Recently appointed Of Counsel at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP, a global immigration firm, alumna Marlene Z. Stanger ‘96 has been helping people immigrate to the United States for over 15 years. “I find it extremely rewarding to find solutions in complex cases and also to make a difference in the lives of people who are coming to the U.S. to fulfill their professional or personal lives,” Stanger said about her work.
Helping her corporate clients is just one aspect of Stanger’s work that has kept her engaged over the years. “The practice is dynamic and stimulating because we work with incredibly interesting companies and individuals whose work is typically in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and highly cutting-edge fields, or in other business areas that are making an impact on the economy and creating jobs here,” Stanger explained. “It is a privilege to work with some of the top scientists in the world who are working in San Diego for prestigious research institutions and universities.”
A graduate from the University of Cape Town and a journalist in South Africa, initially Stanger sought to enter the legal field as a paralegal. “I am indebted to a Thomas Jefferson alumna whom I met at a beach picnic soon after arriving in San Diego when I had decided to go to paralegal school,” Stanger remembered. “‘Why be a paralegal when you can be a lawyer?’ she said to me. Why, indeed!”
Soon thereafter Stanger enrolled at Thomas Jefferson School of Law as a part time student. “I used to attend class then rush home to be with my children who were in elementary school,” she said. Stanger met the demands of being a law student and a mother with diligence and persistence, “I believed that being prepared for classes and contributing to class discussions and thereby getting the most out of the educational experience was necessary to justify the time and financial commitment of going back to study. This led to a successful law school career, including Law Review, and generally allowed me to have a good resume to counteract other factors, such as the long lead time of either not working or working in a completely unrelated field following my undergraduate studies.”
“My professors at Thomas Jefferson School of Law made an exceptional impact on me and really exposed me to a level of excellence in academia that was such a privilege. From the point of view of the academics and support staff, I was always stimulated and motivated by the quality and incredible standards of teaching and appreciated the ongoing support for students,” Stanger said.
Like many law students Stanger has anecdotes about adjusting to law school, failing to prepare before an exam and learning from those challenges. However, among those experiences are also unique and exciting ones, “I have so many fond memories, I cannot even begin to count them, like when Professor Julie Greenberg read part of my essay in Torts 1, based on the movie When Harry Met Sally, since I was not yet in the swing of studying in Semester 1 of Year 1 after not being a student for 18 years, and I wrote some fiction instead of legal analysis because, frankly, I was just not that prepared. I remedied this fast. The memory of the entire class rushing downstairs onto Old Town Avenue to see Jesse Jackson drive up in his limo to bring Professor Marjorie Cohn back from lunch so she could come and teach us Crim Pro. And the incredibly dry humor of Professor Bill Slomanson who made Pennoyer v Neff and everything that came after that palatable.”
“After graduating, I spent about two years working on a contract basis researching and writing appellate briefs in criminal cases, since my background was in journalism and my forte had always been writing. Some of the writing projects I had done prior to going to law school were for immigration attorneys in Washington State and in New York and that was my impetus for going into law to start with,” Stanger explained. “My objectives were to work either in First Amendment law or in immigration law. I did not find a pathway into the former in San Diego, but saw an ad in the newspaper for the latter. I joined Hirson, Wexler, Perl in September 1999, in July 2004 the small boutique immigration law firm merged with Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP, the largest immigration law firm in the world with a presence on every continent and offices throughout the country.”
Part of Stanger’s success can be attributed to her intimate knowledge of the dynamics of immigration. “I have been through the process of immigration myself and know exactly how it felt for me and my family to leave our home country and to get beyond the feeling of being in limbo to settle into a new country,” she said. “I also enjoy the foreign national population that constitutes the client base, either directly or indirectly through companies that we represent. I am always interested in the cultural back stories as well.”
“I am also very interested in the immigration process and how contentious a subject this is,” she added. “I arrived in the U.S. on the eve of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, when Reagan announced an Amnesty program, and I recall so vividly when George W. Bush was in advanced talks with Vicente Fox immediately prior to 9/11 which put an immediate halt to the idea of another Amnesty. The question of comprehensive immigration reform is of huge interest to me both personally and professionally and the area of practice is evolving in many ways in response to politics, economics, and social issues.”
Stanger’s passion for the subject is evidenced by her extensive pro bono immigration work outside Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP. “It is extremely rewarding to work with the Casa Cornelia Law Center to assist men, women and children victims of trafficking, domestic violence and other crimes, to remain in the U.S. legally, and to screen unaccompanied children who have come to the U.S. to escape unspeakable threats to their lives in Central America and who are hoping to find safety in the U.S.,” Stanger affirms.
In addition to contributing to Casa Cornelia, Stanger also devotes her time to Lawyer’s Club, “I encourage students to join the campus chapter. It is one of the most positive organizational experiences I have had and the networking opportunities are exceptional.”
For those who have completed their education and are preparing to enter the workforce she adds, “There are two competing factors: your desire to work in the area that excites you the most, and your need to get a job to help you pay off the major loans you likely have facing you. If you are in a position to work for yourself and pursue your dream, fine. If you are not and have to find a job, highlight all your strengths and be open to working in a field that you may not have previously considered your top choice. Compromise is not a bad thing when competition is tough and it's a buyer’s market for hiring new lawyers. Commit to the work, even if repetitive at first, and stay curious and engaged.”