As she went through law school, Adonia Simpson had some ideas when it came to what area of law she might want to practice– the top two of interest being immigration and international law. And after taking an immigration law clinic at New England Law | Boston, her decision became clear. “Throughout the clinic I was able to use my language skills as well as work with people directly, I felt like I was making a real difference in people’s lives through providing legal representation.”
With the experience she gained in law school as a jumping off point, Simpson graduated imagining herself working in immigration law, particularly in nonprofit work. However, in a turn of events, since her ’09 graduation date, she’s ended up splitting her time between both private practice and nonprofit organizations.
Working in the Private Sector
After completing a fellowship position with New England Law’s Center for Law and Social Responsibility post-grad, Simpson went on to work in private practice. There she spent a few years focusing on immigration and criminal defense work.
Simpson stresses how working in private practice provides attorneys significant opportunity to experience working on a broad range of immigration cases. “I got exposure to so many different aspects and areas of immigration law that I may not have encountered working in just legal services – for example working on more complex criminal or detained cases. I learned an incredible amount in that period.” She also adds that private practice can be a more structured environment, which can be a great place to start for a recent grad.
Related: Everything You Need to Know About Becoming an Immigration Lawyer
Immigration Nonprofit Work
Following that, Simpson shifted her focus to nonprofit work. She first moved to Baltimore to manage the Legal Services Program with Esperanza Center, Catholic Charities of Baltimore. Afterwards she relocated to Florida to join Americans for Immigrant Justice in Miami, where she started the Family Defense Program, providing legal education and representation to those in Florida impacted by the at-the-time turbulent immigration environment.
In contrast to private practice, Simpson remarks that her time in the nonprofit world enabled her to grow professionally in an entirely different way. The organizational structure of the nonprofits that she worked with gave her the chance to take on more significant leadership roles. During that time, she got a crash course in managing teams, applying for grants, balancing budgets, and other essential skills. Along the way she also formed relationships with legal service attorneys who she fondly remembers as being some of the most skilled and committed advocates she’s ever encountered.
Pursuing Policy & Pro Bono Work
Most recently, Simpson’s made the move back up North to join the ABA Commission on Immigration as their Director of Policy and Pro Bono. There she’s been eager to focus on the two elements of practicing immigration law that have excited her most thus far. She notes that it’s a hectic time with so much going on at a national level, but describes working in immigration law in 2021 to be extremely fulfilling.
Advice to Immigration Law Students
Simpson credits each position that she’s held as having played a vital role in getting her where she’s ended up. “In the case of my career path, I’m not sure that I would have been able to move to each ‘next’ position without the experience of the prior.” Her success only solidifies the idea that while they look different on paper, both private practice and non-profit are equally rich in the experiences they have to offer.