Katelyn Hufe, ’11, is living proof that the shortest distance between two professional points just might be a diverse and robust network.
Hufe began navigating the field of immigration law through law school courses, an internship at the Executive Office for Immigration Review in the Philadelphia Immigration Court and collaborations with Professor Anil Kalhan, who at the time served on the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Immigration and Nationality Law.
While she was still a student, Hufe networked widely, making contact with professionals in non-legal organizations like the Italian Chamber of Commerce, which ultimately would lead to a job with the Wilmington and Philadelphia-based immigration firm, Hogan & Vandenberg.
But the pathway was not direct, Hufe said, observing that law students and graduates sometimes expect – unrealistically – that their networking efforts will yield immediate benefits.
“People get disheartened if it doesn’t produce results immediately,” she said.
Indeed, it wasn’t until Hufe had spent eight months clerking with the family law firm Berner Klaw & Watson that the job at Hogan & Vandenberg came through.
There, Hufe gained extensive experience handling appeals at the Board of Immigration Appeals and in the Circuit Court. Her caseload grew to cover diverse matters from the material support bar in asylum cases to investor visas. She worked with new companies that were starting up in the Philly area, fought on behalf of families facing deportation and protected domestic violence victims under the Violence against Women Act.
But after three years, Hufe concluded that the firm was not the ideal match for her, and she began exploring new opportunities.
Once again, professional connections played a starring role in Hufe’s transition. Colleagues with whom Hufe had collaborated through the American Immigration Lawyers Association heard that she was casting about, and they made a very appealing offer.
In 2015, Hufe became a partner/owner of Gian-Grasso, Tomczak & Hufe, PC, a Philadelphia-based immigration firm.
Hufe’s depth of experience in family-based and business immigration cases complemented her partners’ background handling deportation removals and cases involving detainees.
The move has paid off in many ways, despite the fact that Hufe initially took a $25,000 pay cut when she joined the firm. In just six months’ time, her pay grew to exceed what she’d earned at her previous job. The firm maintains a collaborative culture and avoids rivalries by declining to track who gets which referrals.
Gian-Grasso, Tomczak & Hufe recently opened a second office in Hockessin, Del. to serve its sizeable Latino immigrant community. Once or twice a week, Hufe works out of the Delaware office, representing immigrants who may have arrived in the U.S. 15 years ago but never received legal support.
“It’s a really underserved area,” she said. “There’s not a lot of immigration lawyers.”
Having landed, finally, on the perfect perch, Hufe has advice for those thinking of starting a new firm: Choose your partners wisely.
“We’re good friends, but it wasn’t a friendship first,” she said, citing a deep reservoir of respect she developed for the values and productivity of founding partners Brennan Gian-Grasso and Kimberly Tomczak through her work with them at AILA.
And regardless of one’s career objectives, Hufe counsels forging connections with varied colleagues and volunteering for professional associations’ less desirable duties, such as the time she agreed to serve on a conference planning committee.
“That’s a committee nobody wants. People appreciated it,” she said. “Contributing. That helps more than a lot of things.”