The Multilingual Professional: Rebecca Chen

July 05, 2021 00:31:26
The Multilingual Professional: Rebecca Chen
USLawEssentials Law & Language
The Multilingual Professional: Rebecca Chen

Show Notes

Episode 10

This episode of the USLawEssentials Law & Language Podcast continues our series of interviews with multilingual lawyers — but this time with multilingual paralegal Rebecca Chen. Stephen Horowitz is our interviewer and he talks to Rebecca about the important roles paralegals play in law firms. Rebecca offers a great inside perspective on her work with a prominent immigration law firm and how a team of legal professionals helps diverse clients from around the world achieve their immigration goals.

And you probably have goals, too – -such as learning legal English!

Below is a video introducing a recent USLawEssentials course in which you will learn to read a US Supreme Court case and important legal English vocabulary.

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:00 Welcome to the U S law essentials law and language podcast, the legal English podcast for non-native English speakers. That helps you improve your English, listening, improve your legal English vocabulary and build your knowledge of American legal culture. Speaker 1 00:00:22 Welcome to us Los Angeles law and language podcast. I'm your host. Steven Horowitz today's episode continues our series of interviews with multi-lingual lawyers and law practitioners. Today's guest is Rebecca Chen, a business immigration paralegal at the law firm of Ogletree Deakins in Washington, DC. She graduated from Rutgers university in New Jersey in 2014 with a degree in communication. She also taught English in Japan on the Japan exchange teaching program, also known as the debt program. Hello, Rebecca. Welcome. Speaker 2 00:00:57 Hi. See you. Thank you for having me. Speaker 1 00:00:59 Yeah, it's so great to have you, so let's see. So I guess that the first question I was going to ask you is actually already kind of been answered, but I'm going to ask you, have you ever lived in another country? Speaker 2 00:01:11 I have, I was fortunate enough to live in Japan for three years while doing the jet program. Speaker 1 00:01:19 And where at what part of Japan were you in? Speaker 2 00:01:22 I lived in <inaudible> prefecture, which is part of Tohoku it's in the far north a little bit under Hokkaido for reference. Speaker 1 00:01:31 Oh, was that, was that part of the area that was affected by the, by the earthquake Speaker 2 00:01:36 Was so back in 2011, which was three years before I moved to occupy prefecture, they had that giant earthquake that hit the east coast of Japan. So predominantly in Fukushima prefectures, but I know people in Tokyo salted extremely because it was such a huge earthquake. The earthquake caused everyone to take shelter underground. It was like Shindo five grade as well. So they were heavily damaged by a buildings were not as heavily damaged as on the east coast. But, uh, I asked actually to be placed near there because I knew that it was so recent after that had all happened and I wanted to help in some way. So I think where you're able to help. Yeah, I did for a couple of summers and people in my prefecture had already the jet people in ACTA already did this. They would go over to the east coast at UA prefectures and Miyagi prefecture to volunteer clean up debris and just witness firsthand the destruction that, that tsunami caused Speaker 1 00:02:55 That must have been a, an eye opening experience. Speaker 2 00:02:58 Yeah. And then you hear stories about how elderly Japanese people have chosen not to leave because it's their home or they choose to play a very active part in cleaning the radiation that came out of two, who she met just to protect the youth. And they'll say things like it's because they're already older that, um, they feel like they should be making that sacrifice instead, which is a sentiment that I don't think you would find in America at least. Speaker 1 00:03:31 Wow. Yeah, it sounds very, very selfless and self-sacrificing really amazing. And are there any countries that you want to live in, in the future? Perhaps Speaker 2 00:03:41 I was thinking the United Kingdom would be fun to live in. I visited there before on vacation and the culture and the ease with which you communicate, especially because I'm already an English speaker and the diversity that cities like London offer make it a really exciting place for me to consider living. Um, but anywhere abroad, I think would be fun. I think once you live abroad, you always want to return to that. You feel stuck being back in the country. He originally from and experience a lot of reverse culture shock. So you find yourself gravitating to experience and as many people who have lived abroad too, because only they understand what you've been through. Speaker 1 00:04:27 Yeah. I