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September 29, 2021
Why I Became an Immigration Lawyer

🔷Kojo Thompson:

Why I Network, where we interview every job occupation, A through Z, from the trash man to the CEO, and ask them why and how they started their profession, so that you could find your dream job too. I’m your host Kojo Thompson, and today we have a very special guest with us. It is Marina Shepelsky. Having immigrated to the US as a young girl and coming out of a tough divorce, she now practices law to support those seeking asylum, safety from violence, and shelter in the US through her law practice, as well as supporting men and women looking to get out of unhealthy marriages. Marina has a lot to share with us here today. So Marina, shall I proceed?

🔶Marina Shepelsky:

Yes, indeed.

🔷Kojo Thompson:

All right, Marina, how we feeling today?

🔶Marina Shepelsky:

I’m feeling excellent. How about you Kojo?

🔷Kojo Thompson:

I’m feeling fantastic. I’m feeling fantastic. Marina, I am really excited to have you on the show today. I’m just going to dive into that first question that everybody has been waiting to hear. And that is why Marina, why did you become an immigration lawyer?

🔶Marina Shepelsky:

I became an immigration lawyer because I’m an immigrant first and foremost. Even though I’ve lived in the United States now for like 30 years, we came here in 1989 from Ukraine. I still feel like an immigrant; I still have an accent. I still speak Russian; that’s my first language. And I have never forgotten that. I’m an immigrant and I love, love, love, helping other immigrants, making their American dream come true. It’s unbelievable how people transform. When they start with us and they’re still undocumented and they still have problems like that. When they walk out of our office with that green card, it’s like a completely different version of that person. So I love that. I love that.

🔷Kojo Thompson:

I love that answer right there. Now, Marina, I want to ask you one more thing. What do you think the process was like for you to become an immigration attorney? Take me back to when you first started.

🔶Marina Shepelsky:

Well, you know, interestingly enough, when I went to school, I actually wanted to be a doctor. I always wanted to be a problem solver, but my first love love was medicine. I had a few health issues growing up and I always was around doctors, so I really wanted to go save people’s lives. That was definitely something I wanted to do and I got to do it, just in a different way. First I went to school; I have a degree in biology. I was going to go to medical school, but then I got a part-time job at a law office and I really fell into it. And I really fell in love with law. At first I was hesitant. I didn’t think that I could be a lawyer; English is not my first language and I wasn’t really a good public speaker, believe it or not, but I was always a very good writer.

I was always very good at putting my thoughts down on paper and being convincing. I was already a mini lawyer for my whole family, because when we came here, I spoke English much better than them. They essentially pimped me out to all their friends and relatives to translate and fill out a lot of legal paperwork. When people are just settling in this country and setting up bills and you know, all their benefits and things like that. So that’s when I realized that I can do this thing, I really can. Especially when I was working with other lawyers who convinced me that I’m capable. They had to sit down and say to me, Marina, you are very capable. You can be a lawyer. You just have to say that you want to be a lawyer.

It was a process. It didn’t happen overnight. When I graduated law school, I didn’t know what I was going to do because it’s very general; you come out of law school, they teach you a lot of different subjects, and you don’t really know what you’re good at first. But when I started to work with people in my community who were also immigrants, who also just came here recently, I realized that I could be a lot of help to them. I could be a liaison, an in-between link between the legal community, understanding American laws and my people. I call immigrants my people: any kind of immigrant, any color, race, nationality, creed, these are my people; I’m one of them. I love being that go-between.

So that’s the process. I went to college first for four years. Then I went to law school for three more years and then I pretty much went out on my own; about a year after I graduated law school, I started my own practice.

🔷Kojo Thompson:

I love that. So, so, so much Marina, especially the part about how you, you describe yourself as a bridge. There are so many points that I can touch on right there. I mean, that, that part where you said, “I consider myself a bridge to help people get to where they want to go.” A lot of people don’t understand that you were put in diverse situations, you were put in these situations where you speak different languages, you’re in different types of cultures, but you’re meant to be there. You’re not supposed to fit in. You’re supposed to be the bridge. So I love that, Marina. There was another point that you just said, where you were talking about how your people told you that you have to want to be an attorney in order for you to become an attorney. It can’t be us just telling you that you have the potential to be an attorney. You had to tell yourself that you were an attorney and that’s a huge, huge, huge step for anybody out there looking to do or find the thing that they love doing. You have to tell yourself first that this is something you can do. Nobody can help somebody who does not want to be helped. So, make sure that you’re a person who wants to be helped and knows who they are. So I love, love that answer right there. And I think you even answered a little bit of my next question, Marina, you were talking about how you were a translator for your family when you were younger. I was just about to ask you what were some childhood hobbies and habits that you think matriculated. Do you have any other things that you can add in there real, real quick?

