How does one go from playing the lead in a Hun musical to launching a solo immigration law practice in just ten years? Zoe Ji Wilson ’12, Esq., combined the poise gained from theatrical performance and her fluency in Mandarin Chinese with extreme focus to follow the road less traveled.
Ms. Wilson had grown up around the law, as her father is also an attorney. But it wasn’t until she enrolled at Hun that she realized that it would be her career as well.
“Ever since I was little, I couldn’t think of any other career that really made sense for me,” Ms. Wilson said, adding that when she came to Hun in eleventh grade, she realized “this is absolutely the only thing I’m going to do.”
After making that decision, most Americans who want to become lawyers would then prepare themselves for four years of undergraduate study, followed by three years of law school. But Ms. Wilson found another way. Through careful research, she discovered that the United Kingdom offers an undergraduate law degree. She earned her Law LL.B. in three years at the University of Sheffield, plus a two-year Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice to become a solicitor abroad, though she ultimately chose to return home.
“The New York State Bar has an exception for foreign-trained attorneys with a qualifying law degree from countries whose jurisprudence is based upon the principles of English Common Law,” she noted. “If you’ve completed all of your educational requirements at an accredited law school and submit your transcripts, and the New York State Board of Law Examiners find that it is sufficient, they will allow you to sit for the Bar Examination.”
After becoming a licensed attorney, she used her language skills to help refugees and people seeking asylum at a New York City law firm. Having explored many different types of law, she found her passion in immigration.
“I had a summer internship with the Innocence Project, which was solely focused on criminal law, and though I thoroughly enjoyed the internship, I was sick to my stomach reviewing the cases,” she said. “I’m passionate about helping people. When I started working in immigration law, it actually made me feel good about the work that I was doing.”
Making the Leap
Today, Ms. Wilson practices in New York and Florida, both chosen for their large immigration law markets and proximity to family. She recently launched a solo practice in Port St. Lucie, Florida, working mainly with those seeking asylum in the United States, but also on family-based petitions with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Since the pandemic, much of her work is now done electronically via paperwork or virtual hearings, which she worries might be tough for her clients seeking asylum.
“If their testimony is credible and consistent, that should be sufficient to corroborate their claim—at least it should be,” Ms. Wilson explained. “The immigration judge assesses the asylee’s demeanor when it comes to their credibility, and it’s a crucial part in the entire process, so it can become problematic if you don’t know what it is [the judge] is seeing on their side of the screen,” she added.
Ms. Wilson’s path to immigration law wasn’t traditional, but she never lost sight of her goals and her ability to achieve them.
“The path I chose and the way I chose to do it was admittedly uncommon,” she said. “Ultimately you need to believe in yourself; don’t let fear be the only reason that holds you back from something that could be great.”