Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, June 4, 2021

A mid-pandemic roll of the dice

Lyle opens solo practice while others were weathering the storm

When Chelsea Markham Lyle traveled to Central and South America as a teenager, she was exposed to other cultures in a way that changed her world view and the course of her life.

She immediately fell in love with the culture, and at 16 spent a full year studying in Spain. In college, she majored in Spanish and minored in criminal justice, returning to Spain after graduation. It was there that she decided to pursue a career in law.

“I was waiting tables and I was talking to somebody, trying to get a feel of what the criminal justice system needed, where there might be a niche, and she said we always need more Spanish-speaking lawyers,” Lyle remembers.

“And I just thought, ‘Well, I could go to law school.’ I didn’t know what that entailed. But two years later I was still in Spain and I didn’t have a clear career path, and this would be a clear career path. And immigration called me, because I had traveled abroad and I’d seen especially in Guatemala, Peru and Ecuador, and what those communities face in their home country.”

Lyle attended Regent University School of Law in Virginia and interned at Valverde & Rowell, a legal firm in Virginia that works with immigration law. She also interned at Catholic Charities of East Tennessee before working in their Office of Immigration Services since 2017. But last year she struck out on her own during the height of the pandemic.

She spoke with the Hamilton County Herald about her career and the challenge of starting a business during the pandemic.

Had anyone ever been involved in law in your family before?

“I think I’m the first attorney in the family. Maybe extended, but not my immediate family.’’

What was it like going out on your own during the pandemic?

“Well, you know, I, don’t know what my motivation was, except that I happened to be in a place where it was an OK time for me to step up. The fact that the courts were running a little bit slower may have helped me. The appointments are all always there, the criminal appointments and the juvenile appointments are always there.

“So I just had to know that I could be smart and be financially savvy, and do the thing that gave me freedom in my work and in my career. So why July 2020? I don’t know. I do have a good group of attorney friends who had encouraged me from the beginning to step out on my own.

“And it took me about a year and a half before I finally decided that would be something I could realistically accomplish.’’

What has been the biggest surprise for you?

“I mean, I’m still here! I kind of say that tongue in cheek. Really, I guess the amount of work there actually is balancing the business side and the actual legal side of it. I can’t do any legal research today because I have to balance these books. That has been a new thing for me to step into.’’

Do you see yourself growing your business, bringing more people in who do what you do?

“I would always be open to an opportunity to grow with other attorneys or to bring other people on. But I also really know where I want my practice to be. Who knows what the future will bring? But my career focus has always been immigration and I just really enjoy it.’’

What do you think is important for people to know about immigration law and what you’re doing in Chattanooga?

“I think in general there’s a misconception with immigration about how easy it may or may not be to ‘become legal,’ or however people want to phrase it.

“The immigration system has not had a makeover, probably since the late 90s. I would say immigration has not been reformed and revamped.

“And there are very few avenues for a lot of people to pursue status here in the United States. And it’s difficult and there are just a lot of roadblocks. But to people who aren’t going through it themselves, I think there’s a misconception of how easy it is or isn’t. Because it is actually quite complicated.’’

What would you say to people thinking about going out on their own right now?

“I think that people, anyone who wants to pursue whatever their passion is – I don’t care if you’re a chef and you want to own your own food truck or you are an excellent carpenter and you want to have your own carpentry business or landscaping – if that’s what you want to do, I would recommend getting in with people who encourage you to do it, and make a game plan because it is doable.

“And maybe there shouldn’t be so much fear around it. I’ve been really supported by other attorneys in Chattanooga, which is hugely helpful. I don’t know if it is necessarily like that in other places - I was born and raised in Chattanooga. But find people that encourage you to do what you want to do and find something that actually excites you.

“For me it’s just been really freeing, and I’m really looking forward to that aspect of it to say, ‘Hey, this is mine. And this is what I’ve learned. And this is what I want me, as an attorney, to look like.

“There are a lot of conceptions about what an attorney should look like, or how they should act, or that they should be in a huge firm to actually be successful. And I don’t think that’s true at all. There are a lot of solo practitioners around Chattanooga that are doing great things.

“For me, it gives me space to be able to do presentations or talk to people about different areas of the law. It frees me up to maybe reach more people than I could have in a larger firm.’’

That is true that we sometimes need to redefine what other people did, because it does not work for everybody.

“And I think to break down that stereotype, people can get worried about whether they are successful as a small-business owner. If that’s what you want to do and you’ve done it, then that’s a huge success.

“And if you are helping people at the same time, that’s great. Being at a large firm, I can’t imagine how difficult it is. It takes so much to be able to do that. But I don’t discount myself and the things I’ve wanted to do as well. I think everybody needs to hear that encouragement.

“Help people and do what you love to do and you can find fulfillment in it.’’