Episode 24: Infusing Humanity into the Law with Special Guest Sophie Alcorn

August 5, 2021

Today we have a very special guest joining us. Sophie Alcorn is both a good friend and an incredible lawyer. She has an interesting journey that led her to start her law firm, Alcorn Law. 

In this episode, Sophie and I are talking about infusing humanity into the law. As an immigration lawyer, Sophie meets people with incredibly diverse backgrounds every day. This has inspired her to build compassion into her firm. 

Sophie now trains her team to do the same. Their goal is to show their clients the same respect and value that they would in any other relationship. Tune in to hear more about how they do this and how you can infuse humanity into your business.

In this episode, you will hear:

  • Background on Alcorn Law.
  • What led Sophie to become a lawyer.
  • Her struggle with compassion fatigue and postpartum depression.
  • The relational aspect of law.
  • How Sophie and her team go the extra mile with their clients.
  • How being a lawyer is like being a therapist at times.
  • How Sophie balances compassion with results. 
  • How immigration has been impacted by COVID.
  • All about a nonprofit that matches immigrants with companies needing talent.

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Supporting Resources:

Alcorn Law

Email Sophie: hello@alcorn.law

https://cgl-llp.com/

 

 

Transcript from Episode 24:

 

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

people, immigration law, immigration, clients, year, law, sophie, alcorn, founder, startup founders, helping, silicon valley, startup, firm, support, lawyers, thought, country, hiring, company

 

00:02

I’m your host Hannah Genton and I’m one of the founding partners of CGL. What if you could speak with top business leaders and CEOs about their professional insights and personal journeys? Each week, we share authentic discussions with business leaders, where they flesh out substantive issues while also getting deeper into their authentic stories. Our goal is to bring you conversations on the fusion of business and humanity, success and authenticity, and the challenges of balancing life and work.

 

00:34

Thank you for joining us. Hello, and welcome to another episode of conversations with CGL. I am really excited about today’s episode because we have a special guest. Her name is Sophie Alcorn. And she is a good friend and just an incredible person who has a really interesting journey and a really wonderful law firm called Alcorn law. Sophie, why don’t you just introduce yourself and provide a little bit of background on you and your firm? As a starting point?

 

01:07

Oh, thank you. It’s such a pleasure to be here. I’m honored to be on your podcast. And I really appreciate it. I am, as you mentioned, the founder of Alcorn immigration law. And we’re the leading immigration law firm for technology startups. In California, we won that award. But I would also say, really, Silicon Valley is where we shine. So visas and green cards for international startup founders and people who need to join rapidly scaling startups from different places in the world, and who are trying to figure out how to live and work legally in the United States while they build their companies. So cool. So you’re like helping people make their dreams come true. Exactly. Our mission is to transcend borders so that everybody has a chance to live their dreams. I love that. I love that.

 

02:04

And can you share a little bit like your own journey and how you got to this point?

 

02:11

It’s been a long journey. And I’ll tell you more of the real story than the can story. Because I think we have a little bit of time. Yeah. But my dad was an immigration lawyer. And I joke that I have immigration in my blood, because my mom’s an immigrant from Germany. So I grew up in this environment. But I really thought the idea of copying my dad, and I didn’t want to just do what he was doing from some lack of creativity, or ever be accused of advancing through nepotism or something. So I was really reluctant to pursue a career in law in high school, and even college. And he actually tried to dissuade me from going to law school, he thought I should be like an anthropology professor or something. And I said, Why shouldn’t I go to law school and he said, Sophie, lawyers are weird, you’re going to become a…”

 

