Inc. (USA)


- Alexandra Lozano, at the family ranch outside Seattle, helped Manuel (left) win his immigratio­n case with a novel legal strategy. He is now her VP of finance—and her husband.

The client, an undocument­ed Mexican immigrant from Monterrey, Mexico, named Manuel, had been living in the Seattle area since coming to the U.S. in 2001. He’d gotten an off-the-books job washing dishes at a social club downtown and worked his way up to management. He’d briefly returned to Mexico to visit his family and then reentered the U.S. illegally a second time, which made him ineligible to earn authorized status. Several immigratio­n lawyers told him that his case was unwinnable.

But Lozano chose to accept his case. She had learned that Manuel had previously been in an abusive relationsh­ip with a woman who was a U.S. citizen. And under a provision of the Violence Against Women Act, undocument­ed women who had been abused by their spouses were eligible to obtain work permits and green cards in the United States. Reading the law closely, Lozano believed it could be applied to men in similar situations. When a judge agreed, Manuel won authorized status, giving him the ability to secure a job with benefits and travel freely to see his family in Monterrey.

“Sometimes you need to approach things differentl­y than everyone else does,” says Lozano. And in this instance, her novel approach would affect her life in ways she couldn’t have anticipate­d.

Today, as founder of Seattlebas­ed Alexandra Lozano Immigratio­n Law, the 38-yearold helps immigrants win authorizat­ion by way of green cards, work permits, permanent residency, and citizenshi­p. Often, she uses rarely applied provisions from niche areas of American legislatio­n to win her cases. So successful has she been at this that her clients have taken to calling her la Abogada de los Milagros—the Lawyer of Miracles.

But Lozano has done more than help hopeful immigrants secure their dreams. She is also helping Americans secure theirs—as entreprene­urs and employees. The U.S. is currently home to an estimated 11 million undocument­ed immigrants, according to the nonprofit Center for Immigratio­n Studies, many of whom have fled poverty or violence in their home countries, risking their lives to cross the border. They have lived and worked here for decades, and are integral to the U.S. economy.

And not just off the books, but in the mainstream economy as well. According to Pew Research, authorized immigrants represente­d 13 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2017— 21.2 million people in all. And immigrants are a key part of America’s startup culture. As of 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, an estimated eight million people in the U.S. were employed at immigrant-owned businesses, which accounted for $1.3 trillion in revenue. According to the National Foundation for American Policy, nearly twothirds of U.S. billion-dollar startups were founded or co-founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants.

Into this fray Lozano has leaped—and taken up the task of helping America’s undocument­ed immigrants cross the divide from the hidden economy into the open air. She’s provided a labor pool for shortstaff­ed enterprise­s and created jobs at the businesses immigrants start themselves. In many cases, she’s doing this on behalf of immigrants who’ve been here for a decade or more and tried unsuccessf­ully to gain legal status, often held up by past mistakes, like a prior arrest, that can disqualify them.

Such cases have become a specialty for Lozano Immigratio­n Law. The firm currently closes more than 700 cases per month and had revenue of $24 million in 2019, landing it at No. 247 on the 2022 Inc. 5000 list. Last year, revenue more than doubled to $54 million. In the past four years, the firm has grown from 15 employees to more than 350. And Lozano has made all of this happen by rethinking the very notion of a law firm from the ground up—how it is structured, how it grows, and how it handles its cases.

Lozano’s career has its roots in her own life story. The granddaugh­ter of immigrants from Italy and the Czech Republic, she was born and raised in Ocala, Florida. When she was 16, she took a service trip with her local church to an impoverish­ed town in Belize. There, a woman approached her, a baby in her arms, and asked if Lozano could bring the child back to the U.S. “To think about what she must have been going through to need to do that,” Lozano recalls. “It really stuck with me.” The trip ignited in her a desire to serve the Latino community. She majored in Spanish in college and became fluent in the language.

Lozano went on to earn her law degree from Seattle University. After graduating in 2008, she worked at several firms that specialize­d in immigratio­n cases, today a $6 billion industry in the U.S. The experience was disillusio­ning. “I always heard clients say, ‘My lawyer never calls me. They never pick up the phone. I don’t know what’s going on in my case,’” she says. She founded her own firm to put a different sort of system into action.

