Global Work: Attorney spearheads firm's employment immigration team

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

When Carol Friend got her first taste of business immigration work, she knew nothing about the field.

“I literally bought my first book on immigration law at a local book store and read everything I could get my hands on,” she says.

That early experience piqued an interest in this specialty for Friend, now a partner at Honigman, Miller, Schwartz, and Cohn LLP in Detroit. Group chair of the Business Immigration Practice, she leads a team of three attorneys and three paralegals who guide employers through the process of bringing workers to the United States on temporary or permanent visas; and counsel companies on immigration matters related to mergers, acquisitions and corporate reorganizations.

The work encompasses domestic and foreign clients in the areas of agricultural, biotechnology, pharmaceutical, health care, automotive, tier-one and tier-two supplier, robotics, engineering, and information technology.

“I’m very fortunate to work with a wide variety of corporate clients in many different industries,” Friend says. “At the end of the day, it’s very rewarding to know the work we do brings diversity and high-level talent to our country, which greatly benefits our social fabric and economy.”

U.S. immigration law changed significantly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, with legislation and federal government policies implemented quickly with little consideration of collateral impact, she notes.

“Aside from legislation, it’s been interesting to witness the impact of the Bush and Obama administrations’ philosophies on immigration which have greatly impacted the adjudication process for business immigration cases and worksite enforcement aimed at employers,” she says.

According to Friend, antiquated U.S. immigration laws require crucial and comprehensive reform for this country to move forward economically and socially. Although the Senate stepped up with the passage of S. 744—which includes positive business immigration reforms related to permanent resident status—the bill adds more restrictions to non-immigrant classifications including H and L status, likely resulting in higher costs for employers. “The House has rejected the Senate bipartisan bill and intends to address immigration reform in a piecemeal manner,” she says.   

Friend’s expertise has resulted in many kudos including Best Lawyers in America, DBusiness, Top Lawyers, Michigan Super Lawyers, and Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent Peer Review Rated; as well as the Oakland County Circuit Court Outstanding Public Service Award. A member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, American Bar Association, Oakland County Bar Association, and Women Lawyers Association of Michigan, she also is an author and a frequent speaker at conferences.

When she joined Honigman in 2000 as the firm’s only immigration attorney, Friend planned to practice business immigration law the majority of the time and be involved with a few employment litigation cases.

“Due to a major corporate reorganization of one of my Fortune 500 clients, my business immigration practice took off and I’ve dedicated my career at Honigman exclusively to this field,” she says. “My practice is very fulfilling and relates back to my days as a Human Services major and public service employee.”

That background includes an associate degree in human services from Siena Heights College in Adrian, after which Friend became a paralegal and worked at the Oakland County Friend of the Court for seven years while completing her bachelor’s degree with night school classes at Oakland University.

Her work as a support specialist supervisor at the Friend of the Court sparked a deep interest in the law.

“I also had really great mentors at FOC, who encouraged me to go to law school and reach beyond my current career path,” she says. “They knew, as I did, that I wasn’t interested in practicing family law so the likelihood I would return to work for the Friend of the Court wasn’t great.”

But embarking on law school at the age of 32 was daunting.

“I thought no one would possibly hire me when I graduated because I would be competing with much younger lawyers,” she says.
One of Friend’s FOC mentors offered sage advice.

“She said, ‘Carol, in three years you’ll be 35 anyway, wouldn’t it be better to be 35 and have a law degree?’ I took her advice and never looked back. Some of the best people I know work at the Friend of the Court and remain my good friends today. Working in public service for seven years gave me a great foundation for my career.”

Friend headed to Cooley Law School as an older, non-traditional law student, earned her J.D. summa cum laude, and served as assistant editor of the law review.

“The diversity of the student body was fantastic with many students older than I was,” she says. “I treated law school like the full time job I was used to holding and was able to maintain a GPA that provided me with a 100 percent tuition scholarship—I was very grateful to leave Cooley with no law school debt.”

Her career kicked off with an associate position in the Labor & Employment Practice Group at Howard & Howard.

“I worked with a really great group of mentors who taught me how to think like a lawyer and be an advocate for a corporate client—something foreign to me having come from public service,” she says. “Even though business immigration attorneys technically compete for the same corporate clients, there’s no sense of competition. Everyone helps each other especially new lawyers. While working there, I developed strong business relationships with attorneys, paralegals and clients who are still a greatest referral source today.”

While her practice primarily involved representing corporate defendants in employment litigation cases, within a year the needs of several clients exposed her to business immigration work—and the devouring of every book she could find on the subject to launch this new direction.

Becoming a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association—featuring attorneys in all different realms including business, family, deportation and asylum to name a few—Friend found excellent mentors for her early years in this specialty.

She pays this help forward with service as vice chair on the Board of Directors of Inforum, a professional organization creating strategic connections and accelerating the careers of women. The Inforum Center for Leadership provides support to women from emerging leaders, to high potential executives, high-tech entrepreneurs and for-profit corporate board leaders. “Inforum provides a great way for women in different industries to network, connect and collaborate professionally and personally,” she says.    

Friend is also a member of the Board of Trustees for the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts in Detroit, with its rich history of providing first-class performing arts to the Motor City. Built by Matilda Dodge Wilson and opened in 1928 as the Wilson Theatre, the building was designated a Michigan State Historic Site in 1976, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Liza Minnelli, and Nancy Wilson are among the many notables gracing its stage.

Friend was drawn to support the Music Hall by its educational outreach programs and diverse programming that reaches a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds and brings new cultures and experiences to the community, she says.

“We’re so fortunate to have world-class arts and cultural venues in Detroit, including the fabulous Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Institute of Arts, and Opera House.”