Karine Sokpoh, Esq. 7/6/17 07/06/17 10:54:42 AM
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Karine Sokpoh has come a long way in the 16 years since she fled Togo to further her education in the United States.
– Photo courtesy of Karine SokpohKarine Sokpoh, Esq.
The Girl Next Door, If Next Door is Togo
By Andy Roberts
The Daily Record
This is not just another success story about the girl who lived down the block.
Unless the block you grew up on was in Togo, West Africa.
And, while she now has her own law firm – Sokpoh Law Group at 108th and Pacific Streets – things weren’t always this good.
Karine Sokpoh grew up in Lomé, Togo, where she was “blessed” to have two parents who expected academic excellence and pushed her to better herself. That doesn’t mean life in West Africa was easy by any means.
“When my parents divorced I was 11. My mother, siblings and I moved to a house on the outskirts of town with no electricity,” she recalled. “There was one TV station in the country back then and children’s programming was once a week on Saturdays.
“We had a black and white TV that we powered with a battery. Sometimes the battery died in the middle of our show,” Sokpoh remembered. “I did not mind because I could still read my books with the oil lanterns.”
Two months after turning 20, she moved by herself to the United States as an asylee student, drawn by the promise of attending college in America. She had already earned a degree in business management from the Universite du Benin in Lomé, the only university in the country. She first arrived in Washington, D.C. but soon learned the cost of living was high. People there told her it would be better in Omaha. So she came here to take advantage of the lower cost of living and school. Her plan was to stay for six months.
“It has been 16 years. I am married and we have two daughters, 10 years old and 8 months old,” Sokpoh stated. During that time she also made the dean’s list while earning a degree in general studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and graduated magna cum laude from the Creighton University School of Law.
Asked if it was a good decision to come to Omaha, she said, “Yes! I met my husband, Dominick Kouassi, here!” He is also from Togo. So, she traveled half-way around the world to meet her husband from her homeland!
The 36-year-old has been practicing since 2008, now leading a firm that features diverse areas of practice including immigration law, family law and intellectual property.
Sokpoh was featured in The Daily Record several years ago for her work with immigrants, when she delivered a presentation, “Consequences of Crimes for Immigrants,” during a legal education seminar for members of the Omaha Legal Professionals Association. She said she feels a responsibility to educate people about immigration laws in the U.S. and gives her presentation to immigrants in Grand Island as well as Omaha.
She said she is concerned about the recent travel ban enacted by the new administration, but is relieved that it exempts those who have ties here.
She began her legal career with Koley Jessen in Omaha.
Licensed in Nebraska and Iowa, Sokpoh’s firm is currently limiting its work to the west side of the Missouri River. She is a past president of the Midlands Bar Association, a Nebraska State Bar Association House of Delegates member and a member of the Minority Justice Committee.
Her path to the legal profession emerged from a thirst for justice developed in the land of her birth.
She “grew up in a dictatorship where human rights are continuously violated, due process nonexistent, corruption rampant, justice for sale and women’s rights existing only on paper,” she recalled. “By age 13, I knew I wanted to become a lawyer.”
The ability to serve an increasingly and incredibly diverse population in Omaha is something that makes her firm standout, Sokpoh said. That is especially true in the increasingly challenging area of immigration law.
“Being a first generation immigrant myself, I can relate to the plights of many of my clients,” she said. “My background allows me to empathize with them.” She is a naturalized citizen of the United States and went through the same process as they would be required to do.
Fluent in English, French and Mina – an African language, Sokpoh is able to work with clients on legal matters in the United States, Canada, the European Union, China, India, Africa and South America.
Her intellectual property practice finds her counseling clients in acquiring, maintaining and protecting U.S. and foreign intellectual property assets, but these days that is a relatively small part of her practice.
As a person making her way, extremely well, in her new land, it might be enough to establish a successful law practice, but Sokpoh is working to contribute to her new home in other ways.
In addition to contributing to Lutheran Family Services for six months as a contractual attorney where she represented clients in immigration matters, she is a member of Girls Inc.’s Girlfriend’s board, vice president of African Love International – an organization that provides scholarships to college students of African descent in the United States and raises funds to support non-profit organizations that contribute to education and health care in Africa.
Sokpoh was honored in 2016 by the University of Nebraska at Omaha for Excellence in Public Service and in 2010, she was the recipient of the Nebraska State Bar Association Outstanding Young Lawyer Award. She currently volunteers for the Self Help Desk in Douglas County, coordinating its scheduling.
Not a bad resume in itself, but there is more to Karine Sokpoh than what you already have read.
Hobbies? “Reading, traveling, wandering around the world, spending time with my family.”
She said her biggest reward has been, “my family and feeling like I made a difference in someone’s life.”
What’s next for Karine Sokpoh?
The answer, after a trip around the world establishing a new life, is probably “Who knows?” The sky’s the limit.
Whatever it is, it will be worth following.
Sokpoh can be reached at 402-858-2020, or visit the firm website at www.scolawgroup.com.