My Journey: A former Summer Fellow leads firm’s Immigration Practice Group

Katie Minervino
Katie Minervino

Katie Minervino, Esq.

Former Florida Bar Foundation Civil Legal Aid Summer Fellow Katie Nokes Minervino leads Pierce Atwoods Immigration Practice Group in Portland, ME. She received an Outstanding Service Award from the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Maine for pro bono representation of asylum seekers in 2013. From 2019-21, she served as the chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association Verification and Documentation Liaison Committee.

I completed a summer fellowship at the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC) in 2006 while a student at the University of Miami School of Law. I was assigned to work with an attorney who focused on assisting individuals assess eligibility and apply for Social Security benefits. I remember in particular working with Cuban immigrants and appreciating for the first time how significant an impact the intersection of a relatively narrow set of immigration and Social Security rules could have for individuals eligible for benefits; the related confusion that can result; and the impact of having a thorough understanding of a niche area of law in terms of helping others navigate a benefits process.

The fellowship was invaluable to me at that early stage and throughout my career, now 17 years into the practice of immigration law. I appreciated the opportunity to interact with and learn about career paths of attorneys at all stages of their careers, with the commonality of working toward a goal in supporting those new to our country and making the practice work while balancing their own personal and professional lives.

I was trying hard at the time to become more proficient in Spanish. I’d listen to Spanish CDs while making the long commute down I-95. It was humbling given the number of employees and clients who were fluent in multiple languages. I remember feeling particularly mortified after meeting with a client and struggling to put coherent sentences together in Spanish. My supervising attorney looked at me after the meeting and said, “It meant a lot to her that you tried.” It was a good reminder that showing up and giving it your best has value in the legal profession and life in general. I remain very grateful for FIAC allowing me to contribute as I could with my limited Spanish abilities.

Even in the employment-based immigration area, every time an employee crosses a milestone it feels like a career highlight, given the impact and stakes for someone’s life here in the U.S. I joked with a client the other day that my tombstone will read, “She loved her family, sunsets, and DOL Perm certification e-mails.” Seeing an approval for an extraordinary worker petition will also never get routine. A highlight has been my committee work with the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Working at FIAC instilled in me a level of respect for the challenges in the immigration system and impact on individual client lives that I have never forgotten nor will ever take for granted. It also highlighted issues unique to Florida and its legal practitioners that are important to have experience with and appreciation for whether attorneys ultimately practice in Florida or not.