Newspaper ‘Novoe Russkoe Slovo’ May 7, 2000
It is a known fact that in the profession of law, an attorney is required to have a very busy, a very hectic, and a very tough schedule, which is filled with very boringly similar and repetitive work. That is the reason why in the eyes of the attorney more so that not one can see a well-practiced, standard smile behind which hides a deep feeling of indifference, there are, however, some exceptions for every rule. Like in every other profession, in the profession of law, there are people who gain a great deal of excitement from their work. With every new case their eyes light up, they get a new feeling, a rush that a skier experiences before a run down a fresh new mountain. They get a new chance to really help a lay person who is made of flesh and blood. Attorneys like these very often go into the field of criminal justice, which is similar to what Perry Mason does. But sometimes these specialists appear in between of attorneys of different fields.
When this kind of an attorney who is so involved in his work is asked since what age he gained interest towards jurisprudence and being a lawyer, like a rule, he usually says that it happened since the teenage years, when he started reading detective novels. Some say they wanted to be a lawyer since grammar school. But for a lawyer to say: “I decided to pursue this career since I was five years old…” – that is a rare thing to hear!
But here she is, sitting in front of us, a smiling, friendly lady and with full confidence she says: “Hey, I have been involved with law since I have been five years old…
This lady’s name is Isabella Mayzel. This is not the first year since she has been running a very successful law practice in Union, New Jersey. She started here, in the U.S. working in an American law firm, and now she has an established her own law firm and she practices in various fields of the American law. In her homeland, in Tashkent she started from… Well, in reality, she started a long time before she became an attorney.
Isabella tells us: I was born a lawyer. In the 60’s, when I was a very little girl, my Dad was a well-known lawyer in Tashkent. He was a Doctor of Jurisprudence; many people came to him for help, they were facing prosecution and very harsh punishment, usually having to do with crimes of embezzlement. So all these people usually came to our house, and I played a role of a secretary. In the beginning, I talked to and entertained all the clients who were waiting for their turn to see my father. Later on, when I became older, I started talking to the clients more and I started listening to them about their cases. Soon enough, I started reading the documents, which included the indictments with charges against the clients, and their reasons and their side of the story. As time went by, I started putting together the final packages for my dad’s clients after their cases were over, together with the original complaints. I also helped with translation of documents from Uzbek language to Russian.
What do you think, Isabella, being an attorney, is it a calling or is it a profession, for which you can develop the necessary qualities during your life?
Well, in order to be a good lawyer, with no doubt, you have to be born a good lawyer. You have to love people, not in the broad sense; you just have to be very down to earth. You have to socialize and communicate with very different kinds of people; you have to gain pleasure from socializing and communicating with these people. You have to gain thrills from the amount of people that come through your doors day after day. One of my American professors at Seton Hall Law School, Judge Strasser, always says: “If you are a lawyer, you have to love people, and if you don’t, you are in a wrong profession”.
-- You were talking about your American professor. But weren’t you also a practicing attorney in Uzbekistan?
-- Yes, that’s true. I came to the U.S. having a Ph.D. in Jurisprudence and many years of experience of hands-on work, of actual practicing.
-- What field did you practice in Uzbekistan?
-- Mainly, I practiced criminal law. When I worked in Tashkent, political cases on cotton gained big recognition, so called cotton cases sanctioned by the Central Committee of the CPSU. Cases which were followed by investigators from Moscow, if you remember those…
-- How could I not remember! These people, without question made publicity for themselves. They prepared the ground for their political careers in many states of the Soviet Union…
-- That’s exactly true! In Moscow, these people always insulted and pressed down on the Uzbeks as a nation. In reality of things though, a great amount of innocent people suffered. The Moscow investigators fabricated cases after cases in order to show the ‘effectiveness’ of their work to their superiors. The accused people were forced by psychological and physical pressure to give false testimony; the people were physically abused and beat up. In the republic as a whole, a climate of a very ruthless repression was formed, almost as bad as during the Stalin years. I got a chance to defend many of these people that undeservingly suffered…
-- And how did your professional career start out in the U.S.?
