Alumna Laura Leon made it her goal to become an immigration lawyer—and from failed first-time bar exams to global pandemics, she hasn’t let anything prevent her from making it happen.
by Emily Mulligan
When a goal doesn’t initially work out, we can always try again. Laura Leon (JD ’16) has made a specialty out of trying again. And her persistence has landed her exactly where she aspired to be, after only five years of practicing law.
Leon, an immigrant from Colombia, came to the U.S. as a child. Little could she know at the time that one key interaction in her immigration process would inspire her career choice.
“When I was 10 years old, my family met with the attorney who was helping us seek legal status through political asylum. I was impressed with her humanity towards our family and wanting to take on our case. So I decided I wanted to become an attorney,” Leon says.
Now the founder and namesake of Laura Leon Law PLLC in Bryan, Texas, a firm that specializes in immigration law, Leon is the one helping families like her own.
Why all this talk about trying again if Leon ended up in the exact career she had aspired to? Her goals were solidly intact, and she was successfully on track for years—until it came time for law school.
She did well at Westminster College in Salt Lake City and was ready for her law school career to begin at S.J. Quinney. But she wasn’t accepted into Utah Law. She did, however, get into University of Idaho College of Law, so she began her law school career there.
After her 1L year, she qualified to transfer to Utah Law and excelled in her studies and service. She earned a Pro Bono Initiative certificate for providing more than 200 hours of service in the immigration and criminal clinics while in law school. She also won her first trial while clerking for a local firm during school.
Now it was time for the Utah bar exam, and Leon faced yet another obstacle. Pregnant with her first child, she did not pass the bar.
“The Latina in me said, ‘Hell no, I’m not going to let this happen! This just means I need to work harder and smarter.’ I changed my mentality,” Leon recalls.
So, with a new baby and a full-time job, Leon studied in the evenings and passed the bar the second time. Her husband’s Ph.D. studies sent the family to Texas.
Leon worked at a small law firm in the area for less than a year before she realized she should open a firm herself. She won her first case with her own firm on February 28, 2020, just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic.
As everything shut down, she realized she had an opportunity.
“There wasn’t a full-time immigration attorney in my area. People go to Houston and Austin. I didn’t close my office, because the immigrant community wants face-to-face. I kept the office open. People couldn’t get a hold of their attorneys, so they called me,” she says.
Leon has won about 700 cases, and her firm, now with a staff of 15 employees, is handling 1,000 cases.
She also produces videos for social media to reach immigrants all over the U.S. with general legal advice. Some of the videos have upwards of 150,000 views.
Her time in law school was full of camaraderie and support, Leon remembers fondly.
“I learned a lot of things in law school I use today. Legal writing is very important, issue-spotting is important. And I still use property law and tenant-landlord when dealing with my clients,” she says.
From transfer student and bar exam failure to the boss with a nationwide reach? Not bad for the second try.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2023 Res Gestae issue.