Lillie Shobe was still a receptionist when she started working on her first pro bono asylum claim at WilmerHale. The firm had originally agreed to provide limited representation for two weeks to help the client get out of a detention center. But plans changed.
“We just absolutely fell in love with her and her story, and we took on her full asylum claim,” said Shobe, who served as a Spanish interpreter for the client. “In November of last year, we were successful in winning asylum for her, and now she’s out with her family in Maryland.”
Shobe still talks to the woman every other day.
“We both say she’s part of my family now, and I’m part of her family now. That connection will never go away,” she said, adding that she didn’t expect to form a friendship like that when she first took an administrative job at WilmerHale’s Denver office.
But Shobe’s life seems full of unexpected turns.
“Lillie may very well be the most interesting person in Denver’s legal community,” WilmerHale partner Mindy Sooter wrote when nominating her for Law Week’s Outstanding Legal Professionals 2019. Sooter said Shobe has “a burning desire to challenge conventional wisdom and explore the world” that led her to spend time as an entrepreneur, yoga instructor and globetrotter before joining WilmerHale in March 2018.
After starting as a receptionist, Shobe was quickly promoted to project assistant at the firm, where she supports paralegals through file and data management, proofreading, tracking important case details and research. Where Shobe shines brightest, however, is in her work with the firm’s pro bono clients.
Shobe works with teams on a number of active asylum cases for WilmerHale, whose Denver office received the 2019 Pro Bono Service Award from the Rocky Mountain Immigration Advocacy Network.
She also coordinates a legal clinic for WilmerHale in partnership with RMIAN to advise asylum seekers at the immigrant detention center in Aurora.
She describes her work there as “a lot of logistics” in addition to interpreting. Shobe coordinates visits for attorneys and interpreters, assigns clients to attorneys and answers questions from attorneys, many of whom have limited experience with immigration and the detention center.
While she is still relatively new to WilmerHale, Shobe draws on her previous ventures, and adventures, to excel in her job at the firm.
As a college student, Shobe ran a family business selling Irish imports. She described running a retail operation during the recession as “a mildly traumatic experience” but returned to small business management in her early 20s as the head of a yoga studio in Denver. She said her entrepreneurial experience helps her identify opportunities to put her skills to use at the firm.
“In the separation of tasks between attorneys and paralegals, the attorneys might not necessarily know what they need from a paralegal,” she said. “Being entrepreneurial and being able to say, ‘Hey, I know what you’re doing, and this is the way that I think that I can help you’ — it just makes their insanely demanding jobs so much easier.”
In 2016, Shobe spent a year traveling the world with her partner. While on the road, the pair worked in a culinary school in Thailand, an eco resort in Malaysia, a vineyard in Israel and a yoga resort in Greece. She credits her experience abroad with preparing her to work with international and immigrant clients at WilmerHale.
“I had grown up in a very white suburb, very white family, the whole thing. And I think that the danger is in not getting out and experiencing what else is out there, and then landing in a place like Wilmer,” said Shobe, who grew up in Littleton.
Upon returning to Colorado, Shobe knew she either wanted to be a paralegal or a social worker “because they’re both very fundamental in assisting people in need.” She settled on the paralegal path while working at the Center for Out-of-Court Divorce at the University of Denver, where she had the chance to see paralegals and social workers in action. There she learned about the integral role paralegals play in legal work and how the field aligned with her skills.
“I’m great with people, but I’m also great with organization and details, and I think the legal profession needs people who have both sets,” she said.
Later, she was hired as an office manager and interpreter at the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center, where she worked with immigrant children who had crossed the border without parents or family. Not only did the job introduce her to the legal aspects of the pro bono work she would go on to do at WilmerHale, but it also helped bring her Spanish up to the task.
Shobe had studied the language throughout high school and for a quarter in college, and later got some practice while spending time in Guatemala, but she had never used it in a professional setting before the children’s law center. The center’s staff and clients gave her a chance, and her Spanish skills soared as she jumped into interpreting. The experience was one of many that taught her the importance of keeping an open mind, she said.
“In all of my positions and all of my travel, that’s kind of the lesson: to just remain open-minded to anything,” Shobe said. “And Wilmer has done that to me tenfold, so I’m hugely, hugely grateful to them.”
“I like to think the fact that she landed at WilmerHale is a sign that occasionally the gods smile on you,” Sooter wrote. “When we hired her, we had no idea what an adventurous and capable person she is.”
“WilmerHale, the Colorado legal community, and the numerous pro bono immigration clients she helps on a daily basis are extraordinarily lucky to have Lillie’s unwavering care, dedication, and compassion.”
— Jessica Folker