There might be a million people doing what you do, but there’s only one “you”. This has encouraged me to build my law practice around the qualities that make me unique as a lawyer, instead of trying to be like everyone else.
If you find a niche, you can focus on learning more and becoming the best at that niche practice. You can hone your skills and become the person people think of when a particular issue comes up.
Just do it . Trust yourself. Take the risk. Take the plunge. You’ll never know unless you try.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Ral Obioha, Founder and Principal Attorney at the Law Office of Ral Obioha, PLLC. She has over 9 years of experience in the field of Immigration and Nationality law. During the course of her career as an Immigration Attorney, she has filed over 1000 cases, accompanied clients to 100s of interviews in various USCIS Field Offices, appeared at countless removal hearings and argued many motions.
Ms. Obioha received her Juris Doctorate degree from Howard University School of Law and her Masters of Law Summa Cum Laude, in International Human Rights law, from American University Washington College of Law, both in Washington, D.C. She also received a dual Bachelor’s degree in History and Psychology Magna Cum Laude from Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia. While attending Howard University as a Merit Scholarship recipient, Ms. Obioha received CALI Awards for Academic Excellence in several courses including Comparative Law, International Law of Human Rights and International Economic Law. Eager to offer her legal expertise, Ms. Obioha served as a Student Attorney in the Fair Housing Clinic, where she represented impoverished D.C. residents. She expanded her body of work in the legal field by becoming a member of the International Moot Court Team; participating in the D.M. Harish International Moot Court Competition in Mumbai, India, where her team won the Best Advocates Award. As a law student, Ms. Obioha also interned with several law firms in Washington D.C., gaining extensive experience in Immigration Law and Civil Litigation.
Prior to moving to Houston, Texas, Ms. Obioha worked at an esteemed boutique law firm in Washington, D.C. where she represented clients in immigration, personal injury law, business law, criminal appeals, as well as international legal matters. Ms. Obioha continued her work in one of the largest personal injury firms in Texas, where she successfully represented clients in a full range of personal injury cases involving trucking accidents, premises liability, and product liability.
Ms. Obioha is an avid advocate for family unity and as such, is dedicated to serving the immigrant community. She has been recognized for her extensive knowledge in Immigration and Nationality law and her ability to keep abreast with the constant and frequent law and policy changes. Her firm also offers an annual scholarship for immigrant students, in honor of Ms. Obioha’s parents. As an Immigration Advocate, Ms. Obioha has been interviewed and featured by various media outlets, including CNN, Al Jazeera, Fox News, CBS News, and Houston Chronicles.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your law career?
There are so many of them, but nothing beats the numerous times I’ve been mistaken for a law clerk or assistant of some sort when I walk into a room. Judges have mistaken me for a court clerk, opposing counsel has mistaken me for a Legal Assistant, and even clients have mistaken me for a Paralegal. Once I walked into a consultation, and a client asked how much longer he had to wait to meet with the lawyer. I graduated law school at 23, so I expected that at the time, but it’s been almost 10 years and it still happens! I’ve learned to take it as a compliment.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now, my most interesting cases are those that involve the Travel Ban Waiver. Earlier this year, President Trump issued an Expanded Travel Ban, which went into effect on February 21, 2020. The Travel Ban, which expanded on the 2018 version for citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, rendered citizens of Eritrea, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan and Nigeria ineligible for immigrant visas to the US.
The only way around the ban for citizens of these is to qualify for a Waiver. My most interesting cases right now are focused on helping these immigrants qualify for the waiver. It’s interesting because the standards of the waiver require a deep dive into the immigrant’s lives and each story is unique and interesting. It’s really fulfilling to be able to successfully fit each client’s story into the Waiver standards, win these cases, and help these families be together.
What are some of the most interesting cases you have been involved in? Without sharing anything confidential can you share any stories?
Some of my most interesting cases have been self-petitions under the Violence Against Women Act (popularly known as VAWA). VAWA is a federal legislation that allows immigrants to self-petition for lawful permanent residency if they are victims of abuse committed by a U.S. Citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, parent or child.
