The Team

The SMS Law Firm Story

SMS Law Firm began from humble beginnings in San Diego, California in a one-room office with Stella and James believing in a vision that every client should be treated as a person; that being honest and straightforward will resonate with clients seeking the best for themselves, and that we should never cut corners on providing the best legal advice. Thinking of how to best accommodate and serve their clients, SMS Law Firm naturally formed specializations of  law based on their clients’ needs and while diligently striving to offer the most professional, honest, and expert legal advice. With a strong belief to help clients and their families, SMS Law Firm balanced its practice areas with success for families in immigration, finance, business, and estate planning while mitigating the effects dissolution. At its core, SMS Law Firm’s views every client and family as a case to be treated with care and customizes every client’s needs according to their specific situation. No client is exactly alike and the legal services provided to every client should reflect every client’s unique situation.

Today, SMS Law Firm is an multi-national law firm renowned internationally by its clients in multiple fields including a specialization in the EB5 Immigration program. They have assisted investors and work closely with best-in-class regional centers such as EB5AN. SMS Law Firm currently has a branch in Shanghai, China and is seeking to expand its presence in India and Mexico. Throughout it all, SMS Law Firm has maintained its dedication to its clients by continuing to offer its legal services and relying almost entirely on referrals from previous clients, friends, and family. At SMS Law Firm, we hope that just like we believe that each client deserves special attention, our clients view us as being the right attorney to help them achieve success in all of their endeavors.

Meet the Team

Stella M. Shih, Esq., Founder and Senior Partner

Ms. Shih began her career defending clients and litigating federal and state tax cases on their behalf with the Tax Sector of the Legal Aid Society of San Diego. Subsequently, her experience expanded to include civil litigation and immigration. Stella is a recipient of the Wiley W. Manual Award for Pro Bono Legal Services recognizing excellent legal services to the under-represented. She has extensive experience in dealing with family, unlawful detainer, estate planning, immigration, and tax matters. She is tri-lingual and is fluent in English, Chinese (Mandarin), and Taiwanese.

During her experiences, Ms. Shih realized that the Asian community lacked high quality, professional legal services that could speak their language and understand the cultural barriers faced by immigrants. She founded SMS Law Firm with her son James to help bridge this gap which has become the professional team of attorneys today. SMS Law Firm is proud to be the largest, local Chinese-speaking law firm in San Diego, California. Stella’s vision is the driving factor behind SMS Law Firm’s success. Always progressive and trying to meet the needs its clients, in 2016 SMS Law Firm opened its first branch in Shanghai, China.

James S. Shih, Esq., Senior Partner


James is one of the original partners of SMS Law Firm and began his legal career in family law litigation.  The experience he acquired from years of practice have honed his ability to understand human nature and accurately determine the best route of action for his clients. He has extensive experience and knowledge in all five service areas offered by SMS Law Firm with particular expertise in the EB5 and E2 industry and working with difficult source of funding cases such as Chinese and middle-eastern clients.  He often travels internationally to China, Mexico, and India to speak with clients regarding business and immigration and enjoys navigating the complexities of the law for his clients.  He has provided hours of voluntary legal work for the San Diego community including small claims, employment disputes, domestic violence, unlawful detainer, driving under the influence, and housing issues.

In his off-time, James continues to think about modern businesses and how to integrate his legal knowledge into more controversial areas such as the California Cannabis industry and Cryptocurrency. He speaks conversational Chinese and Spanish and is in the process of learning business level fluency of both. Likewise, you might find James running on the beach, surfing, or at the gym practicing Muay Thai.

Kevin Qi, Esq., Senior Partner

Kevin is one of the original partners of SMS Law Firm. His approach to legal practice is to ensure that each of his clients understand how the law intersects with their lives, so they are empowered to make informed choices. A naturalized U.S. citizen himself at an early age, Kevin is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. He often travels internationally to China to manage the firm’s branch office in Shanghai, and regularly meets with foreign clients and agents on immigration matters. He has extensive experience and expertise in the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, E-2 Treaty Investor Visas, L-1 Executive or Manager Visas, Family Based Visas, and Consulate Processing at many U.S. consulates and embassies across the globe. His attention to detail and leadership over the firm’s immigration team when examining and analyzing complex areas of immigration law has resulted in a 100% approval rate for his EB-5, L-1, and E-2 clients.

