It's not nearly as competitive." Because of his passion and the more collaborative environment, he graduated first in his class from Temple.

Although he flourished in his courses, Grode believes that some of the most important elements of a legal education are outside of the classroom. To him, the point of law school is "training yourself to be a lawyer" and he stresses that "sometimes those opportunities lie outside of law school." For example, Grode had his first ever public speaking opportunity while at Temple. He remembers preparing to present to a large group of people and being very nervous, but "Now, you can't get me to shut up!" he laughs. Because of that experience, he has felt empowered to go out and seek more of those opportunities. Speaking engagements are a significant part of advertising for his law practice. "That's the way you develop business," he states, matter-of-factly. Grode suggests that students and young attorneys looking to expand their brand should start local at AILA chapter events, law schools, and the chamber of commerce.

While speaking opportunities bring in clients, most of Grode's business comes to him by word of mouth, and his biggest piece of advice for young attorneys is patience. "You don't know when those seeds of future work will germinate" and "sometimes the most innocuous cases will have the biggest pay off." Additionally, he suggests joining non-immigration bar associations. "If you want to get into sports immigration law or entertainment immigration law, join those individual bar associations. You'll likely be the only immigration person there."

Working as a paralegal before coming to law school propelled Grode's career as an immigration attorney at an advanced rate. Now Grode's practice is primarily employment-based, an area of the law he considers to be one of the few non-adversarial practices, where "everybody benefits." In fact, one of Grode's favorite parts of his practice is that many of his clients become friends.

Grode feels strongly that his job is really about facilitating culture development: "The only way to engage in economic development is by population increase. Bringing in people is essential to the country." His practice works with athletes, entertainers, and researchers, just to name a portion of his diverse clientele. His advice for breaking into the world high-profile employment-based immigration? "Biodiversity. You can't actually focus on one particular area. That puts the firm at risk."

While he shines at Green and Spiegel, Grode doesn't plan on practicing forever and would someday like to move into teaching full-time. As a night student, Grode didn't have access to a clinic, journal, or many immigration law classes. However, he could-and did-take Business Immigration. During his last year of law school, Grode was a teacher's aide for that course. After he graduated, his Business Immigration professor went to the university administrators and suggested he continue to help with the course, and the next year he started teaching it with his former professor, eventually taking over the lecture entirely. These days, in addition to Business Immigration, Grode also teaches Advising Global Corporations and Law Practice Management at Temple.

For now though, he loves practicing immigration law. "I have the opportunity to travel without leaving my desk." Alexis Dutt is a second year law student at the University of Minnesota from Abilene, Kansas. A certified student attorney in the James H. Binger Center for New Americans' Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic, Alexis also works as a law clerk for Karam Law in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Alexis Dutt is a second year law student at the University of Minnesota from Abilene, Kansas. A certified student attorney in the James H. Binger Center for New Americans' Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic, Alexis also works as a law clerk for Karam Law in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 17050504

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