Today’s interview features George Ernst of the Mitchell Williams firm. I met George through a linkedin group when I was working on a case with immigration issues.
George has a B.A. from the University of Kansas, a J.D. from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and an LL.M. from Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. He is admitted to practice in Pennsylvania and in Arkansas. He is fluent in German.
Before joining Mitchell Williams, George Ernst was the managing partner at Ernst & Riley Law Group, LLC in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During this time he represented foreign-nationals from both Asia and Europe.
Over the past few years, George Ernst has counseled foreign-nationals and U.S. based businesses on various aspects of U.S. immigration law. Mr. Ernst primarily focuses on business based immigration, including H-1B Temporary Work Visas, E-2 Treaty Investor Visas, National Interest Waivers, Employment Green Cards and EB-5 Investment Green Cards.
I understand that as a brand new attorney, you started a law practice with your friend because you didn’t want to wait around for the right opportunity to come to you. What important lessons did that experience teach you?
The most important lesson I learned was how important it is to reach out to the community and meet the needs of individuals in the community. Law school doesn’t really prepare you when it comes to finding and retaining clients. We had to figure that out as we went along. However, I really feel that it made us really appreciate who your client is, and ensure that you are meeting their needs. We really made every effort we could to ensure that our clients were satisfied with our work. The other lesson we learned was how to be resourceful and come up with effective strategies for cases that many other attorneys would turn down. A few of our first successful cases came from clients with issues that other more established firms thought were too difficult. We dove into these cases head first and found ways to make them successful. It really taught us how to be creative and make the law work for the client.
As an immigration attorney, you don’t usually get a lot of experience in the courtroom, but you’ve been teaming up with some attorneys at your firm to make sure you get that experience. What has been the best part of that? Do you recommend that other transactional lawyers do the same thing? If so, why is it important?
I firmly believe that it is important for young attorneys to take advantage of every opportunity you can to learn other aspects of practicing law. I believe that this allows one to become a well-rounded attorney. Often working in another area of law will give you greater insight into your primary practice.
What made you decide to practice immigration law? If a young attorney or law student were interested in practicing immigration law, what would recommend that they do in order to prepare for that career?
As I had spent a significant amount of time living abroad, and as I had earned an international LL.M. degree in Berlin after law school, I knew that I wanted to use my legal skills in an area that had an international component. After going through the German immigration process myself (to receive my German student visa), I realized just how difficult it can be to go through the immigration process. I guess that was where some of my interest really started. I knew that I wanted to work with foreign nationals, so immigration law seemed like a perfect fit. I would recommend that any young attorney, or law student interested in practicing immigration law, join AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association). This has been the greatest resource when learning the intricacies of U.S. immigration law.
I understand that you focus on business immigration work. What is it about working with businesses that appeals to you?
I really enjoy helping businesses hire and retain their workers. There is often a very strong employer-employee bond, and after a business has worked with an individual for several years, they really want to do everything they can to keep that worker. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction when we receive our approvals from USCIS after all the effort that goes into each and every petition.
I also really believe that it is important for the United States to foster an entrepreneurial spirit. One of my favorite visa categories is the E-2 Treaty Investor Visa. This visa allows many foreign nationals to come to the United States to start new businesses. I really enjoy working with foreign nationals, learning about their passions and areas of expertise, and working with them to receive proper immigration status so that they may continue building their business. Countless studies have demonstrated that foreign nationals are a net benefit for the community, and it is clear that when you allow foreign nationals to start new businesses, the economy and community in general reaps the reward.
What are the up-and-coming areas of immigration law that will affect Arkansas?
Currently, Congress is working a comprehensive immigration reform bill that will, hopefully, make many positive changes to immigration law. Providing status to current undocumented workers, expanding the number of available employment based green cards, strengthening the EB-5 investment program, creating a new class of entrepreneurial visas and expanding temporary worker programs will all have a positive impact on Arkansas.
As a transplant to Arkansas, what is your impression of being an attorney here versus “the North.” Good things? Things Arkansas attorneys can work on?
I really enjoy being an Attorney in Little Rock. I have found all of the attorney’s really friendly and helpful.
You are a young attorney, but by no means a brand new one. I think that makes you the perfect age to offer advice to new attorneys and law students. What are some of the things you wish you either hadn’t done or had done sooner?
This is a tough question. I really think everyone’s experience starting out is unique and different. The only thing I would really recommend is that young attorneys need to become comfortable dealing directly with the client as soon as possible.
I understand your wife is a philosophy professor at UCA and she focuses on gender issues. Do you have any thoughts on how we work as a profession to increase awareness of our hidden gender biases?
I think the profession has done a pretty good job of increasing awareness of gender issues. And I think that overtime, as more women rise to higher positions in Arkansas firms, gender equality will improve.
What is your favorite way to keep up with immigration law developments?
Because of the current pending legislation it is really easy to keep up immigration law developments. Every morning I go to aila.org to read about the latest developments
How do you (if you do) manage a work/life balance?
I try to make sure that I make time in the evenings to relax and not worry about clients and cases. I think it’s important to let your mind relax and focus on other things.
What do you do for fun?
My wife and I recently bought a house, so we spend most of our time working on improving our yard. My main hobbies include photography, and playing the guitar.