Law and Border

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When Lilian went to San Diego to take the bar exam, Marty waited with a bottle of champagne. It would be four months before she learned the results, but Marty was confident.

She failed the exam.

For her second attempt, Lilian went to San Francisco. She felt she'd failed even before she started the test. And she was right.

"There's no shame in failing the bar one or two times, even for Americans," Judge Bowers says.

Lilian heard stories of a man who took twenty years to pass the California bar. He took it forty times, people said, and his son passed it before he did.

She returned to San Diego for her third try and took the bar with a friend who was also trying to become an attorney. She was certain she'd failed again.

The night the results were posted, rather than watch the web, Lilian opted to see a romantic comedy with her husband, mother, child and the judge. When they returned home, though, Marty couldn't take it anymore. He told Lilian that if she didn't look up the results, he would. Sitting side by side, their toddler in Marty's lap, they fired up the computer.

"See, I told you," Lilian said, sad but not surprised. She didn't see the bright flashing lights she'd imagined would indicate a passing grade, as if she'd won a sweepstakes.

"Read that again," Marty said, slapping her on the leg.

"What do you mean? Read what?"

"Read it again."

When Lilian read the screen closely, she realized that it said the person named above -- Lilian Shea -- had passed the July 2004 California bar examination.

"I passed the fucking bar!" Lilian screamed. "I passed the fucking bar!"

Profanities rarely slip from her lips, but this was a rare occasion. Lilian ran around the house, shouting and crying in excitement. "I passed the fucking bar, I passed the fucking bar!"

She called everyone she knew and sat up all night long, chanting it like a mantra.

"She was screaming so loud that I thought maybe they had had a car accident on the way home," the judge remembers. "I couldn't understand her. Then I finally gathered that she had passed the bar."

A bilingual attorney who knows the laws of two countries ought to have job offers rolling in, Lilian thought. She started going out on networking interviews.

One attorney told Lilian that she was not a real lawyer and that she would never work in her office, or in this state. Lilian fled in tears, only to be reassured by Marty, who'd been waiting outside.

Lilian visited with another attorney, who not only told her she couldn't work in the state, but threatened legal action if she ever saw Lilian practicing law in Colorado. "It was like my whole life all over again: ŒYou're not good enough. You're not a lawyer,'" she says.

Marty and Lilian started discussing the possibility of moving to California, where Lilian could have her own practice. Still, she kept thinking about the provision that would allow her to pursue federal law anywhere now that she'd passed the California bar. She double-checked with the feds and the Colorado Supreme Court to affirm what she already knew to be true.

Lilian learned that the Mexican Consulate was moving its offices from Cherry Creek to a bigger building on Leetsdale, where it would rent out part of the basement -- four offices with a lobby. If Lilian was only going to practice federal law, renting space below the Mexican Consulate seemed like the best way to make it work.

She and Marty pulled all $80,000 in equity out of their home and made Lilian Shea's law practice official.

"It's gutsy for someone to start out on their own without a senior attorney to advise them," the judge says.

One of her first clients was Ron Weiszmann, a fellow wine connoisseur. Ron is convinced that he saw Lilian at a rally on his first trip to Argentina, back in 1988; they both remember a burning-coffin demonstration. And although they didn't meet formally until years later, Ron loves to tell people that he saw her there.

Over the years, Argentina continued to have a strong pull on Ron. He explored investment opportunities there and finally found a vineyard. He needed a Spanish-speaking attorney, preferably one with an Argentine accent, who could make sure he was buying what he thought he was buying. The deal almost collapsed at one point, and Lilian thinks she was able to save it simply because she was able to tell the sellers what they needed to hear in their native tongue.

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Luke Turf