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Life experiences often hold the key to business inspiration. For Tsion Chudnovsky, an immigrant who moved to America as a teen, her experiences coalesced into a growing private practice specializing in immigration and criminal law.
Chudnovsky came to the U.S. as a teenager from Ethiopia. Her father was a diplomat, and her schooling began at a private French school in that country.
Today, her clients at Chudnovsky Law in the Los Angeles area are typically foreign-born entrepreneurs, families, companies and people with extraordinary abilities who wish to immigrate to, invest in or conduct business in the United States.
“Since this country's founding, immigrants have contributed a critical component toward making the United States such a vibrant and unique country in the world," she says. “My life, family and experiences have guided me to the realization that I wanted to work with immigrants, help them realize their dreams, provide for their families and find their place in this great country."
1. How has your business grown since you started?
What I initially started as an immigration law firm grew and evolved over time to helping these clients with their other needs.
First it was business law. Our immigration clients are often very entrepreneurial and need help with starting or purchasing companies, finding investments and navigating U.S. regulatory requirements.
—Tsion Chudnovsky, founder, Chudnovsky Law
Next, my firm added criminal defense because our non-U.S. citizen clients had such great difficulty getting good legal representation if they had an issue like Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or arrests. We saw an unmet need in the market for a firm with both immigration and criminal knowledge. The intersection between immigration law and criminal law is one of the most complex areas of U.S. law, and it has only gotten more complex under the current administration.
2. What hurdles have you overcome in running your business?
Immigration law practices tend to have entrenched competition and it can be difficult to stand out and get the business off the ground in the beginning. Early on I learned how to market myself and communicate my expertise.
Once I started practicing law, it was important to get exposure by finding ways to publish my work, speak on panels and volunteer for key organizations that shared my values and could also drive referral business. I devoted time to activities that I enjoyed, but also promoted my brand and business goals. It was important to not just be buried in work, but to keep promoting and building the relationships that have been a key component to growing my business.
3. What has your criminal law experience brought to your current business?
In criminal defense matters, a client's personal and professional life can be on the line. It can be a very emotionally charged situation. Clients need an attorney they can trust to skillfully defend their rights and fight their case.
The overwhelming majority of cases are settled without going to trial. Often it's not the facts of the case that result in a great outcome, but understanding the system, the law, and a skillful presentation of a client's case. Attorneys who have worked as former government prosecutors and public defenders are at home in the system. They know how to identify case weaknesses and they have a better understanding of the government's stance and what they need to know in order to reach the best possible outcome.
4. What would you want other business owners to know about running a business?
Three tips have served me well:
1. Develop the capability to self promote. It's easy to get buried in work and lose sight of the big picture. It's important to have a plan or story in your mind that guides your business and brand. You need a reason for existing and, ideally, a clear differentiator for your business that customers will easily understand and recognize as significantly better than the competition.
2. Look for sources of referral business and work diligently to develop the relationships that drive referrals. We find referral clients are usually our best clients. They tend to be less price sensitive, easier to close, and more trusting and enjoyable to work with. Look for symbiotic relationships and business groups, and always work hard to exceed your customer expectations and generate happy clients that will eagerly refer business to you.
3. Do what you love. Try to find a business or type of client with whom you love working and pursue them. If you can blend work with something for which you have a passion, you will do extraordinary things and find your place in the world.
5. What is a challenge you face that's unique to your business?
Many people are unaware that the Department of State may revoke a visa on the basis of an arrest, before any criminal charges have been filed and before a person has an opportunity to defend themselves.
The visa holder may only find out when they try to reenter the U.S. after visiting abroad. This policy can wreak havoc on the lives and families of international students and highly skilled H-1B visa workers.
If a student gets arrested for underage drinking, DUI or getting into an altercation, they can be required to return to their home country and go through a long, complicated, highly uncertain waiver application process to try and get the student visa reinstated to resume their life in the U.S.
This intersection of federal immigration laws and state criminal laws is one of the most complicated areas of U.S. law. This challenge has created a growing stream of clients who need our unique skills to help untangle the disruption these policies cause in their lives.