February 2023 Bar Bulletin
Preeminent lawyer, strategic thinker, passionate advocate, well-respected leader and citizen ambassador, empowering mentor, well-rounded and practical businessman, strong networker, articulate speaker, fun-loving teacher, compassionate friend, community steward, courageous cancer survivor and more. Joel Paget wears a multitude of hats with confidence, flair, and joy! Now an elder in the legal community, Joel has been planting and nurturing seeds within the Washington community and bar for over five decades, creating a rich and diverse legacy. I am blessed to be one his “seedlings.”
The world was my oyster when I decided to move in 1992 from one of the world’s largest law firms in Washington, D.C. to what was then called Ryan, Swanson & Cleveland in Seattle. Joel had a national reputation for being one of the country’s best and brightest immigration lawyers, and he and his fellow partners presented me with a terrific opportunity that would help me become a better lawyer, expand my practice, and serve my community. While Joel knew the minute technicalities of the law, he also uniquely saw and understood the 10,000-foot level, and he had the skills to put the pieces of complex puzzles together. Consequently, Joel’s practice was not only business-based (representing companies sponsoring foreign nationals for temporary work visas or U.S. permanent residence status and helping investors incorporate businesses and comply with U.S. tax laws) but also family/individual-based (representing clients before various government agencies and helping family members reunite or become U.S. citizens). Overall, the array of international and national clients he attracted was quite remarkable.
One such international company Joel represented for many decades was BC Tel, one of Canada’s largest telephone providers that was majority owned by GTE in the United States. Indicative of Joel’s style, quarterly trips were made up to Canada to visit clients. Also, trainings were provided to staff in legal departments; meals and coffee were shared with clients, other lawyers, and members of cross-border organizations (like the Canada-America Society); and visits were made to officials at multiple ports of entry. Over time, lasting friendships, vast networks, and deep trust and respect were developed.
Art McCallum, an executive with BC Tel responsible for cross-border issues, is an example of a client who became one of Joel’s life-long friends. According to Art:
Joel was one of the best lawyers I ever worked with, providing invaluable cross-border advice. He was an excellent lawyer, with strong ethics and integrity. His practical nature, reliability, attentiveness, and resourcefulness made my work much easier. He’s a change agent and truly made a difference through his practice. He not only served businesses in a positive way, but employees and their families as well. He will be leaving the planet in a better way than he found it. I am honored to call him my friend.
Joel is well-liked and respected not only by his clients but also by his peers within the legal field. Amongst other things, Joel is a past president of the Washington Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and has served on more AILA committees than one can count. A regular speaker at national events, Joel was known for generously helping other lawyers around the country with varying legal problems. Lisa Ellen Seifert, who has practiced immigration law in Olympia for over 30 years, served on many committees with Joel, attended his CLE presentations, and lobbied with him on Capitol Hill:
Joel has always recognized the value of immigration to America’s health and well-being, strength, and democracy. He is committed to making the immigration system run efficiently and fairly and ensuring immigration practitioners receive the best possible information available to advise their clients. Joel also was (and still is) the tall, friendly, fun guy in AILA, who made me feel very welcome as a new member of the chapter and a solo practitioner in an area that is extremely complex and ever-changing. He definitely helped make our Washington Chapter a powerhouse on the national level and strengthen the national immigration bar, albeit serving on committees, writing articles, or socializing with other members at conferences. A people person, Joel wants to get to know you. Upon meeting you for the first time, he’ll inevitably ask, ‘Where did you live when you were in 3rd grade?’ This is a great question, when you think about it.
When he was in the 3rd grade, Joel lived in South Seattle. One of two brothers, he graduated from Seattle Pacific University (B.A., cum laude) in 1967 and the University of Washington School of Law in 1970. He joined Ryan, Swanson & Cleveland in 1971 after clerking a year on the Court of Appeals for the state of Washington. He is now its longest serving member. Once the managing partner of this 125-year-old firm, Joel helped create an immigration group that has been ranked among the top groups in Washington State by Chambers USA, a highly-regarded directory that ranks lawyers and practice groups by industry. With almost 25 in the firm’s immigration group advising businesses and individuals on immigration matters all over the world, members/partners in the group have received Avvo‘s highest rating and named in The Best Lawyers in America® and/or Washington Super Lawyers®.
