Attorney Brittany Thomas-Faith makes a good first impression. But the impression that comes later is the one people will most likely remember.
Dressed in a crisp grey suit, Faith enters a warmly lit conference room at Grant, Konvalinka & Harrison, the law firm where she works. Even with the good lighting, the space seems to brighten as she introduces herself and sits down at the table. While one might attribute the heightened illumination to her relaxed blonde hair, which is cut off at her shoulders and curls inward at the ends to frame her face, a more plausible explanation would be the energy and enthusiasm that seemingly radiates from within her. As Faith settles into her chair, she’s the definition of poise, and her voice has a cheerful quality that makes speaking with her a pleasure.
It comes as no surprise, then, that as Faith begins to talk about how and why she became a lawyer, a sense of humor surfaces.
“I grew up in Oak Ridge,” she says. “Then I went to Penn State for college. I wanted to live in a blue state for a while.”
She laughs at her own joke, and the room seems to brighten even more.
Faith wanted to work in Washington, D.C., so she majored in political science. Not one to waste time, she made quick work of her Bachelor of Arts, taking extra classes and graduating with honors in three years. From there, she returned to the red state of her birth and began taking classes at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville College of Law (UTK). “I thought a lawyer would have more value during a political campaign,” she said. “I quickly realized that was not the case.”
Faith quickly found another reason to stay in law school. While volunteering at a pro bono event during her first semester, a former high school classmate came in with her fiancé. The girl had been brought to the U.S. as a child but never documented. She was unaware of this issue until she started attending nursing school. “She was very upset,” Faith says. “She wanted to know if she could get married without being reported to immigration.”
Learning of her former classmate’s dilemma had a profound impact on Faith. Instead of seeing the law as a stepping stone in the political area, she started viewing a career as an attorney as a way to help people in need. Specifically, she saw herself practicing immigration law.
Before Faith could hang her shingle, though, she was going to have to get through law school – which was going to be harder than she’d initially thought. “I’d always cruised through my classes,” she says. “I thought law school was going to be more of the same, but my first semester was a wake-up call.”
Although Faith eventually gained momentum with her studies and even made the dean’s list, she found her footing outside of the classroom doing extracurricular and volunteer work. She became the director of UTK’s Pro Bono Program, served as treasurer of Law Women, was the American Bar Association representative for the Student Bar Association, acted as the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) mid-south law school liaison, and became a member of ENLACE (the Latino law association) and the Hamilton Burnett Inns of Court.
Her substantial efforts earned her a number of honors, including Legal Aid of East Tennessee’s Donald F. Paine Volunteer Student of the Year award and the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA)’s Student of the Year award, both in 2011.
“Not everyone will be at the top of their class. But devoting yourself to what you believe you want to do will impress potential employers,” she says.
Faith also volunteered at several immigration nonprofits and created Legal Aid’s Immigration Alternative Spring Break in partnership with UTK. During the program, participating students complete applications for citizenship on behalf of mostly low income residents.
Faith joined Grant Konvalinka in 2012 as a member of the firm’s immigration group, where she focuses on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) cases, family-based immigration petitions, and employment-based petitions. Faith says each case is rewarding because there’s a person involved who needs help.
“I love my clients,” she says. “We’ve been working on a packet for someone who came here 20 years ago as a Syrian refugee. He’s an American citizen now.”
While Faith says her work is rewarding, it’s not without its difficulties, most of which have to do with the “persnickety” nature of the government (she laments the Immigration Court’s policy of returning documents that aren’t two-hole punched) and the amount of time required to accomplish a task. “I have a permanent legal resident who wants to bring his wife here,” she says. “He wants to give up his green card so he can come back with her. Otherwise, he’ll have to wait two years to see her.”
Faith shakes her head. “He’s willing to give up something for which people work very hard so he can be with his wife. Government restraints and regulations make this a challenging area of the law to practice.”
Faith does have only good things to say about the people who work for the local U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement office. “They’re a very friendly group of people,” she says, “although that might be because I take them donuts and coffee.”
Since becoming an attorney, Faith has continued to be active in her community and profession. She currently serves on the board of La Paz, will be the president-elect of the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) of the Chattanooga Bar Association (CBA) in 2016, and recently completed a year as president of the Southeast Tennessee Lawyers Association for Women. She has also served as the TBA YLD Wills for Heroes chair and is involved in social action through her temple, Mizpah Congregation. In addition to the CBA and TBA, she’s a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).
Her volunteer work since graduation has earned her additional awards, including the TBA’s William M. Leech Public Service Award in 2012 and AILA’s Pro Bono Hero Award for the second quarter of 2014. While she’s grateful for the accolades, she says her volunteer work is about others, not herself. “I’m an extrovert, and I like being around people, but it’s about giving back,” she says.
Faith does have a retreat from her busy lifestyle – her home and marriage with Justin Faith, an attorney with Gearhiser, Peters, Elliott & Cannon. The two married in September. Whereas many attorneys like going home to a spouse who doesn’t work in the legal profession, Faith appreciates being married to another lawyer. “He understands my schedule because he knows what being an attorney is like,” she says.
Faith and her husband enjoy traveling together, eating out, and binge watching TV shows. Faith also likes reading and gardening at their house in Red Bank, although she would like her hard work to yield more fruit. “Gardening went terrible last year because it was either bone dry or sopping wet,” she says. “But I won’t let that deter me from trying again this year.”
Faith does make a good first impression. She’s personable, professional, and bright. But there’s more to her than is visible on the surface. She’s also dedicated to her clients and her community, hard working, and good-hearted. Ultimately, Faith is one of the new wave of young lawyers in Chattanooga who understand the responsibilities attorneys have to their profession and beyond, and are laying the groundwork to become the leaders of this community in the years to come. That’s the impression the people who encounter Faith will most likely remember.