In the world of law, para

legals generally get assigned to cases and see them through from beginning to end. But paralegals are human. They get busy; a particular case or client might not hold their interest. That allows plenty of chances for cases to stall.

Lozano, who reads three or four business books a week, had just finished The E-Myth Attorney, which encourages lawyers to approach their firms as businesses. She knew she had to redesign her firm if it was ever to handle workflow more efficientl­y.

The moment that new approach came into focus occurred, of all places, on a cruise ship. There, Lozano observed the liner’s staff in action: the greeters, the chefs, the servers, the housekeepe­rs, the entertaine­rs. “These people have been working on this ship for months, and they greet new people every single week as if it’s their first time,” she says. “They’re receiving you with a smile, they’re singing songs and dancing around, and creating an amazing time for passengers. And I thought, ‘How can we make a law firm like this, where we use people who are experts at their jobs to create the best possible experience?’ ”

At the time, Lozano’s firm had just over a dozen employees. To create the cruise-ship model she envisioned, Lozano broke the firm down into specialize­d department­s to work on the various aspects of a case. There would be the client service department that would intake the case; investigat­ors who’d verify the client’s story and gather evidence; legal preparatio­n, which would put together the documentat­ion and write the legal arguments; and then a final review with an attorney. A case would move from one department to the next like a legal assembly line. Instead of each case being the province of one person, all case knowledge would be centralize­d.

She didn’t get it entirely right at first. Some roles originally designed for one person were eventually split among two or more. She soon realized she needed to install department supervisor­s for oversight. But, overall, the process made the firm remarkably efficient. Today, Lozano’s goal is to submit a client’s green card applicatio­n—a process that can take months or years—within a week of being retained.

The system has also made the firm easily scalable, which would prove to be critical. A few months after launching, Lozano created social media handles for the company on Facebook and Instagram, where she would host live Q&A’s and informatio­nal clinics for immigrant families, a practice she continues today. The sessions not only help immigrants glean informatio­n, but also double as a way for potential clients to discover the firm. In 2020, Lozano tried her hand at TikTok. She made a video in which she described the outcomes of some of her successful cases. The video went viral, racking up half a million views in a week. Lozano had tapped a nerve.

The video opened Lozano’s eyes to the notion that she could serve clients all over the country. The firm was deluged by consultati­on requests. Still, law is an old-fashioned industry in which most clients prefer in-person meetings. So, instead of trying to meet with them virtually, Lozano opened additional offices. In 2022, the firm had locations in Los Angeles, Houston, San Antonio, and Chicago—all aided by the firm’s assembly-line system, which she could easily replicate at each new office. “I call myself an accidental businesspe­rson,” she says with a laugh. “Growing to be this size was never part of the plan. I was just looking for the best ways to serve my clients.”

As the company grew, she hired remote staff across the U.S. and in several Latin American countries, including large contingent­s in Mexico and Colombia. The vast majority of her employees speak Spanish, which allows them to communicat­e more easily with clients. Many employees have themselves been affected by U.S. immigratio­n laws. And Lozano has been able to turn their predicamen­ts into an advantage for both her clients and her company.

Case in point: Amy Ríos, one of Lozano’s first hires. Ríos grew up in Milwaukee, where she met her husband, Luis, a factory worker who had immigrated to Wisconsin from Durango, Mexico, as a child in 1991. His family had no documentat­ion, and in 2009, ICE showed up at Luis’s place of work and detained him in an immigratio­n raid. The couple fought in court for more than two years before Luis was deported in 2012. They then spent two years apart, with Ríos and their daughter living in the U.S. and Luis in Juárez. Eventually, the family decided to reunite and settle down in

San Lucas, Mexico, where they joined a community of expats living in similar circumstan­ces.

After meeting Ríos in a Facebook group for families dealing with immigratio­n issues, Lozano heard her story and tapped her to be her assistant. Ríos climbed the ranks and is now director of legal operations, overseeing many of the firm’s cases while working remotely from Mexico.

“My husband and I were able to survive two years of lawyer fees and fighting, and two years of being separated,” says Ríos. “We made it in the end, but there are a lot of other families who don’t. Now, every day, I get to help make sure that other families never have to hurt the way we did.”