would agree. I haven't been abroad in a while I think because I had children. Uh, and, but I, but I still, you know, I still have that itch to go and visit for, you know, other countries and, and bring my family with me and experience it together. Um, let me ask you, what, what languages do you speak? Speaker 2 00:04:47 So I speak Chinese Mandarin. That was my first language actually. Um, I would today, I would say I'm conversational in it because the English American school system has sort of wiped it out. And I had to use English at home to practice using English at school. So English is my, I speak that at a native level, um, Mandarin trainees at a conversational and Japanese at a conversational level, Speaker 1 00:05:19 Which, which is better you're Japanese or you're Chinese, Speaker 2 00:05:23 To be honest, my Japanese is better because I was just exposed to more business opportunities and settings and applied it more frequently than I would. And just catching up with a family member at our, or seeing a girlfriend at a supermarket kind of Chinese. Speaker 1 00:05:40 And, and when you say business more business opportunities, you mean like with the volunteering in Japan or do you mean other situations? Speaker 2 00:05:48 Um, like for example, when you taught English in Japan, you have to attend all those ceremonies that were super formal. You had the, the principal opened up and the vice principal announced the next part of the program. And everyone's speaking in either Kago or like one level down and the more you get exposed to yes. So you just want to keep, Speaker 1 00:06:10 Uh, Kago you mean the, the really formal Japanese? Yeah. Yes. Speaker 2 00:06:14 Okay. And then sometimes I think, you know, they begin to trust the foreign international teacher vacate near you in your schools, the more they're around. So the longer you stay there, the more they trust you and they give you more responsibilities slowly and more like presentation time. And you, maybe this is the effect of assimilating into a country, but you want to pick up Keiko. You want to pick up the formal advanced Japanese, which is a pressure I don't get just from talking to family members and Mandarin. Speaker 1 00:06:50 <inaudible> the motivation, the motivation to learn a wider range of, of language and language uses is stronger. I guess you're in a professional setting. Yes. Speaker 2 00:07:00 Uh, and I was exposed to more situations and more kinds of conversation topics than I think I would with just family members speaking about what happened to another family member or a friend, or what's on the news. Speaker 1 00:07:15 So, and now turning to your work, you you're, you're a paralegal for an M a business immigration law firm or for a law firm. Um, what, what is a paralegal? What does a paralegal do? Speaker 2 00:07:30 So a paralegal is somebody who assists the attorneys, completing their cases, um, with every kind of different field, the paralegals duties would differ just the same way that attorneys duties would differ depending on whatever kind of specialization they're in. So the attorneys usually have the pressure of being the legal representative of some case, or they have to offer legal advice to a client. So they are the ones who are held responsible and they need to be the ones that have the most accurate information to give to the clients that are paying them for their expertise. However, that still leaves a lot of room for the physical drafting of forms. Um, preparing cases, doing research, the attorney's doesn't have to do that all by him or herself. They can give that to the paralegal to do. And the paralegal gets to learn and do everything except for sign off on those formal documents. The name is not there. My initials are on the documents because I I'm the one who prepared them, but I'm not the legal representative for a client. I can't represent a client in court. I can't formally give legal advice. I can't practice law in a formal legal setting. Um, I'm just an person who knows how to do the forms and the legal arguments behind it, but I can't be held accountable for all of that. Speaker 1 00:09:03 So, oh, that sounds good. You get to do it all, but you're not accountable. And, um, and so it sounds like there's actually a lot of overlap between the work a paralegal does and a lawyer does, but then there's also certain lines. Speaker 2 00:09:18 Yes, I would say so. And I think those lines are healthy too. Like any good law firms should have very clear delineations between what a paralegal does and what they're responsible for and what an are responsible for. Speaker 1 00:09:32 I, I once, um, found out about a law firm in, I think it was in Los Angeles, um, that, that I think blurred those lines. So I have, I had a friend and it was in, um, Los Angeles and they had their family had some legal issues and they were using this small law