Laurie Volk hasn’t ended up quite where she expected in life, but fortunately, she’s right where she wants to be.
Volk, 54, has been a lifelong rider and a lawyer by profession, but it’s just in the last 12 years that she’s combined the two into her work as an immigration lawyer.
“It’s so funny. In the beginning, I didn’t even think of trying to combine my pastime in horses with my profession. It didn’t occur to me until much later, until I saw a need for a horse-savvy immigration lawyer,” Volk said.
But now, with her own law practice based out of her home in Berryville, Va., Volk helps professionals in many equine disciplines solve immigration problems.
“When I first started my practice and told people what I was doing, they looked at me funny and said, ‘Oh, you’re going to starve to death doing that.’ They thought there couldn’t possibly be enough to keep me busy. Well, there is. I’m doing very well!” Volk said.
It took her a while to create her practice, starting with local people and expanding. “I have clients all over the world,” Volk said. “I like solving peoples’ problems. They want to come here and ride and work, and I can provide a service to them. And I’m good at it. It’s a good use of my skills, background and passion.”
All About People
Volk’s an active foxhunter and serves on the Board of Directors and as secretary of the Blue Ridge Hunt. She also events at the lower levels. She grew up in Pasadena, Calif., and rode in the hunter/jumper world as a junior. She graduated with an undergraduate degree from the University of California-Los Angeles, then decided to see a bit of the world.
She signed up for what might be the ultimate of immersion language programs—the prestigious French business school of École Supérieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales. “I wanted to learn French!” Volk explained. Along the way, she also became fluent in Spanish.
After her stint in Paris, where she earned a degree in business, Volk returned to UCLA for law school. Upon graduation in 1981, she set off for the world of Wall Street, getting a job at a New York City corporate law firm.
There, Volk was asked to do some in-house immigration work because of her fluency in Spanish and French. “I didn’t want to do it because at that time, I thought immigration work was the lower end of the food chain,” Volk said.
“That was 20 years ago, and now the world is so much more international,” she added. “After Sept. 11,
it’s so much harder to get visas, and it’s become a far more attractive specialty. And I found that I really liked
it. Immigration work is all about people, about helping people solve their problems. I found it much more interesting than the finance and money side of it.”
In 1987, Volk moved to the Washington, D.C., area, and worked in a law firm there. Her first marriage introduced her to the Middleburg, Va., area. She fell in love with the country-side and reignited her love of horses and riding.
Volk balanced working in D.C. and living in Middleburg until 1990. She concentrated on developing her family, having a daughter in 1995. By the late ‘90s, she was wondering how to combine her professional ambitions with the life she loved in Middleburg.
Then Volk had a conversation with a friend, Gustavo Prato, who was a show jumper from Argentina then working for Bert Mutch. “He was telling me about how much money he was paying to his immigration lawyer and that he wasn’t getting any results. I told him, ‘It’s ridiculous you’re paying that much money. I can do that for you.’ That’s how it started,” Volk said.
It’s What And Who You Know
Volk gradually built her practice, making a name for herself by providing efficient, knowledgeable service.
“I was hearing all kinds of stories about people having bad experiences with other immigration lawyers, and I thought people were being underserved by most immigration lawyers,” she said. “Most immigration lawyers don’t understand show jumping or polo, they don’t know what’s involved with being a trainer, or a rider, or a groom.”
That’s Volk’s edge—she comprehends how valuable a rider or groom’s skill set is, and she can explain that to an immigration officer who doesn’t know anything about the horse world. She’s worked with horsemen in dressage, show jumping, eventing, steeplechasing, foxhunting, reining, driving and other disciplines. Volk and her team of paralegals can easily find a foreign rider’s results, and they know who to go to for a crucial letter of support for a visa application.
“I’ve come to know most of the heads of the different disciplines at the U.S. Equestrian Federation and at each sport’s organization, like the U.S. Polo Association. Horse people are generally very willing to help each other, and if you know them and you can call them and say, ‘I’ve got a great guy coming from Hungary or Argentina,’ and you can give them the facts they need, they’re usually willing to assist,” she said.
Upper-level eventer Sharon White enjoys working with Volk. “I don’t run into problems with immigration issues at all because of Laurie. It used to be a little bit of a stress for me, but now it’s not at all,” she said. “I have a groom from England now, and I had a groom from South Africa, and my assistant trainer is from Ireland. We don’t worry about immigration or visas at all. She understands what’s going on with the horses, and she knows what you need.”
Depending on the situation, Volk can pull together the documentation for a case in two or three weeks, and after filing, get an applicant’s visa approved in a matter of two more weeks. She’s only had two cases denied in her 12 years of practice in the equine immigration specialty.
The only downside Volk sees in her work is the cumbersome nature of the immigration system. “We have a very dysfunctional immigration law that wants