Migration law has a ‘direct effect on people’s lives’

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The migration law space is filled with opportunities post-pandemic for lawyers willing to learn about the industry, argued this award-winning immigration lawyer.

Marial Lewis is an immigration law specialist and winner in the Migration category in the recent Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 Awards, as well as a finalist in both the Australian Law Awards and Partner of the Year Awards.

She’s also the principal solicitor and founder of Crossover Law Group, which is a finalist in both the NewLaw Firm of the Year and Innovator of the Year categories in the upcoming Australian Law Awards.

In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, Ms Lewis spoke about the various challenges and opportunities within the migration law space post-pandemic and had some valuable advice for younger solicitors wanting to enter this area.

“The Australian migration space and internationally have been heavily impacted by the pandemic. With the border closures and reduction in who can enter and exit the country, many families were separated, businesses were impacted as they could not get the talent they require from overseas and many individuals put on hold their migration dream simply because they had to,” she said.

“We also saw issues with vaccinations and denying entry based on vaccination status and opinion such as the Novak Djokovic saga and the issue of detention, especially prolonged detention. What has changed is that there were a lot of rules that came in and exemptions and more are yet to come which we all had to stay on top of to help our clients.”

Migration law can be quite a “complex” area due to its ever-changing nature and emerging complications — which became particularly prevalent during the pandemic, when border closures were at an all-time high.

“With migration law, it is not one size fits all and every situation may have a different law/rule applying to it based on the relevant period of time. It requires practitioners to dedicate a lot of time to research, be up to date and actually think carefully about each client’s circumstances to ensure that the right strategy is implemented. The other challenge with migration law is that many deadlines, especially for tribunal, which is the next review body after a decision is made by the Department of Home Affairs cannot be extended so if that deadline is missed, it will be very hard for the clients to challenge the first decision. So, keeping a tab on deadlines is a must,” Ms Lewis explained.

“Being a migration lawyer has an important direct effect on people’s lives. It could literally mean a change for them, their family, future generations or a trajectory of a certain business by having the right talent working in it.”

The Deregulation Act in March 2021 has allowed lawyers to overcome these challenges — and means that lawyers are able to give migration law advice without being registered as a migration agent, which Ms Lewis said has made a positive difference.

“This means that many lawyers can start offering an area of law that they may not have had a chance to do in the past. It is a positive development in the area that many migration lawyers have been waiting for many years,” she said.

“My advice for lawyers wanting to offer this area of law is to become knowledgeable in it, first by spending the time to actually research the regulations and policy properly as there are so many details that can be missed. I would also suggest that lawyers wanting to practice in this area to approach specialist immigration lawyers to cast their eyes over their advice or help them at the start. I know not many lawyers offer this service but as an accredited specialist myself, I recognise that challenge and I offer assistance to migration agents and other lawyers who may need help when offering that complex area of law. I would also say lawyers should always upskill and update their knowledge by attending conferences and being on top of new announcements and updates.”

For younger lawyers curious about migration law, Ms Lewis advised them to “go for it” but to “choose a good firm with the right culture”.

“It is a very rewarding area of law that can provide a sense of personal and professional achievement knowing your work and advice actually have a significant impact on others. Unfortunately, it is not an area that many lawyers consider at university given that there is no clear pathway about it and it is not marketed a lot. Some lawyers may think it is either refugee or humanitarian or work or nothing. Migration law has a lot to offer including corporate, litigation work, humanitarian and assistance to families and people looking at achieving a dream to come to a new country and change the trajectory of their lives and children’s lives. I would say be proactive and flexible. You may need to do some volunteering first or work within a firm that does that type of work to see whether that’s an area you are interested in or not,” she said.

“Migration law can open so many opportunities including a strong social impact and personal satisfaction when the right outcomes are achieved. Also be patient and work hard. Given the complexity of this type of law and having international clients from different backgrounds and languages, there is a lot to be learnt and you won’t be an expert from the get go. So, I would say work hard on getting your technical knowledge up to speed as well as your social awareness then you can add to those new ideas and improvements on how the area is being practiced.”

And in terms of other opportunities within the migration law space, Ms Lewis said there were plenty.

“In migration law, there is corporate and personal migration so lawyers may want to focus on one area and not the other if they particularly enjoy offering service to one type of clientele or have a mixture of both including refugee and humanitarian sector which are currently exploding given the world circumstances and the war in Ukraine and the Afghanistan Humanitarian crisis,” she said.

“With the borders reopening and having a new elected government, we will see a lot of economic rebuilding and migration policies are always tied into that with huge opportunities for the future.”

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