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Greg Siskind

Greg Siskind is one of America's best known immigration lawyers and as the founding partner of Siskind Susser, PC, he has devoted his career to assisting organizations and individuals around the world with their immigration law needs.

Greg is also known for creating the first immigration law web site (1994) and the first lawyer blog (1998) in the US. ABC News listed Greg as one of 20 immigration experts on Twitter to keep up with the immigration debate. He was also the first and only immigration lawyer ever featured on the cover of the ABA Journal. And he is listed as one of the top 10 corporate immigration lawyers in the United States by Who's Who Legal. He has written six books on subjects that include physician immigration law and employer immigration compliance (I-9s, e-Verify, etc.). Greg works with arts and sports immigration clients as well as immigrant investors and entrepreneurs. He's recently been co-counsel on several mass litigation matters including some that have resulted in nationwide changes in immigraiton law. He's testified in Congress and drafted sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act as well as dozens of provisions currently under debate in Congress. He has been co-counsel on several high profile mass immigration litigation cases including Aker v. Trump, Milligan v. Pompeo, Purdue University v. Scalia and Anunciato v. Trump.

Tell me a little about your journey and how that journey led you to the work you now do.

I’ve been a lawyer for 32 years, but I would have been shocked if you told me in law school that I would be practicing law at all, much less for this many years. I had an unusual academic/personal background that might explain. I excelled enough academically growing up in Miami that I graduated from high school a year early and with many college credits in hand. I also was on my own financially when I left home to attend Vanderbilt in Nashville. My single school teacher mom wasn’t in a position to offer much financial help, and, to be honest, I took some pride in the fact that I was making it on my own. I did get some scholarship money, though I always worked two or three jobs to cover all my costs.

I finished all my college graduation requirements after two and ½ years. So I was an 18 year old about to graduate college and trying to figure out “now what?” I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I liked public policy and politics and thought a law degree would be helpful to get while I figured things out. I also thought I might get an additional degree after law school.

I ended up going to the University of Chicago Law School and finished as a 22-year-old who was pretty sure he was not going to pursue a legal career. But I was ready to earn some money, and I decided to head back to Nashville where I had friends and would find a job in a large law firm to make some money and at least say I gave the law a try.

The law firm I worked for had a lot of friendly, talented people, but I was assigned to do corporate work, and it just wasn’t interesting to me. So I searched out opportunities to do other types of cases. I ended up getting assigned two projects that changed my life.

First, I got to work on an immigration matter. And I found the work interesting, intellectually challenging, and winning meant something really meaningful – helping people realize their American dream. Unfortunately, the immigration law market in Nashville wasn’t great back then. The immigrant community in the city was small, and it would be tough to develop a full-time practice.

The other project was helping with a 50-state research project on a slew of new medical waste laws popping up all over the country. The other associate working on the project managed to get a book contract with a major legal publisher to do a book on the subject, and he and I became co-authors.

I didn’t want to be a medical waste lawyer, but the book was a phenomenal bestseller, and I got a royalty check that was almost equivalent to my annual salary.

The other thing that was going on that also was incredibly lucky was a friend from law school who knew about my interest in immigration law told me about this new global computer network called the Internet. This was 1992, and there were 1000s of discussion boards called USENet newsgroups where people discussed every topic you could imagine. There were several boards on immigration law, and my friend thought they might be worth checking out. I bought my first computer ($3000 1992 dollars – not cheap!), a modem for telephone dial-up access, and a subscription to Compuserve, which offered a “gateway” to the Internet along with its own message boards and email service.

Indeed, there were some very active boards discussing immigration law. But no lawyers. Mainly university students and faculty and people in high tech fields since those were most of the people that had Internet access in those days. So I started answering questions and posting news on immigration law developments. And sure enough, I started getting asked about helping people with their immigration cases.

Immigration law, even back in the early 1990s, was a good practice for a lawyer wanting to service clients nationally. It’s all federal, and there is a Supreme Court case and a federal statute that make it possible for immigration lawyers to assist clients in states other than where they have their law license. Also, immigration law cases are generally filed by mail at USCIS regional offices, and personal appearances for the types of immigration cases I wanted to pursue generally didn’t require a personal appearance.

The last thing that was happening at this time that was fortuitous was the release of the Mosaic worldwide web browser. And unlike the USENET newsgroups and email, websites could be commercial in nature, and a business could set up a website without violating “netiquette” standards.

Lightbulbs went off. What if I started a solo immigration law practice with my book royalties and created a website to promote it? I started planning this in 1993, including securing the domain name which has proven to be an incredibly valuable domain name. I bought a book on HTML (hypertext markup language) to teach myself how to create a website (there were no website designers in those days, and it was all DIY). And in April 1994, I gave my notice at the law firm, got married to my very understanding wife (who didn’t know what this new Internet thing was and how a lawyer could make a living using it), went on an extended honeymoon trip (since I would be in between jobs and it might be the last time for a while we could do a long trip) and when I returned in June, opened up the firm and flipped the switch on the web site.

I don’t know the exact date that the Venable and Arent Fox firms in DC launched their websites, but I believe it was when I was on my honeymoon. So I didn’t have the first law firm website. But it was indeed the first for a solo lawyer and the first for an immigration lawyer. And if you were a news organization in 1994, you were covering what was starting to become a phenomenon – this wild west world wide web. And a solo immigration lawyer in Nashville was a lot more interesting than a large DC law firm with hundreds of lawyers. So I got a LOT of news coverage just for being online. In my first year of practice, there were articles in the Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine, an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered, and dozens more interviews. And things took off. The practice has grown over the years, and we now have more than 50 people at the firm.