03:07

“Dad, I’m your daughter, I’m already weird. Deal with it.” But I knew that I had a desire to connect with people from different cultures who speak different languages and have other diverse perspectives and points of view. And I had studied in Moscow and Florence for most of the year, and also spent time in Germany, and really loved this thought I might want to go into the State Department, but ended up I’m sure many of your podcast listeners probably have experienced, a lot of people have gone through me two types of things. And also way before there was ever a chance for people to talk about it. And so over the last few years, it’s been great that more people can get support for whatever they’ve gone through. But certain things happened to me in high school that ended up involving the justice system. And so it was sort of I don’t know if we’ve talked about this, but for me, it was like a double trauma experience, like the initial incidents, but then also trying to seek justice for it. So I had this love-hate relationship with the law where I knew how horrible going through the system felt like, but I also really wanted to be strong and have a voice and exercise my voice. And so I ended up going straight into law school. And then I did work for my dad’s immigration law firm for a few years, but also learned something new that many lawyers don’t know is a thing. It’s called compassion, fatigue. And social workers and doctors get trained in this but lawyers aren’t really historically considered like a helping profession. It’s more of a stubborn, argumentative, but I did a lot of asylum cases and domestic violence and human trafficking and deportation at the beginning of my law career, and I burned out and I had kids. And I said, “Dad, I’m going to leave your law firm, because you told me that you can’t outsource the love of your children to any caregivers. So I need to be 100% dedicated to these kids I’m going to have so I’m going to be a stay at home mom for a while.” And that was my way to take a break from law and start my own really healing process from the things I had gone through. And when I turned 30, I had two kids, and there was like postpartum depression and PTSD that was coming back and all these different things that I felt very lost in Silicon Valley as a young mom with really no professional network felt like I didn’t have a career that I wasn’t really a lawyer who would ever hire me for a job, those sorts of things. But I decided to take responsibility for my happiness. And then I had been arguing with my dad, that if something happened to him, I was 500 miles away. What if I forgot immigration law, and I’ve never been a Rainmaker and I’ve never managed employees, and I didn’t want everything he stood for, to fall apart. So I urged him to, if something were to happen to him, that it would be more responsible to his clients, if I were not the one who was going to be in charge of the next steps. And I didn’t know he listened to me. But he did. And I got the news of his passing one night by phone call telling me that there had been an accident and injuries to a family member and that my dad had died. That was a obviously a very challenging moment for me in my life. And in the aftermath of that things in my life fell apart, including my marriage. And I thought I was going to inherit his firm, but he listened to me. And so I didn’t. But I realized that I had the strength and the desire to carry on his legacy by practicing immigration law and supporting people. And so about six years ago, Alcorn immigration law was born in my kitchen, and now we have 20 employees. And we’ve helped 1000s of people and I write for TechCrunch, and have a podcast immigration law for tech startups and about to be featured in Business Insider as a top us startup immigration attorney. So all these wonderful things are happening. And six years ago, sitting in my kitchen, washing dishes with like a four year old and a one year old, I just remember looking out the window in Mountain View and thinking Silicon Valley is so close, but it’s so far away. And I had no idea how I would get there. And so I have so much appreciation for all of the miraculous events that have led me to where I am today a lot to be grateful for.

 

07:56

Wow. And your story. One thing that I’m curious about based on your experience with the justice system, and what I know people go through in the immigration system, in terms of the process of that compassion or empathy that you must have and be able to give to your clients who are going through a very stressful, overwhelming Oh, yeah, process. They’re obviously different. But I think that seems like you probably bring something very unique there just based on personal experience.

 

08:30

Thank you. And I really tried deliberately to do that. Because a lot of volume-based immigration law practice is seen as transactional and numbers. And it’s, I think all law is really very personal. And it’s all about relationships, and trust, and advising and counseling, because especially like automation is a wonderful thing. And it helps us do our jobs in a pre-determined consistent way. So that’s wonderful. And what it has allowed us to do in our practice is spend more of our time counseling our employees, because it’s often not obvious. What is the next step in so I always like to start by talking to any company or any immigrant who’s considering hiring us by talking about, okay, let’s just put immigration aside for a moment. Let’s pretend I have a magic wand. And I can either erase all borders in the world or I can make here’s your citizen of the world passport and you can go anywhere and do anything. What do you want to do and why? And starting at that point, as opposed to like, I think I need an h1 b renewal. It helps so much because we can’t figure out where to go until we know where we’re going. So I really like to see the whole person and it’s often also like an emotional journey for them. So many people have never been asked, What’s your dream? What’s your goal and then 10 have that information received and held and honored and in a safe way. So that’s something those are some of the ways I’ve tried to build compassion into my firm and train our team. Because I’ve been on the other side of it, I know what it’s like to be processed and put through a system. And there’s supposedly people who are helping you, but who really even asks what you need help with. So it’s, I think it’s really important, and just a way that we can fit any humans can show respect and value to each other in any relationship.

