How Lorraine D’Alessio went from international model to immigration attorney
Published in 2019 Southern California Rising Stars magazine
on June 13, 2019
Updated on June 20, 2019
The connection between international modeling and immigration law seems as thin as the straps on a haute couture dress; but for Lorraine D’Alessio, transitioning from Ford model to managing partner of an eponymous LA-based immigration law firm was fairly organic.
As a young model, when traveling from her native Canada to photo shoots in New York, Milan or Tokyo, D’Alessio was often stressed about getting through customs. “You’re up against a clock, and it’s worth a lot of money getting there on time to the client,” she says. “Having delays at the borders can be the kiss of death. This is the advertising industry. You’re working with brands. … That young, beautiful face and that body is part of a business transaction.”
She was particularly nervous about one LA gig when she was about 21. “There were going to be meetings with the client and the agency, and I decided to pack everything I could think of,” she says. A female customs officers in LA looked at her short itinerary, looked at all of her suitcases, and had questions.
“So I was interrogated,” she remembers. “I wasn’t sure if I would get in or I would be turned around. Fortunately, I did get in, but it was many hours later.”
Raised in Mississauga, near Toronto, D’Alessio had a multicultural upbringing. “Part of my family is from Toronto; the other part is from the French-speaking part of Canada, Quebec,” she says. “There were 80 countries represented in just that small little area [of Mississauga]: Southeast Asia, India, Taiwan, a large Korean population and a very large West Indian population.”
Her leap into modeling is like an update of Lana Turner being discovered at Schwab’s drugstore. “I’m a huge electronica fan,” she says, “and [DJ] Richie Hawtin was doing a performance in Toronto. I managed, as a teenager, to get out of the house and get there, and that’s where I was scouted. They said, ‘I think you’d be perfect for this particular commercial campaign.’ I was told to go to downtown Toronto to attend a meeting.”
Initially skeptical, she researched the agency and saw it was legit. She was still on the fence about modeling until they began to go over rates. “A working-class kid from Mississauga with a paper route that gets you $50 for the month,” she says, “compared to $2,000 for a shoot—that’s pretty good.” She got the part, and her name was eventually passed onto the Ford agency.
As a model, she traveled the world, representing brands like Volkswagen and Dial, but she always worked around her school schedule. She thought of modeling as a means to an end. “Looks are quite fleeting, especially for women. We just go through so many phases of life—our bodies are like elastic bands.”
She adds: “I wanted to somehow use the experience, make some great connections, and make money to pay for university and post-graduate studies.”
It also helped her build her client base—immediately. “As I was entering into law,” she says, “a lot of my friends and contacts from the industry were reaching out to say, ‘Can you please help me with a situation? I’m having a lot of issues at the border; I’m having a lot of issues just trying to work in the U.S.’—or Canada or the U.K. ‘Do you know anyone that can help?’”
Now in her early 40s, a mother of two and a dual citizen, D’Alessio has a niche practice representing technology and entertainment clients with immigration issues. “We’re the experts on bringing extraordinary people into the United States,” she says. “For us, it’s about that transcending of borders.”