firm that had some Korean lawyers, I think. Um, but the, they kept talking with the paralegal, the paralegal kept doing all the talking. And what we sort of realized is that the paralegal we think was really the founder of the law practice that they were bringing in the clients and they just needed a lawyer to kind of sign off on things and go to court. But the paralegal was really the core of the law firm. And that I thought was really interesting. I'm sure there was some sort of line crossed and violation. Can you ever imagine doing that with your law firm? Speaker 2 00:10:29 I would say thankfully I do not have that kind of trouble here at a mid-size law firm. And I think there's a very good structure, at least on my firm about what attorney's responsibility should be. They have regular case meetings, they have status meetings, they have, you know, updates about the news and how that affects our practice. And what's, uh, what's the process going forward. And then paralegals get that information disseminated down to them about what's the process and what their roles should be. How should they transmit that information to the client? Because we, in addition to being a paralegal, I'm mostly like a case manager. So I have all these different cases that I see from initial drafting, all the way to filing and when they're filed and stuff. And I can like take it off my list and move on to the other ones. Um, Speaker 1 00:11:21 So it sounds like there's, it sounds like your law firm has a lot of good protocols and procedures and processes and checks in place to make sure that that, that line stays very clear because if it doesn't, if that line gets crossed, it can create problems for the law firm and for the client. So, so now in terms of what you actually do, what, what is, uh, what is a business immigration law practice and what, uh, how do you explain to your friends who are not lawyers? Speaker 2 00:11:55 So when I, I used to be an immigration paralegal, um, in the most vague sense, that is a paralegal, not an attorney who works with some kind of American immigration matter. Um, on the news, you get to hear a lot about immigration matters is particularly with regards, I think, to the Southern border and people crossing it with, or without documentation that tends to be Speaker 1 00:12:23 Sexist Arizona on the border with Mexico. Speaker 2 00:12:27 Yes. With people who are not necessarily Mexican, they just happen to all go through Mexico. Cause that's the country bordering the United States to the south. Um, so that is one kind of immigration in that. I actually did a lot of those cases before we call that asylum immigration or humanitarian immigration. Speaker 1 00:12:47 So asylum is, is, uh, when people immigrate to a country because they're, they have political problems or they're endangered in some way. Speaker 2 00:12:57 Yes. So the United States and many other countries follow, um, a 1951 refugee convention that was drafted by UNH CR, which provided the foundations for how countries should welcome anyone who's fleeing danger or sense, um, eminent threat to their lives. So the biggest difference between refugees and asylum seekers are refugees get, get their kinds of visas processed abroad. So that whole thing is cleared. They also have a lottery system and once all that passes, they, they can arrive to the United States with refugee status and they're protected. And they are allowed to be here on legal status. Asylum seekers usually carry less documentation on them because they're, they're traveling, um, in very dangerous territories, by very dangerous methods of transportation, don't always have the time or the ability to gather formal paperwork with them because they're being chased by gangs. Their, um, immediate family members are being coerced into gangs. Speaker 2 00:14:06 Uh, people are following them, stalking them, uh, threatening them, threatening their family members. Uh, so they don't always have the most time or ability to prepare documents, to carry to the border. Once they arrive at the border of the United States, they are allowed to claim that they are seeking asylum. And what that does is put them through immigration court and a judge will eventually adjudicate whether or not they, their case is legitimate. And when Trump was president and he had Jeff sessions as attorney general, he Jeff sessions as attorney general set very strict guidelines for all of the federal judges to abide Speaker 1 00:14:52 By. So if I were to apply for, if I were to immigrate to another country, I might have all my documentation and I submit it, it goes to an office and then they say yes or no based on whether I had all my documents and I met all the requirements, but if I were fleeing for asylum, I don't have all of that. So we have a, so there's a process where courts have to listen to each case and look at all the details