A lot of my VAWA clients come to me with interesting stories. Abuse comes in various forms and some clients don’t even know when they’ve experienced abuse when we initially have a consultation. Many people only define abuse as physical and do not realize that abuse can be emotional, sexual, psychological and even financial, even when they have experienced it. Helping these clients who have been abused tell their stories and empowering them to get valid immigrant status and restart their lives, despite what they have suffered is a positive reminder as to why I do this work.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
My mother, Theodora Oby Nwankwo, is my greatest life inspiration. I grew up watching her and wanting to be just like her. She was a lawyer and a renowned International Human Rights advocate with the United Nations. She was very passionate about human rights and used her law degree to enhance the lives of others.
Beyond her professional accolades, she was a mother, who though widowed at a young age and left with seven (7) children, rose above the challenges. She was and still is the ultimate role model: Strong, Passionate, Driven, Brilliant and Successful, yet compassionate, humble and beautiful inside and out.
I was lucky enough to have spent a lot of time traveling with her and learning from her. She recently passed away about 2 years ago. Even though she is no longer physically here, the lessons she taught me continue to inspire my life daily.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in law?
Get a mentor (or two or three!) I can’t emphasize enough the value of having someone one phone call away to bounce ideas off of. An ideal mentor is someone who is where (or on a sure track towards) you want to be. A good mentor can change your career and steer you towards the right direction on your career path.
If you had the ability to make three reforms in our judicial/legal system, which three would you start with? Why?
Under the current administration, there have been a number of recent policies and bans, which in my opinion, have each added a brick to the invisible wall to keep well-meaning immigrants out of the United States. This country is a melting pot that benefits greatly from the work of immigrants. If I had the ability to make three reforms in our judicial or legal system, I would focus on creating more lawful paths to empower immigrants to create better lives for their families while contributing to the community and economy.
I would start with the following:
1. I would permanently ban the Public Charge Rule which went into effect in February 2020. The rule requires some immigrants to pass a “public charge” test — which looks at whether the person is likely to use certain government services in the future. In making this determination, immigration officials review the immigrant’s age, income, health, education or skills (including English language skills), and their sponsor’s affidavit of support or contract.
In my opinion, the rule is not only invasive. It has disturbing consequences on immigrants and their families who will now operate in fear. For e.g. immigrants will hesitate to seek medical attention they need, in fear that it will affect their immigration status. This is especially worrisome in the middle of a pandemic.
2. I would create more attainable immigration avenues for hard-working immigrants.
3. I will lift the currently-placed travel bans and, in the alternative, seek to work with foreign governments to provide more secure identity programs for their citizens who intend to immigrate to the United States.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My passion for immigration law stems from my passion for family unity and for empowering individuals, no matter where they are from, to pursue between lives and opportunities. I use my success to continue to pursue that goal. In light of that, my law firm sponsors a scholarship program for immigrant students, the Vic & Oby Scholarship, named after my parents, which will enable them to pay for tuition and other school expenses.
I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?
As a child of immigrants and a product of a close-knit family, I have a genuine passion for family immigration. When I see the smiles on my client’s faces or hear the excitement in my client’s’ voice after they’ve been reunited with their family member or received their permanent residency status, it’s all the motivation I need to keep going.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
1. There might be a million people doing what you do, but there’s only one “you”. This has encouraged me to build my law practice around the qualities that make me unique as a lawyer, instead of trying to be like everyone else.
2. Value your time — Sometimes as a lawyer, we are so focused on practicing law that we forget that our law firm is a for-profit business and without those profits, we won’t be able to actually do the good we intend to do.
3. Find your Niche — If you find a niche, you can focus on learning more and becoming the best at that niche practice. You can hone your skills and become the person people think of when a particular issue comes up.
4. Just do it — Trust yourself. Take the risk. Take the plunge. You’ll never know unless you try.
5. Develop systems — While you are central to your practice, you should put systems in place that give you the freedom to function outside of your practice. Systems also promote efficiency and effectiveness.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this.
Michelle Obama, for more reasons than I can count. She lives a life of integrity, strength of character and inspiration. I love that she is fearless, passionate about her work, dedicated to her family and most importantly, she stands up for what she believes in. Every time you hear about Michelle, she is doing something that contributes to the well-being of others. Through her numerous wellness, education and employment programs, she has shown strong dedication and service to various communities.
Just by the way she lives, she also exudes so much genuine love and inspiration.