PATRICIA PEREZ-JENKINS is a solo practitioner who focuses on immigration and family law. She graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 2005 and then practiced with Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services before opening her own law firm
in St. Paul.
What led you to focus on immigration law?
I am a child of immigrants. More to the point, I am a child of immigrants who came here without permission; in the political discourse they were considered illegal immigrants. They were beneficiaries of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. I was 10 at the time. My father did not believe that the law meant what it said and he was very worried that if he applied that they would send us back. By this time my parents had three children born and raised in the U.S. My mom convinced my dad to apply. It took a while, but they were successful. They are now U.S. citizens and they vote. They don’t miss an election.
Their story inspired me to be the best that I could be and to seek a job where I could help people in similar situations. Hence I became an immigration attorney. I wanted to educate my community about the legal system. I want them to understand how the various parts of the government work so that they are not afraid of every government official. My mom likes to tell the story of how in the beginning, she was even afraid of the mail man because he wore a government uniform. I want my community to know how the system works so that they understand their rights and responsibilities, and so fear is lessened and they can function well within our country.
I added family law because when you start working in immigration, you soon realize family law is always intertwined.
What led you to choose a solo practice setting?
The freedom to choose my clients. Initially I practiced in legal aid with Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services. In legal aid we were constrained by the grants and limits imposed by federal funding. In a solo setting I can choose whom to represent. I am not bound by grants or limits. I also have th’e flexibility to decide how best to grow my practice, how fast, in what direction, and in which areas. And above all I have the flexibility to be with my children.
What do you value in your practice?
I value my clients. They are what makes my practice special and possible. I get to help people realize dreams, seek safety, in some cases get justice, keep families together, and help them move on with their lives. I get paid to do work that matters and that changes lives. I cannot imagine a greater opportunity than that.
What aspects of your practice are particularly challenging?
The one thing that is most challenging when you are a solo is the fact that you have no one to rely on, no one to discuss cases with, and no one to bounce ideas off to see how they would work.
When you face a challenge, what resources are helpful to you?
In this regard I would say that having really good connections to other solos or small firm attorneys has been very helpful. Knowing other attorneys who can lend an ear and who in some cases have greater experience can make all the difference. I have been very lucky in the colleagues I have met. They have been an invaluable source of inspiration and knowledge.
How is being a bar association member worthwhile?
My family law practice is newer to me. It has been with the help of the bar associations CLEs, listservs, and resources that I have been able to grow this side of the practice and ensure that I serve my clients well.
What activities do you enjoy away from work?
I love to read books of every type. I enjoy spending time with my husband and with my little ones. Watching them play and learn is a wonderful experience. I like to paint and draw as well.
Where do you see the practice of immigration law heading in the future?
Immigration law is probably one of very few practices that is so dependent on the will of the government. How it changes will depend greatly on who becomes president and what they consider the priorities. It will also depend on Congress and whether it moves away from xenophobia. The US never does well when it closes up its borders and adopts exclusionary policies. It thrives when there are many different groups of people working together for the greater good of the country.