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Kelly Simon offers insights on immigration in Law360 feature

June 10, 2015

When Law360 asked Thompson Coburn’s first full-time immigration attorney, Kelly Simon, which parts of her practice area are in need of reform, she spared no words: “All of them.” That straight talk is just part of an engaging Q&A with Simon that Law360 published on May 28.

In the article, Kelly explains her personal evolution from a new associate who “was scared of everything: rocking the boat, taking risks and controlling my own career” to an immigration advocate who is a core member of Thompson Coburn’s now 10-person immigration group.

“Our group has grown into a small but mighty element of our larger human resources practice,” she says. “I did not completely love being a lawyer until I started to practice what I love — it was totally worth the risk.”

Kelly also takes on Congress’ extreme inertia on the subject of immigration reform and details the Obama administration’s “attempts to streamline, modernize and simplify elements of the immigration system.”

Simon, a partner in the St. Louis office, has been with Thompson Coburn for 10 years.

Law360 Q&A: Thompson Coburn’s Kelly E. Simon

Q: What is the most challenging case you have worked on and what made it challenging?

A: Any and all cases involving a client with a child or children. For many foreign nationals eager to live in the U.S., the most motivating factor is their love for their children and their desire for their kids to grow up in the U.S. As a mother myself, I get it. Unfortunately, the immigration process is often not so empathetic.

Foreign nationals working in the U.S. often find themselves in a race against time desperately trying to complete the U.S. green card process before their children turn 21 years old and “age out.” That can make for an angst-filled progression to adulthood if the family will not be able to stay together in the U.S. due to the slow-moving immigration process and visa backlogs.

Q: What is an important issue relevant to your practice area and why?

A: With Congress abdicating its responsibility on immigration reform, President Obama in November 2014 announced a series of executive and administrative actions intended to streamline, modernize and simplify elements of the immigration system. While programs such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parents continue to capture significant media attention, the administration has since proposed other important changes to the current employment-based immigration processes.

Q: What is a mistake you made early in your career and what did you learn from it?

A: Early in my career I was scared of everything: rocking the boat, taking risks and controlling my own career. It seemed easier and much more consistent with my risk-averse personality to follow directions. My fear almost cost me a career I love.

I wanted to practice immigration law. But I believed the risk was too great: I had a good job as a litigation associate at a great firm in my hometown. How could I risk all of that to practice immigration law?

Plus, there had never been a full-time immigration lawyer at my firm. There was no evidence that an associate could keep herself fully occupied with immigration work. Not to mention, there could be long-term adverse consequences to having such a narrow field of specialty. Being a litigator made more sense.

Then, I had a realization. Since I knew my future was not as a litigator, there was no reason not to go “all in” with immigration. There was really only one path for me; I had to pursue my passion. With that epiphany, my next steps were clear.

I stopped asking other people if I could be a full-time immigration attorney; I just started to do it.