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How I Built My Own Firm, And Became A Rising Star

I am a 35-year old attorney licensed in New York and New Jersey.

I was born and raised in Rome, Italy. My story begins at the faculty of Law of University of Rome “Tor Vergata”. I had not planned to become a lawyer, or to even get a college degree. So I enrolled only when I was 24.

I took it very seriously, taking way too many courses at a time. Under the normal schedule, a student was supposed to graduate after 4 years. But after less than 2 years and a half, I was done with all the exams and the final thesis.

Incredibly, I was told I could not graduate because it was “too early”. I knew that students enrolled in the newer 5-year law degree program had the ability to graduate early. This was more like a theoretical possibility, as less than 1% of the law students would finish more than a year early.

I thought this disparity of treatment was unconstitutional, so I petitioned the administrative Court of Rome seeking an order allowing me to graduate. When the Court rejected my arguments, I was extremely upset. I had to wait over a year just to be awarded the diploma and start the mandatory, unpaid 2-year apprenticeship.

I decided to look at other options. I realized that, in the United States, there was no apprenticeship requirement. I could graduate, pass the Bar exam, and then seek admission in Italy without apprenticeship or Bar exam.

The main problem is that I spoke no English. During that year-long “forced wait”, I put my best efforts into learning the language. After less than 9 months, I took the LSAT. I got a 148. My mediocre performance was clearly affected by the language barrier.

But that was enough for KU Law School to offer me admission into their 2-year J.D. program for foreign lawyers. It is a regular J.D., except that they exempt you from the third year elective classes, as per an ABA regulation. I graduated in just 19 months: 3 semesters and 2 summer sessions.

I then took the New Jersey Bar. I was under extreme pressure as I might not have extended my Visa if I did not have a license to practice law. But as it turned out, I passed with flying colors. My MBE was far higher than the national average. Curiously enough, I had graduated with a poor GPA.

I then permanently moved to New Jersey. I was still looking for a medium-sized or large firm that would appreciate my dual qualifications and fluency in 3 languages. I most importantly needed a sponsor for my work Visa. I went to a few interviews; nobody was digging my Kansas law degree.

So I decided to go on my own. In the meantime, I was also preparing for the New York Bar exam. I started defending low income criminals in Newark. That was the only practice area that could pay the bills at the beginning.

I inevitably bumped into serious, tough cases. But I was never afraid to put countless hours of work into my cases. I wanted to learn, and I wanted to do the best for my clients.

As a criminal defense attorney, I would say I had moderate success. My first victory was a dismissal for a client accused of illegally carrying a gun. In New Jersey, there is a 3-year minimum term of incarceration, no exceptions. I filed a 4th amendment motion and won the case.

As I gained more reputation, the quality of the cases started increasing. In the meantime, my Visa was expiring. I remember that I contacted many experienced immigration attorneys, but none of them gave me any hope. Everyone said that I did not invest enough money to get investor status, and nobody would even take my case.

So I had no choice but trying to file the Visa petition on my own. In the meantime, I had also passed the New York Bar. Everything was going great, except that the Visa renewal process was hanging over my head.

To my surprise and joy, the Visa was eventually approved. The first thing I did was to relay the news to all the immigration attorneys that I had consulted. The second thing I did was to start taking immigration cases. After all, I knew I did not really want to do criminal defense forever.

But in the meantime, criminal defense was still my main practice area. That year, I was retained to defend an older client accused of attempted murder. I fearlessly took the case. After 2 years of litigation, the case was dismissed. My client walked free.

In 2014, I had the privilege to handle my very first federal case. The case was in Miami, so I had to go pro hac vice and retain local counsel. It was a complex, multi-defendant case involving immigration-related offenses. Against all the odds, we got the case dismissed.

At the end of the same year, I received a letter letting me know I was selected among the Super Lawyers New Jersey “Rising Stars”. I could not believe it.

At that point, I had enough courtroom experience and enough immigration law expertise to transition from criminal defense to deportation defense, and then, slowly, to appellate matters and civil litigation.

After a little more than 5 years from taking my first case, I have an established practice, and I did everything on my own.

Last November, I was retained in the most important case of my career. My client is a major Italian media company (roughly half the size of the New York Times for annual revenue) that has been sued in New York in a multi-million dollar matter that involves both Italian and New York law.

I would still like to merge with a big firm. I know I could do very well. But I’ve been told that attorneys without top academics are rarely considered by big firms. So, if I want to work in a big firm, I have no choice but to make my own. It will take me years of hard work, but I will get there.

Author Simone Bertollini

After graduating from law school in Rome, Italy, Simone moved to the United States where he graduated with a Juris Doctor degree, becoming one of the very few Italian lawyers in New York with full academic qualifications in both Italy and the United States. As an Italian citizen, Simone first came to the United States with an F-1 student Visa to attend law school. Later, Simone started his own legal practice, and obtained E-2 Treaty Investor Visa status. Now, Simone is a proud Lawful Permanent Resident. Because of his firsthand experience with investment Visas, Simone concentrates his practice in Business Immigration matters, and has substantial experience with E-2, L-1, O-1 Visa, as well as Green Card for immediate relatives of U.S. Citizens. Simone also handled dozens of Immigration Appeals to the BIA, the AAO, and Federal District Courts.

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