 

10:31

Totally. Exactly. And like, I love that, because we do, a lot of that here is really trying to humanize the whole experience. And it doesn’t have to be so transactional. I mean, the piece that I love about being a lawyer, as a helper, I think of myself in any conversation with anyone, how can I help you? Like we know from skills, we have some tools were mastered kind of these pieces? What is your problem cake? How can we kind of help you through that?

 

10:59

There’s many paths up the immigration mountain holes in your business, corporate toolbox, why start banging with the hammer when we just need the screwdriver?

 

11:11

So it’s six years now? How is it for you now you’re running a fully functioning law firm, you’ve got a team that you’re working with, you’re a thought leader? How has that been?

 

11:22

It’s fun, it’s exciting. There’s amazing things happening every day, I get to call a client in a few minutes and tell him that he’s a startup founder, and he’s been in immigration Limbo for 1.5 years through, not being able to build his company, he can’t legally work, you can own the company, he can found the company, he can try to raise money for the company, but he can’t work there. So I get to call this startup founder. And we’ve had conversations throughout the months about how he’s had to develop a meditation practice to deal with the stress of immigration Limbo, and the teachers who he follows and how practicing law of attraction to manifest a good immigration outcome for himself. And I could see the moment when he decided to pick up this new practice, because before he had a ton of anxiety, and he was asking us a million questions all the time. And it was like, showing his expectation that it was all going to go south. And I give him so much credit, because he made that decision that you couldn’t control everything. But he was going to proceed with the feeling that the best outcome was there waiting for him. And he’s chilled out. And I know it was still so hard for him. But he had multiple processes going on in parallel, and we needed all of them to be approved. And the final piece of that came through today, and now he’s gonna be able to live in basically, he’ll be able to keep living in the US for the rest of his life and grow this company and they can start signing. So they’re the best calls like so excited. Those calls are the are quiet like guess what we did it, you know, so wonderful. Yeah. And the work that you’re doing, you know, it’s so personal, some like for when you’re on the individual side to these individuals. And yeah, that’s a part of our job. We’ve joked at the firm is like, being an attorney, you also kind of were a therapist hat sometimes and really talking through issues with people I’ve gotten through supporting some founders and like really rough founder divorces, and yeah, like a bit fall out where the founder fallout and or a partnership gone south.

 

13:45

Relationships and money. Those are the two topics and I’ve heard people say that it’s even harder to talk about money than sex, right? That’s what you’re in the thick of with that and emotions get so tense and that we agreed to this, how could you be betrayed. So you really have to be there with a listening ear, and help defuse and mediate and help people move on. Because nobody wants to be stuck in that. But it needs closure. It needs a resolution so that you can be able to go on to the next thing, whatever that is.

 

14:16

Yeah. And so often, and just the work that we do and needing to get details or things. It comes up like it comes up and you’re like, Okay, we’re and we’re going into this right now. I guess I’m sitting and we’re venting about whatever it is. And that’s part of it. I actually really, it’s so surprising to me that there isn’t what did you call it? It’s like empathy, burnout or compassion, burnout, passion, fatigue, compassion, fatigue, listening, who’s affiliated with the law school, please have them teach this at last. Yeah, honestly. There’s like, I had a passion to go into kind of social justice law when I was in law school like that was an area that’s always been of interest to me. And I knew that I, myself, couldn’t go into that. Because of my empathetic nature, I was like, I will burn out. I will get too personal into that. But I think what I’ve seen as so many people do go into it for the right reasons, and then are completely burnt out and can’t contribute to serve.

 

15:19

Yeah, often the people who are attracted to that kind of work will like me, I think often people become empathetic because they’ve gone through some sort of hardship. And then the thing about compassion fatigue is that if you have a trigger or sensitivity, then your clients who you’re supporting their trauma can retrigger your own. It all flares up. And I remember writing declarations in the middle of the night for our clients sobbing with them, they needed me to be a strong advocate, but I was weeping over the injustice of their story. And there was a lot of energy that I spent on that, and I’m not sure it helped them that much. But I guess I needed to go through it to get to the other side of my own healing.