I mention Ryan Swanson’s entire team, because this is part of Joel’s legacy. He is a team player and a firm believer in empowering, engaging and educating those around him, so they can be all that they can be. I love the credo they created:
• Be the best immigration group possible.
• Practice as a team of professionals, not as individuals.
• Provide excellent service and efficient communication.
• Recognize diversity and treat clients like guests in our own home.
• Provide innovative solutions in an ever-changing legal environment by engaging in continuing education.
• Be proactive in providing a referral for legal counsel for issues outside of immigration.
• Maintain excellent rapport and relationships with government agencies by continuous involvement with liaison committees.
• Continually participate in community and civic activities.
This last bullet point (service) is one Joel takes seriously. Some of his favorite pastimes included weekly lunches with Seattle #4 Rotary (25+ years), teaching Bible study to high school students (30+ years), and serving on the Seattle Pacific University Board of Trustees (26 years). He volunteered for the King County Immigration Legal Clinic for 20+ years. And, after I resigned from Ryan Swanson to work overseas, he spent dozens of pro bono hours supporting my various human rights and social justice projects and the people/communities I served.
Thirteen years ago, Joel was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and Richter’s transformation, and he was given a 40% chance to live. While most of us would have instantly retired or gone on a prolonged vacation, Joel courageously chose LIFE. Not only did he continue working and volunteering, but he remarried and started a new family. Now, in addition to his two children Dene’ and Jeremy from his first marriage, he and his new wife Helen, an immigration attorney with her own practice, have two young children, Justice and Liberty. For me, these names epitomize Joel’s values and his life-long mission.
I am delighted that the King County Bar has chosen to recognize and highlight Joel’s achievements and character. He is one that has definitely raised the “bar” for us all, and he is a blessing to our profession. Some years ago, I was honored to receive the Thomas C. Wales award for Passionate Citizenship, the Ralph J. Bunche Award from the Washington State Bar Association Peace through Law Section, and the Citizen of the Year by the Seattle Chapter of the Worlds Affair Council in 2012. As I shared at that time, I would never have received such awards without the “village” that supported me for so many years. Joel and Ryan Swanson were definitely part of my village. They ensured that the seed they planted back in 1992 was watered and nurtured. And, they helped give me the tools to become a seed planter as well, so I could create my own orchards. Thus, my awards are truly their awards.
Joel, like others, I am extremely grateful that my path crossed yours so many years ago. One step at a time, one seed at a time, you have made an extraordinary difference. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your service and friendship!
Joel and I first met when I reached out to him for an informational interview approximately five years ago. I just moved to Seattle at the time and had minimal connection with practicing lawyers in the greater Seattle area. Joel, being the generous mentor he is, also showed up with Marsha from Ryan, Swanson & Cleveland’s immigration group, and we started talking about our interests in immigration law, what drew us to the legal field, our backgrounds, etc. After the informational interview, Joel advocated strongly for me and pushed the firm to offer me my very first employment as a licensed attorney.
Early on in my career Joel emphasized the importance of giving back to the community (Always give back!). He still regularly volunteers at legal clinics to provide immigration advice for those who cannot afford it, and is one of the consistent driving forces for Ryan, Swanson & Cleveland’s annual mentorship program with The Vietnamese-American Bar Association of Washington (VABAW). He is always ready to help out an up-and-coming lawyer or law student. When I just joined the firm, Joel invited me to join VABAW’s mentorship program and that is how I’ve met some of my best legal friends in the Seattle area. Joel has inspired a younger generation of attorneys to give back to the community; he is the mentor of mentors!
Joel and I have worked together the past five years, and I have been lucky to be mentored by one of the best immigration attorneys in the field. I once heard from the grapevine that when Joel needed to take an extended break, he opted to use that time reading through Kurzban’s, an immigration law secondary source about the size of the yellow pages. It’s no surprise that a client coined him the Border Magician after obtaining approval on what seemed like an impossible case!