🔶Marina Shepelsky:

Well, I tell this to my kids, but I’m going to repeat it because it’s worth repeating. Obviously I grew up at the time when we didn’t have social media. I didn’t have a cell phone and we just had a TV. I am a reader. That was my biggest hobby. I used to love reading books because books transfer you and take you to places where you couldn’t go yourself physically. Books, take your mind and imagination to amazing places. I started reading when I was maybe four years old and I was an avid reader. My parents forced me to go to bed because I was reading one book after another, after another; I swallowed books. So that was my biggest hobby growing up, believe it or not: reading, I love to read.

I’m also like a good writer. I wrote poems. I wrote essays. When we were immigrating here, we came from the Soviet Union and there’s this program for Soviet Jews. So I’m Jewish. And because of the repressive anti-semitic system that Soviet Union had, there was a special law created here in the United States called the Jackson Vanik amendment that allowed in exchange for the Soviet Union not being under these like bad sanctions from United States, they allowed the Russian Jews to leave. Like “let my people go” type of thing. So we were some of the people they let go because before that there was an iron curtain, which means we couldn’t leave. We couldn’t travel abroad. Some people don’t understand this because they don’t even have an American passport. Do you know how many people I know who were born in this country and don’t even have a US passport? You need a passport to travel.

So we wanted to go, but we couldn’t, and finally they let us go. we had a long practice of immigration: we first went to Italy, then we went to Austria. There were Jewish organizations that set up camps for Jews to leave the Soviet union. So when we were there, I was translating for everyone. I was helping people to write their asylum stories. I realized that I have that skill when I was 12 years old.I realized that I can, take information and I can make it persuasive; I can write it in an orderly fashion and I can make people persuaded with the idea of that story? So that was my hobby. I know, I was such a nerd. I was a little nerd growing up. I love to read, I left a ride. I love to write these stories for people. And that was pretty much all of my hobbies, you know?

🔷Kojo Thompson:

Marina, this, this makes a thousand percent sense to me because again, you’re not the first attorney that I’ve had on the podcast and it doesn’t matter what type of attorney it was. A criminal defense attorney, whatever type of attorney it was. The attorneys always tell me that reading and writing are one of the two most important jobs that you have as a lawyer. You need those two; you need to be able to read and write effectively. So I love that answer right there. Now, Marina, I have to ask you what an average day like is for you.

🔶Marina Shepelsky:

Oh gosh. I’m a mom of three girls and right now, because of COVID, they’re all doing school from home remotely. We live in New Jersey. My office is in New York, so I get up, I hang out with my kids a little bit, make sure they’re doing their school online. I answer a lot of my social media questions about work. Sometimes I answer my TikTok questions. Sometimes I film a few TikToks in the morning. Obviously my TikToks are about work: immigration and divorce law. Then I get in my car. I drive to Brooklyn. As I’m driving, I’m able to talk to my mom. I talk to my work. Sometimes they’re calling me, I get to the office, we start consultations. I run my practice on more at this point more like a manager, than somebody who’s writing all the time. I also check other attorneys work. I sometimes have court appearances. A lot of them are still virtual at this point, so that means I do it on my phone. I do my court appearances on my phone.

I’m writing something, I’m posting something, I’m researching something the whole day problem solving, putting out fires, you know, sometimes paying bills, things like that.Then I run home, spend a little time with my kids. Sometimes we eat together. I get home super late on the days that I’m going to the office. People have to understand that being a lawyer means long, long days in the office. So you have to love what you do. You’re going to be miserable. My kids sometimes ask me, “Mom, do you really like your work? Because you’re always working and tired a lot when you get home.” And I say, “I really love it. If you don’t love what you do, you cannot do it for 12 hours a day.”

🔷Kojo Thompson:

Marina, I think that perfectly sways into the very next question I have. What do you enjoy the most?

🔶Marina Shepelsky:

I love travel. Me is just the person outside of work. Travel is my favorite thing. I love to go to Florida. I love to go to Miami. I actually have a place in Miami. That’s like my favorite place. I love to go meet people and spend time with my family and friends. Being with other people and being like out in different places in the world makes me the most happy, but I also love my job and I like helping people.