of the facts to make sure that, that this is a legitimate case of asylum and then allow them to pass. And then you're saying that under Trump, the attorney general of the United States made the requirements much more difficult. So judges were basically saying no all the time. Speaker 2 00:15:34 Yes. It was extremely difficult to successfully get legal status based on a S on Ima, on asylum seeking in the United States for some time. Um, but I know that president Biden has, I think he, and, uh, Merrick Garland, the new attorney general are relaxing some of those rules. So it should be easier. However, I no longer do asylum immigration. That's just what I get to hear from the news. So business immigration has nothing to do with that. So you used Speaker 1 00:16:09 To do so in your previous job, you did asylum immigration, and now you're doing business immigration. So you've really gotten a different perspective to different perspectives Speaker 2 00:16:20 Except different Speaker 1 00:16:21 Actresses of law. Even though they're both immigration that are very different and people have entirely different, Speaker 2 00:16:27 They are different. However, I would say there are transferable skills between the two, and I think that's why this firm excepted me with the, the amount of experience I acquired from working in asylum immigration. It was transferrable to working at this immigration, for example, one of the documents that people in business, immigration and asylum immigration care the most about is being able to legally work in the United States and have income. If you don't have income, it's very hard to get a house, get a car, get groceries, pay your bills. So being able to obtain that document is called the employment authorization document or EAD card, um, is one of the first things that people want to make sure that they have, if they can't get any kind of work visa, Speaker 1 00:17:14 Is that, is that EAD card employment, authorization document card? Is that a green card? Speaker 2 00:17:19 It is not a green card. Once you get a green card, you actually don't need any ID anymore. Yeah. So the green card is one step if basically one step before having full-blown citizenship while remaining a permanent resident of another country. So business immigration deals primarily with employers of different sizes, hiring foreign nationals from other countries to be sponsored as employees in their business, in the United States. So I predominantly work with H1B visas, which are the specialty occupation visa that the United States has. And what that means is the foreign national who works here has at a minimum, a bachelor's degree, um, directly related to the kind of work that they will be performing. So USDA, which is the United States citizenship and immigration services department, um, which is under DHS department called insecurity, um, is the co what was considered the benefits, uh, the benefits, um, part of bureaucracy, because that was the one that gave up the EAD cars. That was the one that like allowed like that gave people the visas, the approval notices. And they are the ones who predominantly, um, uh, approved the H1B visa petitions that I dropped and the attorney signs off. And we submit Speaker 1 00:18:43 An H1B visa petition. Yes. When I think of a petition, I think of like going around and getting signatures so that, you know, to say, we need to change this something in our community. We don't like we don't, we don't want, you know, we want to have a stop sign on this street. So I'm going to get a lot of signatures from people and that's a petition, but I think you're talking about something different. Speaker 2 00:19:05 I think that's true. It is true that the word petition can be used that way in a crowd sourcing sort of way. Um, but petition can also generally mean just like an appeal to get something. So with the forms that we compiled together, we are basically appealing, not in a formal, like trial sense, um, to USP or requests, to show we are showing with documentation and by falling all the forums and by paying all the legal fees and the filing fees that this person has a qualified degree, they, uh, do work that is intended just for them. Um, and that the employer will be responsible for, uh, their, their status here. Um, so that's what I mean by petition. Speaker 1 00:19:57 And, and are there certain, um, fields of work that tend to be, um, more, more common, uh, employees who need, uh, H1B visas, for example, are there a lot of lawyers, um, who need H1B visas in the U S or is it a lot of engineers or is it a wide range? Speaker 2 00:20:17 You can have an H1B visa in any field. I, however, specialize with predominantly software engineers and financial background, each one. Speaker 1 00:20:32 So people working in software and tech or in the tech for big for banks or large banks and in finance for large. Okay. Have