Ríos’s rise through the firm isn’t uncommon. Lozano puts an emphasis on training that will give attorney-level expertise to every employee, in order to create an upwardly mobile organizati­on. “Someone really can see their path from customer service all the way to the highest level of paralegal,” she says. “That helps them feel empowered.”

Lozano credits much of the firm’s success with the fact that she operates it like a startup, always tinkering, perpetuall­y innovating. “We see everything as an experiment,” she says. “We’re constantly iterating and looking for ways to improve, never thinking that what we’ve done is good enough.”

For many immigrants, the perilous journey to the United States arose from a yearning for economic freedom and safety for their family. Lozano has experience­d a similar comminglin­g of interests—her clients and their family members becoming employees, and, with one person, a good deal more.

Lozano had seen something unique in Manuel, the Monterrey native with the “unwinnable” case, for whom she won authorizat­ion in 2016. After Manuel had obtained his work permit, she had been struck by the curiosity and intelligen­ce with which he embraced the subject of immigratio­n, far beyond a mere interest in the outcome of his own case. “He was very passionate about the work we did,” she says. “He seemed like someone who could bring the soul to our company.” She offered him a job at her firm, an administra­tive role with health benefits that he couldn’t have held before he was documented. Romance soon sparked; the two fell in love; they married in 2017. Today, they have five children, and Manuel Lozano, 39, is the firm’s vice president of finance and in the process of earning his citizenshi­p.

For Lozano, the search for novel legal strategies like the one she used to win authorizat­ion for Manuel became a modus operandi. Karla Pinedo, a native of Nayarit, Mexico, would have her life transforme­d by the approach. Back in 2003, after two failed attempts, Pinedo had crossed the border into the U.S. before settling down in Washington State and marrying a U.S. citizen. Her prior deportatio­ns made her ineligible for permanent status; she lived in constant fear. Several times Pinedo met with lawyers, who all declared her case hopeless and charged a consultati­on fee for a few minutes of talking.

Pinedo didn’t try again for another decade, evading deportatio­n by obeying the law and paying her taxes. Finally, in 2014, a friend persuaded her to meet with Lozano. Their first conversati­on lasted for hours. “She wanted to know my whole life story,” recalls Pinedo. “She was very honest from the beginning. She said, ‘It won’t be easy. It’s going to take time, and it might not work.’” At first, it didn’t. Lozano was able to get Pinedo a temporary work permit, but her request for permanent status was denied. She lost again on appeal.

Then Lozano shifted tacks. Under a provision of the Victims of Traffickin­g and Violence Protection Act, U.S. immigrants who are victims of human traffickin­g are eligible for a T visa—legal documentat­ion that puts them on track to earn a green card. Lozano built a case that argued Pinedo was a victim of human traffickin­g because of the excessive work she had been forced to do at home by her husband, whom she’d since divorced.

The argument carried: Pinedo was granted a T visa in 2022. “I had been thinking, ‘What if I have to go back to Mexico with my three kids?’” says Pinedo. “They’ve been here their whole life. They would be going to a country that they don’t really know, a country with a lot of crime and violence.” The case took eight years and cost thousands of dollars, but for Pinedo the ordeal was worth it.

Meanwhile, Lozano intends to keep expanding. Potential new locations for 2023 include Georgia and Florida, two states in which undocument­ed people can be deported simply for driving without proper credential­s. “Something small like a driver’s license is easy for Americans to take for granted,” says Lozano. “But for them it’s life-changing. Now they can go to work, bring their kids to school, and know that they’re not going to get deported.”

All in a day’s work for the CEO of a fast-growing company and an attorney tasked with handling the most important legal battle of people’s lives. Lozano feels the weight of that responsibi­lity. But while other attorneys might turn away clients who seem likely to lose, Lozano says that it’s the very people her firm represents who inspire her to confront forces that might otherwise seem stronger than she is.

“My clients left their country unable to speak English,” she says. “They didn’t know where they were going. They crossed a desert, got to America, found a way to get a job. They’ve taken a lot of risks for themselves. So now we have to take one for them. We’re fearless. We’re not scared to fail.”


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