What I like about doing what I do maybe as opposed to other practice areas of law, is that I’m able to take something from the beginning to the end. I can start a case and I can finish it. If we’re handling a divorce for someone, we start when they’re at their lowest point, when they’re leaving their marriage. They’re grieving because when you leave a marriage, it’s like losing a loved one. It’s grief. They’re worried about their kids sometimes it takes a year or more. But at the end, they’re out, and they’re done. There’s a finality to it. That’s what I love about my work too, that there’s some finality to it. But my number one thing I love is travel. If I had to pick, I love to go to different countries, different cities. My biggest dream is to take an RV and to drive around the United States for weeks. Of course, I don’t have that kind of time right now. But if I could take like six, seven weeks, that’s what I would do. A drive down the coast from the top to the bottom of our wonderful country.

🔷Kojo Thompson:

I love it. I love it. I love it. Now, Marina, of course the back end of that question is what do you enjoy the least?

🔶Marina Shepelsky:

You know, being in an attorney has a lot of accounting stuff involved: numbers and paying taxes and calculating, so that I have to say, I enjoy the least. However, I accept that it’s part of running a healthy business. I urge all the young people out there. If you’re listening to this learn the basic principles of accounting and math.

So that means you have to understand what the budget is. It sounds like a hard concept, but you have to understand how much you spend. Either it’s in your family, or for you personally, or for your business. How much do you spend per month (your most necessary things that spend on — you have to be able to like write it down and add it up and understand the number) and what do you make per month. What do you have to earn per month to pay all your expenses and what are you going to do with the surplus and how do you make your money work for you? You have to make money work for you. You don’t work for the month. Money is an instrument you have to do. I tell this to my kids all the time; you have to do what you love and make money doing it. Obviously, you can’t work just to make money. If you’re doing something only to make money, you are a miserable person; you’ll never be happy.Money should be like a side benefit, like a perk of doing something that you love. There is definitely a way to do it. It all starts in your mind. You have to make the decision: you’re going to do what you love and you can make good money doing it. There’s no shame in it. There’s no shame in money. Money makes you happy. Okay? Money gives you travel, hobbies, going to eat, wearing the clothes that you want, doing the school that you want, learning the things that you want, everything costs money. So do what you love and make great money doing it.

Life is like a game. Play with yourself. Don’t compete with other people. You’ll never be like anyone else you’re unique. Right? So in my business, I’m not in my mind competing with a single person in this world. I can learn from them. I look at what other people are doing and kind of learn and take it into account and take into consideration, and then you make it yours; you do it your way. When I decided that this is how I was going to treat life, my life became a thousand times better, you know?

🔷Kojo Thompson:

Oh my goodness. I love that right there. I think the moral of the story is, stay up in your lane. Stay in your lane, be yourself, be yourself because yo and a lot of people are, uh, you know, are, are, are, you know, rolling their eyes over the headphones right now because they don’t understand there. They had it. They had an experience where they were themselves and they got laughed at for it, or they got denied for it. The first couple of times, I’m trying to tell you, I used to get in trouble all time when I was a kid for talking too much and interrupting the class and talking over the teachers, talking, talking to other students while the teachers were talking and being the loudest person in the room. Now I get paid for it. So, again, you can still be yourself down the road, you will eventually get paid for it. So I love that answer right there.

🔶Marina Shepelsky:

That’s another point by the way; I think you’re making a very good point that’s worth kind of getting stuck on, in a good way, right? Yes. Society all is wants to squeeze you into a box. They wanted to be like a robot. So you were easily transferable and told what to do and transferred from one place to another, and you don’t complain. My whole life, I feel like I’m swimming upstream. You know what I mean? So remember, you are swimming upstream. Now, of course, I’m not talking about illegal activity. I’m not talking about hurting anybody. I’m not talking about making anyone else feel bad, but you have a natural born right to be happy in your life.

If you love to talk, if you love to express yourself, do it. There will be people. You just have to get a little older because kids also are mistreated in this country and everywhere else. Kids have to be heard, and given a chance to express themselves. As you get older, you will find your way to express yourself and to channel your skills, whatever it is that you’re really good at. You just have to figure out what you’re good at and figure out how to get paid for it and love it. I also was told to stop talking and that I was a class clown and that was repressed in me for many years until I became an adult. And I learned that that’s, that’s my thing!

🔷Kojo Thompson:

That’s what separates you from the pack. That’s what gets you paid? That’s the thing that people were laughing at the most is what is paying you the most now. So I love that. You just got to be yourself. I love that. Now this next question right here, Marina. This one right here is my absolute favorite. So do you think that grades mattered in school for the success that you have in your career today?

