In today’s world, with constant political change, the practices of immigration and family law are constantly evolving. In just the last year, marriage has been legally redefined and the President has called for new national approaches to immigration that could impact millions. New laws mean an increasing need for dedicated attorneys who can analyze complex legislation and define exactly what the affected people can do to maximize their rights.
Alexandria attorneys Karen Hainer and Lesley Ellefson-Porras, the founders and managing partners of Hainer Porras LLC, devote themselves to a wide spectrum of immigration and family law cases. They created their boutique law firm several years ago because they realized their individual passions meshed well to serve individuals and families of all different backgrounds. Karen focuses on family, criminal and juvenile law while Lesley tackles the immigration cases.
Below, Karen and Lesley, who met in law school, explain why family and immigration law cases are bound to increase in the coming years, as well as describing their approach to each client.
Why did you start your law practice in the D.C.-metropolitan area?
Karen: Lesley and I met during law school [at the University of the District of Columbia] and quickly became friends. Our temperaments are similar and we are each driven by a sense of purpose as well as integrity. I knew that I would start a firm. I have an extensive background in investigative and analytical work on Capitol Hill and in federal agencies. I wanted to use some of those same skills that I honed in the legal arena and I felt the time was ripe to set up my own business.
Lesley: I worked with immigration issues both before and during law school. My husband is from Venezuela so I have personal experience with the visa application process, too. After graduation, I was working as an immigration attorney at a non-profit when Karen approached me with the idea. While I enjoyed my job, I wanted to have the freedom to take on more complex issues and liked the idea of being my own boss.
When we started the firm, we wanted to focus on families. That hasn’t changed. Karen may be litigating a child custody case or acting on behalf of an abused child while I may be helping an American citizen bring his foreign-born wife to live here, but it’s all about helping and strengthening families in a variety of ways.
Have immigration and family law always been passions for each of you?
Lesley: Yes, I’ve always been interested in the different patterns of migration throughout our nation’s history, starting with the stories of my own family members who emigrated from Norway, Ireland and Germany. I enjoy learning about other cultures and have lived abroad in Spain and Venezuela.
Karen: Yes. I actually enjoyed raising my own children! Unlike others, I am not put off by the emotional toll exacted by divorce, child custody, juvenile delinquency or child abuse matters. There is a certain empathy required as well as an unlimited amount of listening skills. But, I work for the results I can achieve.
Do Lesley’s immigration cases ever overlap with Karen’s family, criminal or juvenile cases?
Lesley: There are some overlaps. Under immigration law, abused and neglected immigrant children can qualify for legal permanent residency and obtain a “green card.” Even though immigration is a federal issue, you do have to go into a state court to have a judge make the proper findings that legally prove the child was abused or neglected by his or her parent(s).
Karen: In cases like that, either of us could handle the family court proceedings, as we both have expertise in that area.
Lesley: Unfortunately, I also have clients who commit crimes and Karen is great at helping me analyze criminal statutes to determine possible immigration consequences.
Are the majority of your clients court-appointed or private?
Karen: For me, it is a mix. Couples divorcing with complex property settlements or child custody disputes need to hire their own counsel. One the other hand, if you are facing a child abuse or neglect charge, you will be appointed an attorney because the possible loss of your parental rights is a constitutional issue. In some custody matters, too, the court will appoint me to represent a child’s best interests and pay for my services as a Guardian ad litem whereas the parents must provide their own representation.
Lesley: Individuals facing deportation are not provided with counsel at the government’s expense, even if the individual is a minor. All of my cases are private clients.
What kind of cases are most common for Hainer Porras?
Lesley: I do a lot of family reunification and cases for abused children. Typically, I’ll represent someone who is legally present in the U.S. who wants to bring their spouse, child, parent or sibling here from a different country. I also have clients who are in the military and want to bring their fiancé(e) who they met while stationed abroad.
My caseload also includes more complex naturalization matters, often involving criminal issues. Many of my clients are also fleeing persecution in their home country and are applying for asylum in the U.S.
Karen: Uncontested as well as contested divorces for me. I always recommend that people go through the uncontested divorce process with an attorney because there are contracts and documents that must be in order so that the divorce is finalized properly. With a contested divorce, distribution of property accumulated during the marriage and parenting plans are complex and varied.
What are your goals for the firm by 2020?
Karen: We look forward to growth and a continuation of our services as a resource in the community. We are not adverse to expanding what we practice or hiring more attorneys. As long as we continue to reach more people and we can do the work, we want to be doing for the benefit of those in need of our services.
Lesley: Since immigration is a federal practice, one thing that has been on my mind is the possibility of opening a satellite office in the District to serve immigration clients or working with them remotely through a web portal.
Karen: That’s definitely a possibility. Things could really change with immigration pending the next election. In family law, we will be seeing local court decisions interpreting same sex divorce and child custody matters. That is sure to have an effect on our client base, resulting in some changes in the next couple of years.
What makes Hainer Porras different from other firms that specialize in the same issues?
Karen: We pride ourselves on providing our clients a high degree of service, whether they are private paying clients or court-appointed ones. My defense of someone accused of committing a crime is just as aggressive as my defense of a voiceless child who has been neglected or abandoned. I do the same amount of personalized work on behalf of each client. I want every client to have an outcome that is positive to their needs as well as want they want.
Lesley: We work with our clients directly to help them achieve their goals. Because I am a Spanish speaker, I can communicate with my clients without the need for an interpreter. I personally help them understand the process and establish expectations.
Karen: That’s what will always make us different – the amount of time and effort that we put into every case. We treat each case as if our own families were involved. We want the same things for our clients that we have wanted for our own families, especially our children: to be safe and nurtured; to have fit parents or other role models; and to have access to opportunities for education and enrichment.
If you, or anyone you know, is looking for a committed attorney to assist in immigration, family, criminal or juvenile issues, please call Hainer Porras LLC at 703-596-0232 or visit: hainerporras.com It is important to note that immigration is a federal issue, so clients do not necessarily need to reside in Virginia.