Breanne Johnson ended up as an associate attorney at the global immigration firm Stern & Curray LLC because of a Christmas party. She capitalized on the opportunities and resources at the University of Colorado Law School, and continues to implement the skills she acquired as a student as well as the networking abilities that led to her current job.
Tell us a little about your work. What do you do, and what might a “typical” work day look like?
I practice immigration law, which for me includes business- and family-based immigration as well as deportation defense and asylum. I work with employers to bring foreign talent and businesses to the U.S., help people petition for their family members abroad to come to the U.S., and help asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants fight cases before the immigration courts. A typical day would include a few consultations with immigrants from all over the world; spending time writing cover letters or briefs for immigration petitions; and potentially spending time in court or at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, representing clients at court hearings or government interviews.
How did you find your job?
I worked as a student intern at the Denver Immigration Court during the summer after my 1L year. I had a really great relationship with my boss at the court, and we stayed in contact. She invited me to come to the immigration court Christmas party the winter after my internship and introduced me to the attorney who hired me at the firm I'm at now.
How did Colorado Law help you in your job search?
For starters, Colorado Law helped get me that first job at the Denver Immigration Court. When I was a 1L, the Career Development Office (CDO) was having mock interviews, and someone from the CDO team “coerced” me into going. Luckily, my mock interviewer ended up being someone from the Denver Immigration Court. We had a great mock interview, and at the end of the interview she asked me if I was interested in working with her at the court. In addition to helping me with this first job, when I was applying for post-graduation jobs, the CDO staff, as well as my professors, offered advice, introductions, resume/cover letter proofreading, etc. I had a lot of support and encouragement during my job search.
What skills do you utilize on a daily basis, and how did your experiences or courses at Colorado Law help you develop these skills?
I write and interact with clients every day. In meeting with clients and recommending case strategies I'm constantly issue spotting. Clinic, trial advocacy, and motions advocacy were extremely helpful in teaching me trial prep, how to work with clients and how to argue before the immigration court. I'm also thankful for the legal writing and advanced legal writing classes, as well as involvement with a student journal, all of which helped me develop my legal writing and citation skills. Of course, my immigration law and asylum and refugee law classes have been doctrinally incredibly helpful in building the knowledge base for my area of practice.
Please talk a little about “people skills” and networking specifically. How has your professional network made a difference in your career?
People skills and networking are so important. When we’re hiring in our office, we always try to hire and interview through recommendations from others. People who are front of mind get recommended. Networking is a professional imperative and an expectation in order to get your name out there and in front of opportunities as well as to find clients. Networking is hard but there are lots of ways to accomplish it. Find what works for you and make a commitment to network; it will pay off.
Just about every job offer, opportunity to join committees, serve on a board, or participate in an interesting project or initiative has originated from a networking contact I created and developed. As mentioned above, I was initially hired at my current firm because of an introduction that was made during a Christmas party. Also, developing a professional network of contacts has allowed me to have a base of people to whom I can refer clients when necessary and has given me a supportive group of colleagues to whom I can reach out if I need a quick answer to a question outside my area of expertise. Immigration law intersects with many other areas of law, and if I can't answer a question for a client, it's really helpful to be able to steer my clients toward someone who can.
What advice would you give to current students with respect to finding a job?
Find a mentor in the area of law you want to practice in. Attorneys practicing in the field of interest can be very helpful and informative regarding how to get a job.
If you were to recommend Colorado Law to a potential law student, what would you say?
I would say that Colorado Law is an amazing school and a great community. Professors and staff are brilliant and want to help you succeed. You will be challenged yet supported. Take advantage of as many extracurricular opportunities as you can. It's much better to practice trial advocacy and oral arguments as a student than as an attorney—judges are less forgiving once you're licensed.
Why did you choose Colorado Law?
I chose Colorado Law because I initially thought that I wanted to practice environmental law, and CU has a nationally recognized program. I also wanted to move to the state of Colorado, and Colorado Law had the clinical classes I was interested in and seemed to offer the highest quality legal education.
To see more Promising Starts: www.colorado.edu/law/careers/career-paths/promising-starts