you ever done anybody? Um, like at like a famous athlete or anything like Speaker 2 00:20:47 That? I have not. However, in the world of, I think immigration, generally you get what's called an alphabet soup of different kinds of visas. So when you're talking about, if you're speaking about somebody who has an extraordinary ability, it's nicknamed the Einstein visa and it's called the AU visa, oh one pizza and it's people with a proven and demonstrated extraordinary ability, maybe like a Nobel prize winner who wants to be employed in the United States by something, someone, some group, um, they can petition for an O visa. And Speaker 1 00:21:26 That's Einstein because I had Stein was the great, Speaker 2 00:21:29 Yes, he's the standard that's set. You have to be an Einstein to qualify for a visa. So it's very difficult to get, you have to have a lot of paperwork to prove that you are on par with Einstein. It's a very rare visa. Speaker 1 00:21:46 Is that, would that Einstein visa also apply to athletes or is there another one called like the Michael Jordan? Speaker 2 00:21:51 I'm not sure that's a good question, but there are many, there are different reasons for artists, for performers, um, religious workers. Um, there are all kinds of different reasons for being there also country specific pieces. So for example, people from Singapore to LA, they get the H one B, one visa, um, people from Australia get the E three RESA. Speaker 1 00:22:19 So it it's, it depends on the country. There's certain, I guess there's just certain relationships that the U S has with Speaker 2 00:22:25 Those. Yes. So whatever relationship or kinds of treaties trade related treaties, usually that the United States would have for those countries affects the kinds of visas that they have. So for example, Canada and Mexico, being the direct neighbors of the United States and have ease of access to our country, as opposed to someone from the UK or someone from Russia, they get a TN visa. Um, and those are processed a little bit differently than the other kinds of reasons I've listed too. Speaker 1 00:22:57 And have you processed all these different kinds of DCIS? Speaker 2 00:23:00 I have done many H1B visas and their different forms. Um, I have done TN visas, TN one from Canada, from Mexico. Um, these are also highly, highly specialized occupation fields from Canada, Mexico. Um, the <inaudible> were from Australia. Um, I have not done those. Uh, they're also L one visas, which are intercompany transfer visas, which are also pretty interesting. So if you're American business is large enough to have subsidiaries in other countries and you want to bring like somebody from London over to work in New York, they might qualify for an L one visa. Um, and then you would have different kinds of arguments to prove that you would be a manager of some kind, or they're important enough basically to bring over to United States to work here when I was doing quota, that's what we call it. Quota season, uh, is when we have to do these mass registrations for all these people who want H1B visas, some of my teammates works for, and I'll say this in the most vague way for confidentiality's sake, e-sport athletes from South Korea. So they process special kind of pieces Speaker 1 00:24:20 With them, a new kind of athlete e-sport visa. There's a specific visa for people Speaker 2 00:24:28 Who play games online professionally. Yes. Speaker 1 00:24:33 Wow. I remember as a child playing your games, thinking, you know, I tried to justify to my parents why I should be able to keep playing it. And I, I always hoped there would be some sort of professional league, but I didn't think that that was a real possibility. And now it is, and there's even a special, it's so real that there's a special visa point e-sports Speaker 2 00:24:54 Is a thing it's e-sports is a big lucrative career for some people. Yeah. Speaker 1 00:25:02 Uh, it's hard to, it's hard to tell my children not to, you know, to limit their video game playing when I could, you know, it used to be viewed as wasting time and now it's, uh, it could be a lucrative, don't be a doctor don't go to medical school, don't go to law school, keep playing video games. Um, what, what does an average day of work look like for you? So Speaker 2 00:25:30 Is there an average day of work? Well, now that I continue to work at this for post coronavirus, I include remote working from home accommodations in my Workday, but it's predominantly the same thing I signed into work. Um, in the morning, um, I check my emails. I check all the important emails that are, that need a response right away. Um, I prepare things to be filed and sent out every day, um, respond to more emails, begin drafting petitions. Um, some of the petitions are a little bit convoluted as in, there are many steps that have to happen prior to it, or you need to get