🔶Marina Shepelsky:

In short, yes. Right. And it doesn’t mean that I’m one of those people who is like necessarily a rule follower or whatever. I’m to tell you that if you all have good grades, you’re not going to maybe get into a good law school or a good medical school or whatever, because they do look at grades. They decided the grades were a selection tool. If you are a really smart person, you should be able to figure out how to get decent grades. It’s not neuroscience; you can figure it out how to get good grades and be creative and do your thing. I worked through, I worked through school from high school. My kids are doing the same. I have a 16 year old, she’s working almost full-time now and doing school. She’s writing for our law office, she’s helping me with declarations, you know, like asylum stories. She’s also a good writer like me. So I said, why not? So, you know, she’s helping two other attorneys with the same thing and she has good grades. You can figure this out. Grades are important because it’s like, it helps you get to the next step.

So when people ask you, what are your accomplishments? Your grades are your accomplishments, it’s like getting a model, a trophy. And I know you’re supposed to tell kids, it’s not about winning. It’s about being in the game. Yes and no. Sometimes it is about winning. Sometimes you have to have good grades to get ahead, because how else will somebody know that you are great?

🔷Kojo Thompson:

I love that answer right there. Now I’m going to break down this next question just a little bit for you here today, because this word gets tossed around willy nilly, and that is: what do you feel that your impact is? When I say impact, I mean, what are you devoted to? What is your devotion?

🔶Marina Shepelsky:

Uh, my number one, devotion is legalizing people in United States. I’m helping people who are like the downtrodden, the poor people, the people who don’t speak English, the people who come to this country and make it rich, lively, tasty, delicious, smart. I’m talking about our country; these people are like the life blood of America. I believe America stands on the backs of immigrants. This is my impact. This is my thing in life that I do. This is my legacy that I’m going to leave behind. I have helped people along the way, become citizens, green card holders, they’re voters, they’re professionals, they’re taxpayers, they’re business owners, they’re doctors and lawyers sometimes, dentists and accountants and artists.

I love America. Can you tell? I love it. It’s my number one favorite country in the world. I could live wherever I want; believe me. At this point, I’m financially free to move wherever I want, but I want to be right here. I love our country because our country is made of so many different kinds of people. Only with diversity do you get this kind of talent, this kind of richness. You know, when everybody’s the same, when everybody looks, you know, German, white, you know what happens, right? We know, history has shown itself. So diversity is our biggest strength. And our politicians have to understand that. So, that’s my impact. My impact is helping people become legalized here.

Being legal is like a super power. If you’ve never been illegal, you won’t even understand what it is. When you don’t have a social in this country, you cannot work legally, you cannot pay taxes, you cannot travel, you cannot get health insurance, you cannot vote.

🔷Kojo Thompson:

No driver’s license.

🔶Marina Shepelsky:

Right, no ID. You’re invisible, you’re easy to kill or hurt. Immigrants are afraid to call the police because they don’t have doctors, so they’re always blackmailed with the fact that if you don’t have status, but I, the attacker do, so guess who they’re going to listen to him. So that is my impact. I’m very passionate about it.

🔷Kojo Thompson:

I love that. I love that. Now, Marina, again, every single question you’ve been answering absolutely perfectly, but we are down to that last question. If there was one, just one piece of advice for somebody out there listening right now, who wants to be in the position that you’re in today, Marina, what would that be?

🔶Marina Shepelsky:

I sometimes wish that I started to learn about the law and the legal system earlier because ike I mentioned before, I was pre-med. I never even took a law class in my life and public speaking. Public speaking is a great skill for law, and actually for any profession. If you want to be a leader and in your skill, you have to be a good public speaker. You don’t have to be born a good public speaker. I wasn’t born a good, decent public speaker, but I had to learn. If you could start early learning about public speaking and learning about law, if you wanted to become a lawyer, or don’t understand how our system works. We have a precedent system, we still work off the British system; this is how our country got created – we worked off the British system, but we made it our own. You to have to understand that before you go to law school and be a good public speaker and that’s it.

🔷Kojo Thompson:

I love that answer right there. And I have loved this interview all interview long, but Marina, I need one thing from you before you go. I need a website. So I don’t care if it’s a book, something that I can leave down in the link in the description below so that my audience can reach yours.

🔶Marina Shepelsky:

So my firm’s website is shepelskylaw.com. You can find me on any kind of social media. I have my own YouTube channel. I have TikTok. I do f a lot of blogging on Facebook. Anywhere you can think of, if you just Google Marina Shepelsky, you can find me.

🔷Kojo Thompson:

I love it. And please, everybody hit that link in the description below because marina has been an absolutely perfect guest all interview long. And I must thank her once again for coming on the show today. Now, folks, as you know, there are three types of work, a job, a career, and a calling. Most people have a job. You’re lucky if you find a career, but you are truly, truly blessed if you find your calling. And I really hope that me and Marina helped you find it here today. Folks, that is a wrap.

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