My Pathway to the Law
I can't even remember when I first wanted to become a lawyer. It seems like I'd always wanted to become an attorney. I knew it before I was 12 years old. Luckily, school was pretty easy for me and I achieved the grades necessary to be able to become an attorney down the road. I didn't have any family members who were attorneys or judges. None of my close family members had even graduated from college. My favorite TV show when I was younger was Perry Mason, which was an old show about a criminal defense attorney who always seemed to prove his clients were innocent in the courtroom in an exciting and dramatic fashion.
He was my hero because he helped the underdog - the guy everyone thought was guilty - and because he fought for justice.
After I earned my associates degree in California, I served a mission for my church among the Spanish speaking immigrants of Idaho.
Most of them were migrant workers who came to Idaho for the growing season and returned to Mexico or their home country after the harvest. I moved sprinkler pipe with them in the early mornings through the muddy potato fields and grew to respect immigrants and their contributions to society.
At Brigham Young University as an undergrad I majored in History, which has always been a fascinating subject to me. I was accepted into several law schools but selected Brigham Young University Law School.
My goal was to always open my own law firm - to hang my own shingle - after law school. Not just because Perry Mason had his own firm, but because I wanted to be able to choose my cases and represent the kind of people I wanted to represent. I turned away job opportunities working for other lawyers in order to start my practice.
I did immigration law from day one. I also tried other areas of law, but immigration law become a bigger and bigger part of my practice as time went by. I limited my personal practice to immigration law and criminal defense.
I discovered that I truly enjoyed immigration law because the results were so satisfying. Seeing clients who finally obtain their lawful permanent residency or winning their case in immigration court gives me a great feeling of accomplishment. I know that these successes mean a lot to my clients, to their families, employers, and their neighbors. I think it means a lot to our community as well.
I've been involved with the American Immigration Lawyer's Association (AILA) for many years, almost the entire time I've been a lawyer. That organization has a national and local presence. Nationally, I have been involved on the education committee helping to create an education program for other immigration lawyers. Locally, I was honored to serve as the Utah Chapter Chair of AILA a few years ago. At the time I was chair, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) had just been announced. I was happy to help plan community education meetings throughout the State of Utah where we helped hundreds of individuals learn about DACA.
In 2017, I was asked by the national AILA to speak at the Annual Conference that was held in Louisiana. I helped teach new attorneys about Crimmigration (the intersection of criminal and immigration law). I think that attorneys need to assist each other in learning this complex and challenging area of law, and I am happy to share the knowledge I have with newer lawyers.
Last year I was able to spend a week in Karnes, Texas, at a family detention facility.
I helped prepare refugee women and children for credible fear interviews and attend the interviews with them. Although it was sad to hear about their difficult situations, seeing them progress through the system and get released from custody was very rewarding.
One of the most amazing experiences came when I was only out of school for three years. One of my client's cases was accepted by the US Supreme Court. My client, Humberto Fernandez, was facing deportation and we fought his case all the way through the system and it was ultimately decided by the Justices of the US Supreme Court. Although Mr. Fernandez' case lost, and I and his family were extremely disappointed, we felt we had done all we could do for our client. We left nothing on the table. That is how I try to approach all my cases.
I remember another case with a client. We did not have many options to keep him in the United States. I was able to keep him here for several years as we fought for his case. When I told him the court had denied his case, he told me, “Chris, that's OK. I know you did your best and that's all I wanted. I am ready to leave. I appreciate all your hard work.” That taught me several things - sometimes certain cases in immigration will not succeed. However, I can always fight for my clients as hard as I can. It's not fun to lose, and it has devastating consequences for clients.
Winning is of course much more enjoyable, even after the gratitude of generous clients. It has taken time, but I like to carefully analyze a client's case at the beginning, and then evaluate how we can win the case, and the likelihood of winning. My clients can decide whether to hire me, only after I give my honest opinion on the case.
One of the sweetest victories I can remember was with my client Jesus Contreras. He was ordered deported and I was not going to give up on his case. I thought the law was being applied incorrectly. I, and Ed Carter from my office, with the help of the American Immigration Council, fought the case to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Very few cases win at the Circuit Court level. We actually initially lost in a three-judge panel. Two judges were against us, and one judge was on our side. We decided to ask the whole entire court to look at the case in an en banc request. The Tenth Circuit granted our request and instead of three judges, there were over ten judges listening to the case.
We eventually won, and my client was allowed to come back to the United States and finish fighting his case. The case took many years, and a lot of work, but it was so satisfying to see my client win, and be able to be with his family in the country he loved. Through fighting his case, the law was favorably changed in the Tenth Circuit and many others can now benefit because we fought, and won, this case.
Most times, the cases are not so extremely difficult. I truly like to help my clients with these cases through the immigration and criminal process as smoothly and quickly as possible. At this firm, we know how to do this, and we can give exceptional service. I enjoy the happy results every time we provide great service to my clients. Whether the cases by complex, or more simple, each client is important to me. I feel I can make a positive difference in many lives by how I treat each client and each case.
How many cases handled?
I have appeared before the immigration court and Department of Homeland Security for thousands of clients. I have prepared many applications. I have also handled criminal matters for hundreds of clients. Appeals to the Board of Immigration Appeals, the appellate body for immigration court, and to the other appeals courts have been filed for my clients at my firm.
Outside the office
I have a wife and five children and we enjoy touring the United States in our trailer, most recently seeing the headwaters of the Mississippi on a 4,000 mile summer trip. Previously we've trailered to Washington D.C. and through the South, and then to Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands and the Black Forest of South Dakota..