 

16:00

Totally. And to find like, your role in this of where you can provide advocacy services and still maintain, like the composition that you need to be a strong advocate. It’s like, okay, and immigration, you might be able to do that there’s some kind of separation there.

 

16:19

At the end of the day, our clients are also hiring us. Yes, to listen, but to solve a problem for them. Yeah, yeah, there needs to be action, there needs to be results. Yeah.

 

16:29

So how has this past year been for you all in the COVID situation?

 

16:36

It’s been a year of growth. 500 days, I’m a single mom, and my kids are doing well. And I’m very thankful that they get to go back to physical school, and that they got a little bit of that this year. And I’ve been able to travel in May and June, I took trips to different meditation retreats in Idaho, and I went to Sedona for the solstice and went to Mount Shasta. So I’ve been having a lot of fun. From a business perspective, client perspective, immigration law perspective, it’s been rewarding, and that we get to really support people. I would rather that immigration law didn’t need to exist, I would be happier for the world if this weren’t a thing. And I had to find some other type of law to practice or go be a musician or something. But immigration has only gotten more complicated and COVID, because the US State Department very early on, pulled out all the consular officers from the different embassies around the world. And so visa processing has been pretty much at a standstill. And that has made it extremely difficult for people to come into the United States. We’ve been successful for people from Europe and other countries with specific COVID travel bans to get them into the country for different national interest reasons. But I had to get in a manager to go as an artist to the Grammy Awards at the very last minute, that was very challenging, we had to get an A wine expert to come, he can’t smell wine over zoom and help save a distressed wine region, I zoom meeting, he needed to come and use his olfactory senses. So he definitely needed to get into the country. So those things have been legally interesting, but hard for our clients. Frankly, I was hoping that the travel bans would be dropped. But it looks like we’re going to have them for a little while longer. But there has been one group that’s been able to get some Upshot through all of this, which is before COVID. If you were smart enough to get a PhD, and had simply the luck of the draw to be born in India, and you were trying to get a green card in the United States, that category of green cards, people were expected to have a 150 year wait for their turn in line to be able to be on line to get green cards. Unless your clients do something really amazing at CGL in the next few years. I don’t know that we’re gonna live to be 150. Yeah, just ridiculous. So the one good thing because under Trump, there are so many families I talked to that are like homeowners in Silicon Valley with us citizen kids who go to school here and they’re like freaking out that they would have to move to Canada because everything Trump was doing and these wait times. So at least the 500 or 400, however many 1000 green cards that were not able to be used in COVID. For people around the world. Those green cards through this law get to be reallocated to the employment based categories. So there’s been a rapid forward movement in line for people born in India and China, so at least that is helping people in our community.

 

19:50

Yeah, wow. We felt it on the travel side for those of us who like to travel or who have family, international family, but you think of the economy and the packed. And now there’s a huge tech labor shortage. All of a sudden, it’s like hiring wars happening and companies reaching out like Sophie, we never wanted to sponsor immigration, we’re annoying that we have to do it. But like, we need talent, what are we supposed to do to compete for people on each one be. So that’s been really interesting. But the valuations are in the races, there’s just millions of dollars or companies floating around and people are hired. And there has been one cool thing that your audience should know about, which is through a nonprofit, it’s now possible for people to get H1-B1’s without going through the normal lottery. So it’s conceivable that if you had a talent pool in some country where the consulate is functioning, and you’re looking at bringing in engineering talent, we’ve been successful with getting people paired with this nonprofit. And basically, the candidate needs to commit to teaching a group of us stem college students for five hours a week on a group project for the startup. And often those University partnerships, support underserved diverse us college student populations that need access to project based learning. So it’s like a triple win, because people can get new candidates can come into the country if they’re constantly dysfunctioning. And some are, so company gets talent. And then the company also gets access to a pipeline of diverse candidates who are learning engineering skills and who are entering the job market, so you can train them for your company’s needs. So I’m really excited about that program.