Joel has been practicing law at Ryan, Swanson & Cleveland for over 50 years, and he still is one of the earliest members to show up at the office when he is in town. He is a class act and knows the names of security guards and the cleaning crew at our building. He currently splits his time between Orange County, California with his beautiful family, and Seattle, where he was born and raised. Joel loves a good quote and he was the one to teach an out of towner like me the ropes of the Seattle streets (Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest!). Ask Joel and he’ll give you and extended version about the sisters Olive, Blanchard, and Lenora. Like any true Seattleite, Joel’s blood runs green and blue, and he can be seen decked out for a Seahawks game cheering for the team.
Although Joel is one of the hardest working attorneys, he is always down for some fun. Joel’s jokes have come back to haunt him once or twice! There is a story at the firm that he told the receptionist “I’m going to Kazakhstan” when he was actually just going out to lunch. The helpful receptionist told his legal assistant to cancel all of Joel’s appointments for that week. To the receptionist’s defense, she was not making a far out assumption because Joel actually has gone to Kazakhstan! He deeply loves traveling and exploring other cultures and cuisines. He also started our immigration group’s traditions of regularly gathering for lunch and “Travel Buff” (a trivia board game from the 80s so recalibrate answers accordingly), gelato outings, and high tea on occasion. The fun is never far from Joel!
I could probably write a 300-page book of reflections on Joel Paget. We’ve known each other over 17 years. I graduated from law school in 2000 and was initially working as an Associate Attorney in Spokane, then 9/11 happened and I moved to the Westside of the state to be closer to family and friends.
September 11 changed the way I looked at life and my career. Before I was doing a lot of insurance defense litigation and corporate transaction research and was miserable. September 11 motivated me to change my practice area and take on cases where I felt I was making a difference in my clients’ lives, particularly vulnerable clients so I dove into immigration law in 2005. I knew nothing about immigration law and immediately joined the local immigration bar (WA AILA chapter).
At my first chapter meeting in Seattle, I arrived early as I was coming from Tacoma to downtown Seattle and was also very nervous, timid, and anxious because I felt like a brand-new attorney all over again even though I’d been practicing for five years. I sat at a table by myself because I knew no one who practices immigration law in Tacoma or Seattle. Joel Paget was the first person who came over to me and introduced himself and he has forever been the greatest mentor and friend a new lawyer could ask for!
His aura/presence was very nurturing and encouraging and any jitters I had about meeting experienced immigration attorneys and feeling unsure about myself went away. His connection with any and everyone is unbelievable, and his wealth of knowledge and experience is priceless. He always finds time to take my calls or sporadic drop in visits or random email. As a new attorney, having a mentor like Joel Paget who cares about the practice of law and the clients he services is a great example of how all of us should be. Because of him, I now make time to help new lawyers who have questions about personal injury and immigration law as I know I need to pay it forward like Joel did for me. He is a wonderful human being and I’m so blessed he is a practicing attorney in Washington as I know I would have regretted my decision to change practice areas without Joel Paget by my side!! I could go on and on.
Leta R. Sanchez4
Joel is a highly skilled attorney with a wealth of experience. He is not only an expert in his field and an exemplary advocate, he is also a leader amongst his peers. Joel is an active volunteer in several capacities, an educator to other attorneys, and an outstanding example for others to follow. Despite being at the top of his field, Joel is kind, approachable and incredibly generous with his time. Joel is an asset to the legal profession and we are lucky to have him here in Washington.
1 Julia Bolz is a former partner at Ryan Swanson. She also served as President of the Washington Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and participated in Seattle’s Leadership Tomorrow.
2 Jeng-Ya Chen is an attorney at Ryan, Swanson & Cleveland, PLLC.
3 Sok-Khieng Lim is a partner at RHHK in Tacoma, www.RHHK.com.
4 Leta Sanchez is an immigration lawyer at Chamberlain Sanchez, www.csimmigrationlaw.com.