Legal linguist Language skills help set attorney apart from field

By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

As the mother of an 8-month-old son, Julianne Cassin Sharp likes to sing lullabies each evening to her baby boy.

In Spanish.

An attorney with Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss, Sharp is bilingual, a language skill that she utilizes on an almost daily basis in her work as an immigration law specialist with the Southfield firm. As the cliché goes, it is nice to be able "to speak the language" when assisting a growing Hispanic clientele, Sharp has discovered.

"The ability to communicate in their language and to read documents written in Spanish have proven to be invaluable over the years," said Sharp, a Kalamazoo native who graduated magna cum laude from the Carl and Winifred Lee Honors College at Western Michigan University. "The fluency I have developed has helped attract clients to our practice, while also offering them a greater confidence that we understand their needs and desires."

Her penchant for linguistics was evident at an early age and really took hold in college when Sharp studied abroad at a university in Queretaro, Mexico, a region located in the central part of the country.

"I was immersed in the language and the culture during that time abroad and it really accelerated my proficiency in Spanish," said Sharp, who credits her language instructor at University Liggett High School in Grosse Pointe Woods with helping instill a passion for the subject. "It was as if I was a sponge when I was down there. I was soaking up everything about the language. I knew it would be a lifelong skill that I would be able to put to good use."

Sharp, who earned her juris doctorate from the University of Detroit School of Law in 2001, joined Jaffe in 2009, where she and her legal mentor and former boss, Eli Maroko, started the firm's immigration department. In addition, Sharp currently serves as the National Liaison to the American Immigration Lawyers Association for the New Members Division - Michigan Chapter. Maroko, who heads Jaffe's Immigration Practice Group and previously served as chair of the Michigan Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, offered Sharp her first job out of law school.

"It has been a privilege working with Eli," said Sharp, who spent 8 years working with Maroko at an immigration law firm that he headed before joining Jaffe. "He is a great attorney and is passionate about his work. Here at Jaffe, we offer our clients the structure and resources of a large firm, while also having enough independence to develop an immigration law practice that can best meet our clients' needs."

Sharp, by virtue of her upbringing, appeared destined for a career in the medical field. Her father, Bader Cassin, is a forensic pathologist and formerly served as the chief medical examiner for Wayne and Washtenaw counties. Her mother, Carolyn, is president and CEO of the Michigan Women's Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping females of all ages realize their dreams of economic self-sufficiency and social equality. A nationally recognized expert on hospice and palliative care, she also is president of the National Hospice Work Group, previously heading Hospice of Michigan.

"My parents have been incredible role models for me as well as my sister and brother," Sharp said. "They instilled in all of us a love for learning and desire to make a difference in the lives of others."

Her father earned his medical degree from Loyola University in Chicago and is the "go-to person" in his field of forensic pathology, according to Sharp.

"He is the smartest person I know and he regularly testifies as an expert in all sorts of cases," Sharp said, noting that he was an expert witness in the Malice Green and Tara Grant murder cases that riveted court observers in the region. "He works with the energy of someone half his age. He absolutely loves his work and shows absolutely no signs of slowing down."

The same could be said of Sharp's mother, a graduate of Miami University who received her master's degree in public administration from Western Michigan.

"To me, she will always be 'Super Mom,'" said Sharp. "She has enjoyed an incredibly successful professional career, but she always has recognized the importance of balancing it with her family life. She has headed hospice organizations in New York and Arizona, and also accepted a one year appointment from Governor (John) Engler (in 2001) to oversee the state's Medicaid managed care program. She has always had a very demanding professional schedule, yet she has never lost sight of what matters most. She has an absolute heart of gold and it is reflected in all the work that she does."

Once she decided to attend law school, Sharp figured to focus on a career in the medical malpractice field, clerking for a Detroit law firm that specialized in that area. Her interests began to shift when she served as a summer associate for a law firm in Saipan, an assignment that offered her the opportunity to travel to Guam, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

"In my final year of law school, I took an immigration law class and clinic and absolutely loved it," Sharp said. "I had the opportunity to speak Spanish every day in the clinic, meeting with Hispanic clients and helping with their legal needs. I knew then that I wanted to pursue a career in the immigration law field."

It was while working with the firm of Maroko & Landau that Sharp met her future husband, Jeff, an attorney who now heads a practice in Troy that specializes in estate planning, elder law, and tax work. Her husband is a Michigan State University graduate who received his juris doctorate from the former Detroit College of Law. The couple resides in Grosse Pointe Park and has three children, Griffin, 11; Dillon, 8; and Connor, 8 months old.

"Raising a family has helped me gain a greater appreciation for the importance of our immigration law work in helping families remain together or reuniting them after years of separation," said Sharp, who has a brother, Brad, and a sister, Laura. "We regularly represent clients before the U.S. Immigration Court and I can attest that it is not a fun place for anyone to be. It only heightens my desire to make a difference for our clients, some of whom do not have the language skills to understand what they are facing."

Recent -- and in some cases sweeping -- changes in immigration policies on state and national levels have muddied the waters even more, according to Sharp.

"We have been increasingly involved in protecting individuals and businesses from stepped up enforcement of some immigration law policies with respect to worksite enforcement," Sharp said. "These policies can place a real hardship on businesses and individuals if they are found to be non-compliant. We are seeing an increasing need to counsel clients about the importance of keeping up-to-date employment records in the event of an audit. The financial and criminal penalties for employing unauthorized foreign workers can literally put some companies out of business, which only magnifies the importance of keeping all records in order."

Published: Mon, Apr 2, 2012