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March 28, 2017 Articles

Young Lawyer Spotlight: Linda Yang

An interview with an associate whose practice focuses in part on immigration law.

By Jamie L. Lanphear

Recent media attention on immigration policies has created new interest in the practice area of immigration law. Thus, an interview with Linda Yang, an associate with McMillan LLP in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, whose practice focuses in part on immigration law, is particularly relevant. 

Can you briefly describe your practice?
I practice primarily in the realm of civil and commercial litigation with a slight emphasis on creditors’ remedies, contractual disputes, and bankruptcy and insolvency. My practice also includes business immigration work, which involves assisting employers to bring foreign workers into Canada and helping their existing foreign workers to stay here permanently, so in that context I also advise on employment law matters.

How did your civil litigation practice come to include an immigration component?
In my practice, the two areas don’t often overlap, but I do enjoy the variety of work. However, employment litigation can have an immigration aspect when it involves a foreign worker. Litigation squarely on immigration matters can occur, for example, when an employer seeks judicial review of an immigration officer’s decision denying work permit issuance or permanent residence status for one of its employees.

What motivated you to practice in the area of immigration?
My family immigrated to Canada in the early 1990s from China, and I still have memories as a young child of those early years during which my parents worked hard to restart their lives in a new country. With that family history, I have always had a personal interest in and heart for immigrant and refugee rights.

In the context of business immigration, a successful result means several things: an individual (and his/her family) gets a fresh start, the employer who is hiring this person gets the benefit of the employee’s skill and experience and increases its business productivity, and Canada benefits economically from both. I take personal satisfaction in seeing this all come together.

What do you find most interesting about the work you do?
I really like finding out the human stories behind the files, whether it is a litigation matter or an immigration one. Knowing and understanding the personal stories helps me to be a more passionate advocate, whether in the courtroom or on the phone with a border services officer.

What do you find most challenging about immigration law?
Immigration law is sometimes said to be like doing a jigsaw puzzle . . . without the image on the box to guide you! Government officers sometimes vet an employer’s application using undisclosed internal guidelines, and it can be difficult to gain access to the details of those guidelines, even through access to information requests. It can be frustrating when a decision is made that feels arbitrary or unfair, but that also motivates me to be the best possible advocate for my clients in the face of such important determinations.

Tell us about your involvement at the Vancouver International Airport advising travelers who were stranded after President Trump’s recent (first) executive order travel ban.
A group of Boston lawyers affiliated with the American Civil Liberties Union and International Refugee Assistance Project (both immigration law organizations) sent out a call for Canadian lawyers to triage at major airports in Canada after the initial travel ban was issued. Many local counsel responded, and I was involved in coordinating local efforts to be present at the airport even though I wasn’t able to go myself during those first few days. I spread the word through my personal networks, at my firm, and with the Canadian Bar Association’s National Immigration Section.

The number of Vancouver lawyers who signed up to help quickly grew to about ninety lawyers within the first week, which was very encouraging to see. (Toronto also had a large group with local coordination.) Volunteers were posted near U.S. preclearance with signs. They offered legal information and assistance connecting any affected people with similar groups in the United States who were documenting individual experiences. When the Ninth Circuit decision to uphold the temporary restraining order was issued, our group stood down, but I saw a tweet recently that those signs with our contact information are still up at the airport.

Within a week of this group being launched, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Bar Association, the Refugee Hub, and other groups joined forces to coordinate nationally and created the Canadian Cross-Border Legal Coalition (we even have Twitter: @Canada4Migrants). I think that we now have points of contact in most of the major cities across Canada, and mobilization can occur very quickly in the event of future need.

You’re on the board of the British Columbia chapter of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACL BC). What does that entail?
FACL is a coalition of Asian Canadian legal professionals working to promote equity, justice, and opportunity for Asian Canadian lawyers, law students, judges, other legal professionals, and the wider community. My involvement with FACL started when I was a law student. I benefited from being mentored by Asian lawyers who personally experienced the barriers facing Asian Canadians in the legal profession and who are committed to helping young Asian lawyers succeed.

Within the legal profession, there are barriers at every level, from entry into law school to becoming a senior partner or a judge. FACL addresses these barriers by encouraging students from underrepresented communities to enter law school. FACL also has an advocacy arm that coordinates nationally on a host of issues, such as cultural diversity on the bench and at the partnership level in law firms, Islamophobia, etc.

The BC board organizes initiatives like the trimentoring program, which puts together trios consisting of a senior lawyer, a midlevel/junior lawyer, and an articled or law student. We host quarterly networking and professional development events; our upcoming professional development panel discussion will be on the topic of unconscious bias. We also organize an annual gala that has become a marquee event for the Vancouver legal community, with over 300 judges, lawyers, law students, and other legal professionals in attendance. The keynote address is typically delivered by an esteemed legal professional of Asian descent.

How were you able to secure a position on the board?
FACL BC solicited expressions of interest, and I was asked to submit a brief explanation about why I wanted to be a board member. Each prospective board member was then asked to deliver a brief speech at the annual general meeting before the vote was held. I was honored to be elected to the board as the slate of candidates was quite impressive.

What advice would you have for law students and young lawyers interested in practicing in the area of immigration?
Talk to any immigration lawyers you know, and find ways to connect with them in person, whether through networking events or one-on-one meetings. I find that talking to people directly is the best way to find out what practicing in an area of law is like and how you can get to where they are. I have built up a large but very informal network of immigration lawyers, both senior and junior, with whom I can discuss immigration law and practice tips over lunch or coffee on a semiregular basis. I joined all of the professional associations here in Canada available to immigration lawyers, both provincial and federal, and I have learned not to be afraid to ask questions when I need help. Fortunately, members of the immigration bar in Canada are very supportive of each other; it has a very active email mailing list with questions and answers flying across the country daily.


Jamie L. Lanphear is an associate with Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP in San Francisco, California.