During the spring and summer I enjoy sailing on Utah lake.
In my limited spare time I enjoy researching family history.
As the founding attorney for Keen Law Offices, LLC, J. Christopher Keen received a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Brigham Young University. He then went on to receive his Juris Doctor degree from J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University. Since that time, he has been admitted to practice before all of the state courts in Utah, including the:
- Utah Supreme Court
- Federal District Court for the District of Utah
- Ninth and Tenth Circuit Courts of Appeals
- United States Supreme Court
In addition, the attorney is admitted to practice before the Executive Office for Immigration Review, as well as the Board of Immigration Appeals. Within these state and immigration courts, he has defended the rights of hundreds of immigrants.
The attorney's practice has remained focused on handling various immigration matters, including:
- Defending foreign nationals in immigration court
- Post-conviction work
- Defense of alleged foreign nationals charged with a crime
- Complex immigration issues
Mr. Keen has argued cases in front of courts throughout the entire state and in the Federal District Court for the District of Utah. He has also had cases heard before different appellate courts, including:
- Utah Court of Appeals
- Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals
- Tenth Circuit Courts of Appeals
- United States Supreme Court
Attorney Keen has prepared and provided training to other immigration attorneys by presenting to the Utah State Bar, the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Utah Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Additionally, he has argued cases throughout the Western United States, such as*:
*Mr. Keen is licensed only in Utah, but can appear in Federal Immigration Courts across the U.S.
Prior Legal Experiences
Mr. Keen has a variety of previous legal experiences that allows him to diligently serve his current clients. He has clerked in the Labor Division of the Missouri Attorney General's Office in Salt Lake City, Utah. In addition, he has clerked for two law firms in Salt Lake City, Utah and Denver, Colorado. This provided him with experience in litigation, criminal defense, and immigration law.
He is a member of the following associations:
- American Immigration Lawyers Association
- Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
- Central Utah Bar Association
In October 2009, Mr. Keen was appointed by the Utah Supreme Court to be a mentor to new attorneys in the Utah State Bar's inaugural group of mentors. His many attributes and experience set him apart from others, which allowed him to be qualified for this role.
Mr. Keen's Personal Life
Attorney Keen grew up in Norwalk, California, which is a suburb of Los Angeles. There, he attended John Glenn High School. He worked his way through college by performing many jobs, including being a bank teller, waiter, store clerk, and software salesman.
He has a strong passion for history, especially family history. Putting this interest into action, he authored a book on the Keen family. He also speaks fluent Spanish, which he learned in school and improved during two volunteer mission trips among Spanish-speaking migrants in Idaho.
In his free time, Mr. Keen enjoys sailing, reading, history, and spending time with his wife and children.
Areas of Practice
- Complex Immigration
- Criminal Defense
- U.S. District Court District of Utah
- U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit
- U.S. Court of Appeals 10th Circuit
- U.S. Supreme Court
- Brigham Young University, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Provo, Utah
- Juris Doctor
- Brigham Young University
- Bachelor of Arts
- Major: History
- Fernandez-Vargas v. Ashcroft, 394 F.3d 881, 10th Cir., 2005
- Fernandez-Vargas v. Gonzales, 126 S. Ct. 544 2005 WL 871058, U.S., 2005
- Fernandez-Vargas v. Gonzales, 126 S.Ct. 2422, U.S., 2006
- Lorenzo v. Mukasey, F 3d-2007, WL 4111986, 10th Cir., 2007
- Instructor, Basics of Immigration Law, Utah State Bar, August 17, 2006
- Instructor, Habeas Corpus and Detained Immigrants, Utah Chapter of American Immigration Lawyer's Association, January 26, 2007
- Co-Presenter, “Solo Practice Seminar”, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University, 2004 – 2008
- Co-Presenter, “Practical Immigration Law Tips For Criminal Defense Lawyers”, Utah Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers, April 24, 2008
- Co-Presenter, “What Businesses Need to Know about Immigration Trends”, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, November 5, 2008
- Co-Presenter, “Immigration Consequences of Criminal Law”, Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Annual Seminar, September 18, 2009
- Presenter, Managing Your Law Practice, AILA
- Presenter, Expert In Immigration Law, Utah Federal District Court
- Co-Presenter, “Representing the Immigrant of Appeal, Before the Appeal”, AILA, November 8, 2013.
Professional Associations and Memberships
- Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, 2005 – Present
- American Immigration Lawyer's Association, Member, 2002 – Present
- AILA, National Committee Member, FOIA Committee, 2008 – 2009
- AILA, Utah Chapter, DRO/ICE Liaison Committee Member, 2009 – Present
- AILA National Conference, Vancouver, 2008
- AILA National Conference, Orlando, 2007
- AILA National Conference, San Antonio, 2006
- AILA National Conference, Salt Lake City, 2005
- AILA National Conference, New Orleans, 2003
- AILA, Board Member, 2010 – 2011
Past Employment Positions
- Missouri Attorney General's Office in Jefferson City, Missouri, Clerk
- Utah Attorney General's Office in Salt Lake City, Utah
Pro Bono Activities
- Centro Hispano; Provo, UT, 2009 – Present
Articles by J. Christopher Keen
- “Fee Increase – File Soon”
- “How Do I Prove a Good Faith Marriage?”
- “Master FAQ”
- “I Have Married a U.S. Citizen”
- “Merits FAQ”
- “I Am an Immigrant and Have Been Arrested”
- “Paying an Immigration Bond”
- “Salt Lake City Immigration Court Has a New Immigration Judge – What does that mean to YOU?”
- “Utah's Plea in Abeyance Law and Immigration Law”