 

21:42

Very cool. Yeah, that’s very cool. I feel like we’ve covered so many topics for a period of time, is there anything else that you’d love to share with our audience, and then I’d also love for you to share where people can learn more about your firm. One of the things I know that you do so well, is educational resources and learning. And I think that that can be so helpful to so many people. So also, like, we’d love for you to share that information for anybody that’s interested in more can include some links to put in the show notes.

 

22:10

Yeah, perfect program for people who want a one extraordinary ability visa is a bootcamp class where you can build up your portfolio of accomplishments and all of my TechCrunch to your Sophie articles, our podcast, we have monthly webinars on different immigration law topics, a new founder spotlight in our newsletter that’s really fun to have success stories of immigrants who are making it in Silicon Valley and beyond. So we’ll definitely share those resources with you. And the other thing that’s been a huge professional highlight for me lately that I’m just so delighted to share is a new immigration pathway in the United States, believe it or not for startup founders. And there’s a regulatory program that had this whole torrid litigate, Tory, if that’s a word history between the Trump administration and the National venture capital Association, but it’s live yesterday, I just reviewed the application for our first founder who’s going to be filing. And it’s really amazing. If anybody needs this program real briefly, if you have a brand new startup that’s raised at least 250k, from us investors, and there’s a founder who needs to immigrate to the US who has at least 10% of the company like that’s all it takes to qualify, and they can come in two and a half years, they can renew it for another two and a half years, their spouse can get a work permit doesn’t matter if you’re like the top expert in your country doesn’t matter if you’re a college dropout. So I’m so excited about this. And then the other thing that’s been really cool through my nbci involvement is I got to help write legislation for a startup visa. You mentioned that a while ago, I was gonna ask about that. Yeah. How did that go? days ago, representatives Oh, Lofgren from San Jose, who leads the House Judiciary Subcommittee on immigration introduced the bill in the House of Representatives. And I’m so excited about this 10 things that I came up with got added to the bio, which is amazing, because I got to do things just to make the program so much better for people and take away like a pilot program or a lottery and just make it available and fast. What I want to do now is build a coalition of startup founders and venture capitalists and attorneys and other people in this ecosystem to advocate for this bill to be introduced in the Senate and for it to eventually become long so I am actively seeking support. So if anybody has any ideas, how to get a bill turned into a law, please contact me.

 

24:57

Yeah, we’ll include your contact information, and the shout out. So people can find that because I’m sure that anybody that knows and wants to help like, like, can they just send you an email, or…

 

25:08

they can just send an email to hello@alcorn.law email that will give you and prefer will be so appreciative of any tips.

 

25:16

Oh exciting. You’re always doing amazing things I feel like every time I talk to you, I’m always just so impressed by everything that you’re doing. And like you maintaining kind of your humanity through all of it. So that just makes me so happy to have these conversations.

 

25:33

Thank you so much. It’s so wonderful connecting with you. And I see you guys doing this too, right? Bringing humanity into the practice of law. These do not we don’t have to be schizophrenic. We don’t have to have split personalities about this. We can be whole people, we can be helpful. We can be caring, we can get the job done, and I see what you do. And it just serves your clients, our clients in such multifaceted ways. How do I because in the olden days, it was like, how do we mitigate the damage caused by the legal process?

 

26:04

Mm hmm.

 

26:04

But now it’s okay. How do we create something positive?

 

26:08

Totally, totally. Like it can be something that feels good. And I think you and I talked about this, like once a while back, not accepting this narrative that lawyers are miserable stress style people, and that we’re human beings, and our clients are human beings, and we’re working to solve problems together. And it can feel good. It can feel good and be profitable, and help people be super successful. And all those things can just change the face of it a little bit. Yeah. Thank you so much. Thank you for joining. And if anyone has any questions we’ll include all of Sophie’s information will be in the show notes. And as always, I’d love to hear your comments or questions. Feel free to shoot me an email at Hannah at CGL dash LP calm. And Sophie Thank you so much. Again, it’s always a pleasure, and we appreciate you on the show and we look forward to speaking with everybody next time. Thank you, Hannah.

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