-- I went to Law School all over again. In general, we, the attorneys from different countries, had a chance to get licensed without having to attend a full program of studies at a Law School. All we would have to do is study for one year, then pass the bar exam and you can practice law. However, the most important thing is that the knowledge is not the same, the American Diploma and the title of Doctor of Jurisprudence aren’t there, and you can only work as an attorney in a limited quantity of states. In fact, the program, which lawyers from my country use for this goal is only planned as courses to gain a training (specialization) in a certain qualification in a separate field of law. This program assumes that the person already has prior basic knowledge of law based on their past experience and, therefore, this program does not offer the much-needed knowledge of American Law. On the other hand, I decided to study a full four-year program and gain a full professional preparation. While going to school, I also worked in order to obtain a real law firm experience. First I worked as a Paralegal in the firm of Ravich, Koster, Tobin, Oleckna, Reitman & Greenstein, and then I moved on to two other high-profile firms, where I learned the practical aspects of American jurisprudence. Of course, none of this would be possible without the great support from my family, from my husband, my son and my daughter. I studied very hard, I took summer classes, and in the end, I finished a four-year program in three years. My previous practical work experience allowed me to open my office four days after I had been sworn in as an Attorney.
-- What fields of law did you start specializing in after finishing Law School?
-- The knowledge and the know-how that I gained while working for many high-profile firms allowed me to specialize in many different fields right away. I started working and presently still do, with various kinds of immigration cases and I became an expert on immigration from countries of the European Alliance and NIS.
Our other specialty is – personal injuries, which involves assistance those who have suffered traumas. We defend the rights and interests of our clients in financial guarantees and multi-partner agreements. We provide legal advice for operations...
-- A very wide spectrum, I can’t argue with that! What part of your practice is the busiest one?
-- I have many immigration cases. Some of these cases are very dramatic. Here is a story for you, for example. As you know, many aliens present in this country are without an immigrant status. They say that once the deportation process has started, it is too late to help these people. However, that is not true! In some cases it is even easier to gain a status for these clients. I had a case once, when an older, highly educated person along with his wife did not go through an interview for political asylum and the government was trying to deport them. The deportation process already started and everything was going in order as it was supposed to be…
But when I met with the couple and discussed their situation, we learned that the man had a Ph.D. in medicine. Based on his extraordinary abilities, we filed a petition for him and in the matter of four months we were granted an approval for his green card. Then, I contacted the judge who was handling his deportation case, and we received a permission for adjustment of status in order to receive the green card. Everything worked out well – and just think for a second, -- these people were ready to give up on their future in the U.S. …
Or here is another story – this one is a little bit more dramatic, having to do with the diversity visa program (lottery). The thing is, that many people that win the lottery, still are not granted a permission to adjust their status to a lawful permanent resident in this country. It is very important for every person who wins the lottery to be approved before September 30 of that year, meaning before the end of the fiscal year, or the chance of receiving a green card for this person is lost.
Many aliens that win the immigration lottery, lose their legal right due to the fault of local INS offices, who drag out their cases till after September 30. One of my clients, who won the lottery, came to me in March. Right away, I filed his application package with the local INS office. In April, I made a status request and was informed to just wait. In May, the same thing happened. In June, still no result. In July, I contacted the INS office and was suddenly told that my client was getting checked for his good moral character. I was explained the reason to be that, while being a citizen of Israel, my client traveled to his homeland, the Ukraine, many times. The people in the INS office decided to request the corresponding records from Israel to check his background.
In August, we still did not receive a valid answer from the INS. In September, three weeks before the expiration of the time period, I sent a fax to Tel Aviv, to the same establishment where the INS supposedly sent their request. I found out that the INS had never sent any request to Tel Aviv regarding the background of my client. For the duration of two months, this bluff lasted! …
I tried to convince the Supervisor from the INS office, that it is necessary to finally process my client’s case. No answer, nothing… September 28, two days before the expiration period, I sent my last request to the INS office. No answer! I got in touch with the General Manager, to whom on a general basis it is impossible to get to. I explained to him the situation. He promised to me to resolve the issue immediately. I was very upset for my client’s future. He was obviously very worried also. September 30 came, and we receive the approval notice from the INS office for his green card. I was sure, that if I did not show my consistent pressure, my client would have never received his green card.
It is very interesting that while telling this story, Isabella Mayzel, is involvingly gesturing, or smiling, or is showing genuine sorrow for those who were not so lucky … It is obviously that she is not only not indifferent towards the future of the people that come to her office, she lives through them … I guess, it is also possible to practice law for enjoyment!
Leaving the cozy yet bright office of Isabella Mayzel in the business district of the green New Jersey town called Union, I started thinking that real life never really fits into our stereotypes. And also that, it is a good thing that in our “Russian America” we have lawyers like this, like Isabella Mayzel. Lawyers like this, and people like this!