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To Elizabeth Espin Stern, being a top-notch corporate immigration lawyer means much more than filling out paperwork for visas. It means seeing the big picture. “You have to look at the dynamics of mobility issues as a whole,” says the Baker & McKenzie partner. “That one little piece, the visa function, is not enough. You need to understand the overall business plan for where growth will happen.” Clients ranging from Countrywide Home Loans Inc. to Flextronics Corp. to Toyota Tsusho America Inc. turn to Stern, 45, for assistance in managing their multinational work forces. Renee Martin-Nagle, general counsel of Airbus North America Holdings Inc., praises Stern for her “responsiveness and humanity. She really listens with professionalism and compassion.” For 16 years, Airbus has looked to Stern for help with visas, green cards, and citizenship for employees. Martin-Nagle also cites Stern’s command of immigration law. “She knows it cold. You trust her.” William Herrmann, deputy general counsel for labor and employment at the National Railroad Passenger Corp. (more popularly known as Amtrak), describes Stern as “down-to-earth, warm, and friendly.” Not to mention clear. “She’s able to speak to a new immigrant to this country as well as my CEO, and both will walk away with the same understanding. That’s not easy to find in a lawyer,” he says. Amtrak hired Stern four years ago to handle all its immigration work. The railroad employs a number of technical and software specialists who come to the United States on H-1B visas. Herrmann says Stern made his job easier by developing a Web site his employees could use to check their immigration status. “Folks are very interested in where they are in the process,” he notes. “It cut down on the number of phone calls to me.” Compliance issues make up another aspect of Stern’s practice. She works with companies to ensure they keep the proper I-9 records verifying employment eligibility. She checks up on third-party vendors. And if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducts an audit, she guides the company through the process. On occasion, Stern plays a role in corporate mergers and acquisitions. For example, she represented RSM McGladrey Inc. when it acquired American Express Tax and Business Services in 2005. The merger added 2,500 new employees to RSM, and Stern’s job was to manage the transfer of visas and ensure compliance with employment-eligibility rules. “Liz is truly amazing,” says Warren Gurtman, senior director of human resources at RSM. “She’s a consummate professional, always recognizing and delivering when it comes to the needs of her clients.” Aside from the more traditional legal tasks, Stern has also delved into immigration-policy work, dealing with the key congressional committees as well as the Department of Homeland Security. In 2004 she testified before the House Judiciary Committee on restructuring immigration functions within the DHS. She says she’s enjoyed “applying my experience as a commercial practitioner” to give the policy-makers a business perspective. Stern earned her law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1986 and then went to work for Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge. She thought she wanted to be a litigator. At the time, the firm had no immigration practice, although as a new associate, Stern found herself the point person for the occasional immigration inquiry. The international aspect of the work appealed to her. Her father was in the diplomatic corps, and Stern often traveled to Central America as a child — Spanish was her first language. Within a few years, the firm’s immigration practice had mushroomed, the result of key federal legislation passed in 1986 and 1990 as well as the start of the high-tech boom, which created a demand for skilled workers from overseas. “The next thing you know,” she recalls, “I had successfully pitched a couple of accounts at a very junior level.” In 2005, Stern led a group of three lawyers and four paralegals who left the firm (now called Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman) to move to the D.C. office of Baker & McKenzie. Stern describes her work as “deeply satisfying. It’s a very significant win-win to match the reality of business needs to immigration options.” But she sums it up best when she says, “On Sunday night, I’m happy to come to work on Monday.”

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