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Day in the Life of Attorney Paul Zulkie

Paul Zulkie, Managing Principal of Zulkie Partners LLC in Chicago, Illinois, has an opinion or two about the state of U.S. Immigration. Mr. Zulkie is an accomplished speaker and author, and currently serves as President of the American Immigration Council, a leading non-profit organization in the field of immigration. Mr. Zulkie is also the Past-President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) serving during 2004-2005. In that role, he was a regular AILA media spokesperson giving interviews to the Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio journalists, and also testified before Congress. He offers us a glimpse into his life as the Managing Principal of Zulkie Partners, LLC in Chicago, Illinois as well as his work with AIC and AILA.

When you served as Past-President of AILA from 2004-2005, how did it feel to be President of such a large organization? What were some of your accomplishments that made you proud?

How did it feel? It was both scary and an honor! When you look at AILA as an organization, at least in my case, I looked at it from two perspectives:

1) The membership is now around 11,000 attorneys. Unlike other bar associations, AILA is special because it’s extraordinarily collegial and mutually supportive. There isn’t the same type of competition among us … [which] helps us to bond professionally and personally. My best lifelong friends were individuals I met as a young member of AILA and later as an active member of the leadership.

2) In terms of being President, the AILA national office staff always has been and continues to be wonderfully smart and hard working. They made me look good during that year.

In terms of accomplishments during my presidency, we raised the profile of AILA in support of pro bono activities by our members. We worked very hard with other organizations that needed support to help coordinate and develop a systematic approach to encouraging AILA members to volunteer their skills and experience to help those who were really in need of legal representation but couldn’t afford it. This included some interesting collaborative efforts with non-profits and large law firms.

Based on what you’ve seen over the last eight years since your presidential term, how has the enforcement or application of our immigration laws influenced the business landscape in the U.S.?

It’s been extremely destructive and frustrating for the business community. Many companies have just given up trying to obtain immigration benefits that were readily available for them and their employees in years gone by. This is clearly having a negative impact on job growth in the United States.

In this regard, how do you counsel your clients?

I rarely offer encouragement but rather manage the expectations of our clients, which has been increasingly difficult. You have to explain reality and it’s a really sad reality now. You need to provide a sense of what is happening with similar applications and petitions. What could go wrong? What we need to do to get a positive outcome. It’s a lot trickier than it used to be.

Many companies refuse to believe [the climate that I describe] because it makes no business and policy sense. Why would the government do this?

What was one of your most memorable immigration experiences as a professional?

Nine of my clients were killed in the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks. (One of my corporate clients had an office on the 90th floor of one of the buildings.) I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a young widow of one the victims two days after the attack. She had only one question for me, “How long will it be before my children and I are deported?”

I told her, “Don’t worry, we’ll figure something out” which was the best I could come up with at the time. Within the next few days, AILA had been contacted by members of Congress to ask for guidance on how to help the surviving spouses and orphans of the nonimmigrant victims. I became a member of a small AILA task force that helped draft provisions to provide status for the immediate relatives of these victims. Many of our suggestions were enacted as part of the Patriot Act. My corporate client was extremely helpful in using its political connections to assist in getting these relief provisions enacted. Playing a role in allowing these family members remain in the U.S. in legal status was one of my most satisfying immigration experiences.

What is one practice tip that has helped make you a better immigration attorney?

If there was one thing I would tell younger attorneys: do not underestimate the importance of being organized. Staying on top of your case work, managing your staff, and tracking your data is very important. We deal with an enormous amount of information and it’s easy to make a mistake by being sloppy or not paying attention to the details. In many cases as a practical matter we really only get one bite of the apple with an application or petition. It’s one thing to blame the government on denials but another to admit an error.

If you were not practicing immigration law, what would you be doing instead?

When I was in high school, I wanted to host a radio show – a real radio show with a combination of music, news and some talk. Interviews would be more from an entertainment perspective than just pure news.

Thanks Mr. Zulkie for your candid responses to some tough questions by this humble blogger! The 9/11 story made the hairs on my back stand on-end! It is a story like this that makes me proud to be a member of this profession and this community!