information from the foreign national first, uh, before you can drop the petition. And then it goes into, um, the review stage stage for the attorney. Um, but that is, uh, kind of our proprietary like workflow. So other, um, large slash mid-sized law firms who do business immigration can have a slightly different version of this. Also, depending on your client, your client might have their own internal quality check processes that you need to comply Speaker 1 00:26:53 With. Um, have you ever met any of the people that you've, that you've, um, uh, filed the visas for who have gotten the Speaker 2 00:27:00 Visa? So when I worked with asylum immigration, there was a lot more interpersonal client-facing communication with the clientele that I had. Um, they would come in because they saw an ad in the newspaper or heard word of mouth about this law firm. And they would come in to tell us their story or present an affidavit. Um, and then we would take notes down. Um, but now in the, because this office is so it's so streamlined that, uh, we have very defined work flows and work processes that I get to work with people from all over the United States, actually all over the world and many different time zones. So I never have to meet anybody and they never meet me, but they call we email, but I've never had to meet them in person, even if I know that they live in DC, or I know that they live, uh, like very near my office, it doesn't necessarily mean we have any need to meet in person because everything can be handled online. Speaker 1 00:28:00 Um, do they ever express their gratitude in any ways that you're able to see or that come across your Speaker 2 00:28:06 Desk? I think that this job can be very thankless sometimes because for example, renewing the H1B visa can be such a rote thing to do. So their expiration date is coming up. The, their employer asks us to renew their visa because we are the external vendor for our client. Um, so we, we process it's our bread and butter renewing visas, um, getting people legal status. So it's very run of the mill sometime. Yeah. Like you should just be able to do it and not just that, but do it very quickly with no mistakes. Speaker 1 00:28:48 Um, okay. And, uh, let me ask you one last question. Do you have any advice that you'd like to give? Um, either people, uh, who want to work in immigration or to be paralegals or just advice you'd like to give people Speaker 2 00:29:00 In general? I think you should, for anyone who's interested in being a paralegal, whether it's an immigration or not, should just apply to as many friends as possible. And to be humble when you're applying for these entry level positions, sometimes they ask for paralegal certification, which is something you can go to school and not get something equal to a degree, but like some step below that is a paralegal certification that some law firms think is necessary in order to hire you as a paralegal. I got my first paralegal job without that. And many law firms do that because it's a very, hands-on sort of experience you learn about the firm, learn about the culture you learn about your clients and the cases you work on the best when you're in the thick of it. So if you persevere, I think you'll be able to finally get your foot in the door. And even if it's not the best firm for you, having some experience on your belt looks great when you're applying somewhere else, because you're no longer where you used to be. So I would highly recommend people give it a try, especially if they're considering law school, um, because rather than sign up for law school without knowing exactly what you want to do with your degree, you can witness and talk to the friend, real lawyers who are in the practice and see if that's the kind of career you want to have. Speaker 1 00:30:29 And is that, yeah, I, I feel like a lot of people I know who have gone to law school first worked as paralegal so they could get their, get their hands dirty, see what's going on and also pay their bills while they're all they're thinking is that this law school something you're thinking about as well. Speaker 2 00:30:44 It is. So I've spent the last two years really thinking about whether or not I want to be a lawyer by watching the lawyers around me. And I think the work that they do is worthwhile is meaningful and something that I want to continue to work towards. Speaker 1 00:31:01 Oh, well, hopefully in the future, we'll, we'll be able to interview you again as a lawyer, lawyer, Rebecca Chen. So we look forward to that day. So thanks so much, Rebecca. It's been really great talking. Speaker 2 00:31:13 He goes really great. Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed this conversation Speaker 1 00:31:18 And thanks everyone for listening to us law Central's law and language podcast and stay essential.

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