Meet Lara, living her calling and finding success as an immigration attorney

Name:  Lara Wagner 

Location:  Boston (by way of Chicago).  I just moved here in February!

What do you do?

I am an Immigration Attorney at Rian Immigration Center.  I represent citizens, and sometimes non-citizens, before the immigration agencies.  It is mostly family-based work. Most people are petitioning for their relatives.  I also do a little bit of protection-based work – U-Visas and VAWA (Violence Against Women Act).  All of my clients are low or moderate-income.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Our organization does very little court work.  I’m one of the more experienced court attorneys here because I came from private practice.  A lot of my work is drafting, meetings with clients to make sure their forms are correct, screenings clients, etc.  During normal times we do walk-in clinics once or twice a week so the attorneys rotate and a big chunk of my time every few weeks is doing consultations during in-person clinics.  During COVID-19, we have been conducting consultations on the phone.  The clinics are held on-site and in partnership with various organizations around town.

What inspired you to join the legal profession?  

I wanted to help people.  I initially wanted to be a human rights lawyer.  When I went to undergrad, I wanted to work for the Department of State and be a Foreign Services Officer so I studied international relations.  During my studies, I learned that the U.S. government is really not that nice.  We propped up several dictatorships and screwed up other people’s countries, and I was thinking that I didn’t want to do that!  I wanted to help people!  So then I thought I’d become a human rights lawyer and that’s why I went to law school.  But a lot of human rights lawyers live in a lot of horrible places and it’s not a very stable life.  They move around a lot, and that didn’t sound very nice.   I instead became an immigration lawyer and all the people who are fleeing come to me, and I help them, and I get to stay in one place.

How do you define success?

It is like a feeling of calm.  If you found something you enjoy doing most days and you can enjoy your life, that is personal success. even if you are not rich.  In my legal job success looks a little different.  In my job success has become knowing that I’ve tried my best.  In other areas of law it might be winning, but in immigration, cases aren’t winnable, especially right now.  And cases that should be winnable aren’t, especially right now.  Sometimes all you know you can do is know that you fought for someone and gave them the chance to have someone in their corner and to believe them, and that’s the most success that you can hope for.

Do you think you have found your calling in your current job?

Yes, I think so.  I don’t think being a small business owner was my calling.  I’m happier this way.  I like being able to spend most of my day doing legal work and not having to worry about the business side of things.

What has been your proudest moment professionally?

Winning my very first petition for review.  My co-counsel from the National Immigrant Justice Center just emailed me the other day and said that someone had cited our case.  Having a decision that I argued and that other people want to cite is pretty cool!  And the sweet lady and her two kids got to stay in America because we convinced the court that the government didn’t do its job properly, and that’s also nice.  She cried when I told her the news.

If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the legal profession, what would it be?

Just one thing?!  It would be to have less lawyers who think that just because this is how we’ve always done something, it’s the best way to continue to do it.  Ideally we’d have more lawyers who are willing to try new things.  There aren’t enough.  Some of that is we’re taught to be risk adverse, but there aren’t enough lawyers who are willing to try new things.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I do a lot of yoga, especially now during COVID-19.  I like to knit.  I am currently knitting socks.  I also like to bake.  My favorite things to bake are cupcakes and scones.

What is your go-to wellbeing activity?

Definitely yoga!  That or maybe mani-pedis, but yoga right now????  I’ve been using Glo.  It has a free 15-day trial and then there is a low monthly subscription (something like $10.99/month).

The best book you’ve read or podcast listened to recently? 

One podcast I’ve listened to during the past year is Hit Parade.  The host writes a column for Slate about how songs become #1 hits and the podcast is about that.  It’s been interesting to learn about the Billboard Hot 100 and how people used to actually purchase singles back in the day.  As a kid who grew up in the 90’s, that never made sense to me (lol).  So it’s been interesting to learn more about it and the history of the songs themselves.

What is one new thing you are hoping to learn from others in this community?

I want to know more about what’s going on in other parts of the country, especially since I just recently moved (geographically and practice type).  I would love to know what other non-profits are doing since I now work in that space.

And what is one thing you are looking to share with others in this community?

My experience in transitioning between different practice settings, especially early in my career, which I think is unusual.