Attorney, Mojaddidi Law in Sacramento, Calif.
Area of Practice: Immigration Law
Year Graduated: 2002
Wazhma Mojaddidi decided at a very young age that she would one day become a lawyer. "I was on the path to law school starting in sixth grade," she says. "I always knew that's what I was going to do." Although Ms. Mojaddidi can't point to anything in particular that made her want to go into law, she surmises that her love of public speaking and debate may have had something to do with it. Whatever the reason for her passion, she kept her career goal in mind as an undergraduate at the University of California, Davis. There, Ms. Mojaddidi prepared for a future as an attorney by joining a pre-law fraternity and by serving as a member of the University board that tried student disciplinary issues. She also completed a major in Political Science, one of the most popular undergraduate majors for aspiring lawyers, even though in retrospect she notes that she could have easily chosen to specialize in a different subject without defeating her dreams of law school.
In between college and law school, Ms. Mojaddidi spent a year working for a company that handled the legal document data entry of large law firms. She enrolled as a day student at McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific in 1999 but switched to the part-time program in her second year to allow her to spend more time with her husband and their new baby. By the time she graduated from McGeorge with her J.D. in 2003, she had competed in an international moot court competition in Vienna, Austria and was pregnant with her second child. She had also had her first taste of immigration law while researching and writing appellate briefs in the areas of extradition and asylum law for a local immigration firm.
After Ms. Mojaddidi passed the California bar, she began to get calls from people she knew within the Middle Eastern and South Asian communities, where she was already involved in many civic organizations. Thus began Ms. Mojaddidi's career as a solo practitioner. Her first case happened to be in family law; it was a complicated interstate child custody case. "I literally went in and learned it on my own. I would go into court and watch, and I would study practice guides," she explains. "I essentially taught myself how to be a lawyer."
Today, in addition to family law cases, Ms. Mojaddidi handles immigration law and civil rights cases as the principal attorney at The Law Office of Wazhma Mojaddidi. Just as with family law, she learned how to practice in each of these areas through careful study and court observation. Even though she had a small amount of experience with immigration law, there was a lot that Ms. Mojaddidi didn't know when she started taking immigration cases. "Researching and writing appellate briefs doesn't really help you with the practice of immigration law," she points out. "In actual practice and procedure, I had to learn." Ms. Mojaddidi estimates that these days immigration cases make up almost half of her caseload.
Ms. Mojaddidi's immigration practice encompasses both the transactional and litigation aspects of the field. In the transactional realm, for example, she might help a client submit a family petition, sponsor a relative or spouse for citizenship, or apply for naturalization. When a potential client contacts her with such a request, Ms. Mojaddidi meets with that individual to gather information, explain the various documents that she will need, and advise on the process that will follow. "After that, I receive the documents from my client and put together the packet of documents that need to be submitted," she explains. Another meeting occurs so that the client can sign the paperwork before it is sent to the government. Even after the paperwork has been submitted, Ms. Mojaddidi, as the attorney of record for her client, must correspond with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and update the client at various stages in the process. Additionally, she explains, "Some of the applications also require physical interviews. If my client has an interview, I go with them to that interview. Typically, the decision is made right after the interview. If [the federal official] feels there is more information they need, they will then ask the client to submit the information and then later issue a written decision."
Litigation-based immigration cases require a different skill set, and Ms. Mojaddidi notes that they are perhaps overall the most challenging type of case that she handles. These cases occur when a person has overstayed a visa or committed a crime and the government wants to take away whatever immigration rights that person had. Because the immigration court closest to her office is in San Francisco, Ms. Mojaddidi must travel there for her immigration court cases. Once at the immigration court, Ms. Mojaddidi's job is to convince the immigration judge that there is some form of relief available to her client to justify allowing the client to stay in the United States and not be deported. "I think one reason that some immigration lawyers will shy away from going to court is that it is very serious when a person is going to be deported," she says. "You need to research all possible forms of relief, and you really have to be on top of it. It's hard. My goal is always to go in [to court] overly prepared."
When asked about the most rewarding part of her immigration practice, Ms. Mojaddidi replies, "You can change someone's life. It's huge. Either I'm unifying families or I'm keeping families from being deported. That in and of itself provides great satisfaction." She provides an example of a particularly gratifying case in which she successfully represented a family in removal proceedings. The children had grown up in the United States and completed college here, yet they were "facing the possibility of being deported to a county they didn't really know anymore."
The more challenging aspect of immigration practice, Ms. Mojaddidi points out, is keeping up with the constant changes in immigration law. It's important, therefore, for immigration attorneys to make staying on top of the law a priority in their practice. Attention to detail is crucial as well, since clients hire an attorney to help them fill out immigration forms, which they could fill out on their own, in large part to assure themselves that the forms are done meticulously and correctly. Additionally, Ms. Mojaddidi notes that strong research, writing, and advocacy skills are imperative for immigration attorneys, especially those who practice in immigration court. Ms. Mojaddidi also observes that in order to succeed, immigration attorneys must be able to work well with people — "You have to gain the trust of your clients to be very open with you. You never want to be surprised by information your client didn't tell you."
Ms. Mojaddidi recommends that individuals who are interested in immigration law attend deportation hearings in immigration court. "Sitting through that for a couple hours, you really see the variety of clients and issues that come up," she explains. Ms. Mojaddidi also advises students to find a way to gain experience in immigration law. For students at McGeorge in particular, she recommends they participate in the Immigration Law Clinic and volunteer to help foreign-born individuals complete immigration paperwork at the Citizenship Fair held on campus each year. Additionally, she notes that a mentor can make the transition into practice much easier, and she suggests that students seek out connections with immigration attorneys whom they might be able to turn to when questions arise.
Between running her law practice and spending time with her four children, Ms. Mojaddidi also serves as President of the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and as Parliamentarian of another Islamic organization. Her schedule leaves little time for other activities, but she loves what she does. "At some point, I think the adrenaline will wear off, and I'll try not to take on cases in new areas of law," Ms. Mojaddidi explains. "But at least I'm not burning out, because I'm constantly doing new things."