In 1996, I wrote a book for the American Bar Association called The Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing on the Internet and became active in the ABA’s Law Practice Management Section (now called the Law Practice Division) and connected with many visionary thinkers in the legal tech space. In 1998, I created a blog on immigration lawmaking in Congress, which arguably was the first law blog.

In 2007, I started posting on new social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. Twitter, in particular, has proven to be an invaluable tool in my practice. I’ve been a vocal advocate on immigration law and policy, and because of relationships I’ve had with many people in Washington, I have been able to break much news there. And it’s led to my getting a lot of followers (about 72,000). I follow about 900 people, so it’s still pretty manageable. I’m also Twitter-verified, which means I’ve followed hundreds of journalists covering immigration law. I’ve had much success in using Twitter to help clients and to call attention to problems in the immigration system. I’ve also ventured into mass immigration litigation, and Twitter has been very helpful in messaging our cases.

And 2015, we started creating expert systems using AI no-code platforms (first Neota Logic and then Community Lawyer/Afterpattern). That same year we set up Alan House, our in-house publishing house, to publish books by lawyers at the firm (three so far). And last year, we officially incorporated, a new company owned by lawyers and non-lawyers at the law firm that will house our book and software offerings.

In 2021, the American Immigration Lawyers Association published a book I’ve co-written with a fellow lawyer at my firm nicknamed the “Cookbook” because it’s a systems manual providing everything immigration lawyers need to handle the most common types of cases. The first edition came in at 2500+ pages in two volumes. It will be published annually, and I’m taking a lot of the book and developing expert system software apps with the content.

My goal for 2022 and beyond is to be able to devote most of my time to immigration advocacy and to writing books and apps.

Immigration law has been subject to pretty drastic changes over the last decade. As an immigration lawyer, how do you keep up with the changes?

I’ve got many channels to get information on what’s happening, including the excellent American Immigration Lawyers Association (I’ve been on their board of governors for more than a decade) as well as many colleagues around the country who share information with me. I need to update my new Cookbook every year, so I’m also constantly gathering news to figure out what will need updating.

I’ve also developed a brand as an “explainer” of immigration law, so significant changes are an opportunity to write about what’s happening. Recently, I’ve started developing apps to help explain to people those changes.

What are your thoughts on what it means to be a lawyer in this tech-enabled era?

I look at tech as potentially evening the playing field for many lawyers. I think it’s allowing solo and small firm lawyers, for example, to be able to reach a lot more people, to cut overhead dramatically, to free up much time to be able to spend on matters (rather than administration) and, finally, to get better results for clients by producing higher quality work product.

I’m also very excited by no-code app platforms that are starting to allow lawyers to create their own automations without deep technical skills. For many, I think they’ll be able to potentially monetize their work and be less dependent on revenue from each matter.

How has technology helped you be a better legal service provider and why?

We’re leveraging technology to find pain points clients experience and offer new solutions that will solve these problems, produce new revenue for the firm and help us stand out from the competition. For example, we had a problem with many employer clients having just 24 hours to create an audit file for a particular type of visa we often file. Given the short time frame, most lawyers send their clients the filed government form and a list of supporting documents they need to gather and put into a “public access file” that anyone can request (including a government official randomly dropping by an employer). The employer must also post the filed form either at the worksite or online. We know some employers are not diligent in complying with our instructions or are not doing so in the necessary timeframe. And that’s a common complaint with immigration lawyers across the country. So we created a product to automate the whole thing. We have an app that asks the client some basic questions, generates the public access file, stores it in a secure online location, notifies the required parties electronically, and manages the online posting of the government form. This has proven highly popular with our clients, and we are now white labeling it for use by other law firms.

We’ve got a couple of dozen other apps completed or in various stages of development that each seeks to solve similar types of problems.

What are the three biggest lessons you've learned so far in your legal career and why?

  1. Be a thought leader. Whether that’s via writing, speaking, app development, and whether you’re using traditional or new communication channels, there is an endless demand for expertise. While some firms can get by strictly on referrals from past clients, general reputation for success, or spending a lot of money on advertising, I’ve found that developing a reputation as an expert based on my writing and speaking has been the most effective way to build a practice. And increasingly, you can leverage that expertise into side revenue streams like revenue from books and software subscriptions.

  1. Fake it until you make it. This old adage is really true when you’re trying to develop a niche practice area. I wanted to create a physician immigration law practice early on in my career. I knew there were many hospital company headquarters in my town, and expertise in that niche could be very useful. So I pitched a book to a significant legal publisher and wrote a treatise on the subject – without having ever worked on a case. But after the book was published, I could tell anyone I met that I wrote the book on the subject, and when I would send a copy of the book to a prospective health care client, I generally didn’t get pushback on whether I was qualified to do the work. Today we have one of the largest health care immigration practices in the country.

  1. Don’t be afraid to fail. Many people treat a failure as an excuse never to try something again. Instead, figure out if you took the wrong approach or didn’t execute well or just had bad luck. And use what you learned either to try again or apply the knowledge to other types of endeavors. I’ve told you about a lot of the things that worked out for us. But we’ve had many efforts that didn’t produce great results. For example, we tried to have multiple branch offices over the years. But at least in the pre-pandemic days, it was challenging to make those offices feel really integrated with our main office, and we’ve ended up focusing our effort on growing our central location. The pandemic accelerated our move to all web-based systems, and remote work means it matters a lot less where our people are located. Knowing what was problematic with our branch offices has helped us manage remote workers better and, thankfully, we’ve performed well as a firm over the last two years even though a sizeable portion of our workforce is working from home still.



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