Julia Funke JD – Immigration Lawyer & Mum of 2

Colleges/universities you are attending/attended with the year of graduation if applicable. 

Northern Illinois University, Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish Translation and Business with a Minor in International Politics – May 2011

The John Marshall Law School, Juris Doctor – May 2014

Tell us a little bit about yourself (you name, where you from, hobbies, etc.)

My name is Julia and I currently live in the suburbs of Chicago. I’m originally from the Carolinas – I spent 18 years in North Carolina and South Carolina so I’m a major sucker for peach cobbler, grits, saltwater, and crisp autumn nights in the mountains. My hobbies include reading (Fitzgerald is my favorite), yoga, and spinning records. I’m an avid music fan and scotch enthusiast. The first time my now-husband came inside my apartment, between my whiskey collection, leather armchairs, and shelves of law books, he told me it looked like a 40-year-old man lived there. I took that as the highest compliment.

What are your doing now?

I am currently practicing immigration law and have been for the last 8 years, including 2 years I spent as a law clerk while I was still in law school. I am also teaching Immigration Law at a local public community college for their paralegal program, which I absolutely love. But I consider both of those jobs to be my part time gigs (even if they do require 50-60 hours per week) – my full time job is being a mama to my two beautiful babes, which is a 24/7 position and the most meaningful work I have ever done.

Did you pursue any other form of formal education before choosing law? If so, what made you chose law?

During my first two years of undergraduate school, I studied to be an elementary school teacher. I was convinced I wanted to teach kindergarten. I was minoring in Spanish, so I was placed in an ESL (English as a Second Language) classroom and assigned to work with a 4-year-old boy named Jesús during my student teaching. Through that experience, I discovered that more than teaching, I really loved using my Spanish to work with others. To be clear, I have about a 4-year old’s fluency, so it was a good fit. Towards the end of my sophomore year, my advisor told me that since I was now officially in the teaching program, I wouldn’t be able to choose any elective classes and that all my coursework was already set for me. This meant no more Spanish or politics classes. Immediately, it didn’t feel right.

Around that time, I was taking a class called Patterns of Migration, attending rallies for the DREAM Act, and otherwise becoming very passionate about immigration causes. I made the decision that day to change my major to Spanish and pick up a minor in International Politics, with the goal of attending law school to pursue a career as an immigration attorney. It just felt right, so that’s exactly what I did.  

Where did you start your journey in law? 

I guess 7th grade. Just kidding. But in 7th grade, my English teacher went around the room on the first day and asked everyone what their favorite book was. I eagerly replied To Kill a Mockingbird. She told me that might mean I have a legal mind and maybe I would become a lawyer. I was absolutely horrified – I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t realize until years later that they were the same thing.

But as far as my actual, formal journey in law — I applied to 10 law schools and was very fortunate to be accepted at all 10. I ultimately chose The John Marshall Law School in Chicago based on a scholarship, so that I could stay close to home. It was a tough decision, but a 12 pack of beer on the beach during my final spring break of undergrad helped me decide. I wrote every school’s name in the sand and over the course of a few hours, I had crossed them all out until only JMLS remained. I still stand by this as a fool proof method for making major life decisions. I’m happy to recommend proper refreshments to anyone who wants to try it.

As a side note, the day after I passed the bar exam, I bought a fresh copy of To Kill a Mockingbird in a little bookshop in the West Village while on a weekend trip to New York. Full circle.

What inspired your interest in law? 

When I changed my major to Spanish, I knew I didn’t want to teach Spanish or do anything with it directly (please see 4-year-old fluency level). My interest in immigration gave me a very clear focus and the best way I felt like I could make a difference in that area was through the law. I felt like a bachelor’s degree in Spanish would be valuable as an immigration attorney and I had already been completing coursework in that subject, so it was a natural path for me.

What area of the law are you passionate about, specialised in? What made you chose this area?

Immigration! Honestly, I don’t know if I chose it or if it chose me. I never considered any other area. I didn’t go to law school and then find an area of law that interested me. I ended up in law school because I was passionate about immigration and that led me to the law. I’ve never looked back.

How are you finding / did you find your legal education? If you faced any barriers to accessing legal education what were they and how did you overcome them?

Law school was the best, most fun three years of my life. I loved everything about law school — I know I’m in the minority there, but I truly had the time of my life. I think part of my ability to enjoy it was that I didn’t take myself too seriously. It’s easy to get caught up in how competitive it is and the stress of it all, but when I let go of trying to be the best in my class (like that was even possible) or trying to be involved in every extracurricular activity, I was able to just soak it in and have fun with it. Having been a foreign language student, I was fairly accustomed to being publicly embarrassed or struggling when called on, so that helped a lot. I love learning – I’m a lifelong learner and I don’t think I’ll ever be done.

I was very fortunate not to encounter too many barriers and I certainly recognize what a privilege that is. I don’t take it for granted.

How has your legal education benefited you? (to your personal development/career etc.)

Above all, my legal education allowed me to work in an area I love and pursue my passions. I’m forever grateful to not feel like my job is work, but rather a calling. I know how cliché that sounds, but there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

Any advice for people who are considering studying law / become a lawyer?

Don’t do it for the prestige. Don’t do it for the money. Do it because you want to put in the work and help others. There’s lots of ways to make money that take far less time and discipline. Being a lawyer means working long hours, often making personal sacrifices, and being really, really tired a lot of the time. It won’t be worth it unless you’re doing something you love. And if you start it and don’t love it, don’t be afraid to stop. It’s not quitting when you decide something isn’t for you – its personal growth. Try to get an internship in the area that interests you before attending law school to find out if its what you want to do. If you decide it is –- pursue it wholeheartedly. Stay good. Remember why you started. Above all, become an advocate. The world has enough lawyers. What we need – and will always need – are passionate, unrelenting legal advocates.

Would you like the readers to find you / reach out / follow? if so how? – email / Instagram / LinkedIn etc.

Absolutely! I can be reached at julia@bizlegalservices.com for immigration or law school-related questions. Give me a follow on Instagram at littlelawyerlady. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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