Tahmina Watson was a lawyer in the United Kingdom, where there are solicitors who are transactional lawyers, and barristers who are trial lawyers. In Canada, one can be both a barrister and a solicitor, but in the UK, you are one or the other. Watson trained as a barrister, you know, the ones with the wig and the gown.
Once she completed her UK education and became a lawyer, life brought her to the United States. But how does she practice law in such a new environment?
Immigration law kept tapping her on the shoulder, but she kept saying no, thank you. The fourth or fifth time, Watson finally gave in. The universe wanted her to work in immigration law.
The transition was multifold even though Watson could speak English.
“I’d go to a restaurant and ask for water and wouldn’t get understood. There was a language transition, but that language transition was not just verbal. It was also written. We write month, day, and year in the United States; in the UK it’s day, month, year. It took a long time to figure that out and get it right. You’re substituting an S for a Z. When you take that into the legal field, there are words that are the same, but they mean something different.”
Remand in the United States, in legal terms means the case was sent to the lower court. While Watson studied for the bar exam that would make no sense to her. She had to have a dictionary next to her. Language aside, how to practice the law was a whole new ballgame in and of itself.
With a UK law degree, she could take the New York or California bar exams. She chose New York because it had reciprocity with Washington state. While in America’s federal system, every state has its own laws, but immigration is federal. The law applies to every state in the same way. Watson can practice law in New York and Washington state, but it was a process.
The Immigrant Lawyer
Until Watson moved to the United States, she learned first-hand about immigration law as she went through it herself.
Ironically, her father was an immigration barrister, so she had some experience, but she still wasn’t prepared for her experience at the US border. From filing forms to being treated poorly and feeling stuck, to feeling the exhilaration of having the freedom of a green card, her skin color also played a role.
“It was quite an experience but it trained me for what I needed to teach my clients.”