An experienced practitioner of Family Law, Kevin vigorously protects the legal rights of clients past and present when it comes to child custody and support, domestic violence, spousal support, and division of marital assets.  He also manages the civil litigation division at the firm, and has successfully represented clients at trial in areas such as contract disputes and construction litigation.

Kevin is a graduate of University of San Diego School of Law, and an undergraduate of Binghamton University, where he majored in English Literature and minored in Chinese Literature.  In his spare time Kevin enjoys reading, history, and following current news and politics. He is also an amateur baseball enthusiast, and is patiently waiting for the Padres to rebuild their team.

Peter Lay, Esq., Partner

Peter’s legal practice areas includes immigration law, family law, estate planning and civil litigation. He has helped families successfully apply for immigration benefits, including but not limited to, EB5, EB1-A, EB2-A, Family Based Green Cards, Green Card renewals and Naturalization.  He has also helped businesses successfully file L1 Visas and Extensions for their employees.  Peter’s previous legal experience includes serving as a judicial extern for the Honorable Judge Ramona G. See and interning at the San Diego Office of the Primary Public Defender’s Felony Division.  While attending Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Peter served as the President of the Tax Law Society and he received CALI Excellence for the Future Awards for Legal Writing I and International Taxation.  Peter also studied at Zhejiang University Guanghua College of Law in Hangzhou, China.  Prior to law school he graduated from UCLA with a concentration in History.  He is proficient in Khmer.  In his free time Peter enjoys watching football, playing with his French Bulldog Pepper, travelling and visiting his family in Cambodia.


Gerard Arcilla, Esq., Associate

Gerard started his legal career as an immigration paralegal prior to law school, pursuing his passion to help families establish themselves in the U.S. Shortly thereafter, he started with SMS Law Firm as an intern during law school to further his goal to help others. Gaining valuable legal experience before and during law school, this helped Gerard hone the legal knowledge and experience necessary to assist clients today as an attorney with the firm.

Gerard is a recipient of the CALI Excellence Award for achieving the highest grade in Torts during law school, and has also received honors designations for Lawyering Skills and Externship courses. He has substantive legal experience primarily in immigration law, estate planning, and family law cases. Gerard has filed numerous immigration petitions with USCIS, and has helped multiple clients with drafting wills and trusts. He has also represented clients in family court for divorce proceedings and child custody issues, prepared prenuptial and marital settlement agreements, and has assisted clients with adoptions. During his free time, Gerard enjoys hiking, going to the beach, and going to the gym.


The SMS Law Firm Support Teams

At SMS Law Firm, we know our team would not be complete without our hard-working support. Our team in San Diego, USA and Shanghai, China include a versatile team of individuals who are challenged and play a pivotal role in ensuring quality service to our clients. As a firm, family, and legal service provider we appreciate and recognize our law clerks and administrator staff and view them as part of the SMS Law Family. At SMS Law Firm, we try to build an environment of competent individuals which are confident in knowing they have worked with a top law firm and can adapt to any situation. We are giving our support teams the opportunity to speak of abilities themselves –  and here’s what they had to say. 

 Legal Support Team

Work at SMS Law Firm is both rewarding and challenging. SMS Law holds us in the legal support team in very high regard and only expect the highest quality of work from these positions. That being said, all attorneys and legal staff at SMS Law will agree that being a law clerk is a very daunting, but rewarding task. As law clerks, we are given real hands on experience in dealing with clients by interacting with them and assisting in paperwork just as a practicing attorney would in real time. All of our work is carefully supervised to ensure that any final product is the highest standard which SMS Law ensures to all of its clients. This allows  all law clerks at SMS Law to work in a healthy, efficient, and effective legal practice at SMS Law with bright futures. This strategy opens up the door for law clerks to have the best work experience while ensuring top-tier quality legal work. In light of this, SMS Law is growing at a rapid speed and all law clerks that make it through the  process are typically offered a post-bar job, thereby allowing them to start their honorable profession as an attorney in an environment that they are comfortable, confident, and proud to work in. We pride ourselves in our mentoring program and our pride in this program shows very clearly in our work product from all law clerks and associates at SMS Law.

International Support Team

As the international office assistants in SMS Law Firm, we have learnt numerous skills and experienced many things that can only be achieved working in this wonderful company. It can be extremely challenging, with tasks varying from simple administration to serving multiple millionaire clients. We mostly cater to immigration cases, and as all of us are bilingual in Chinese Mandarin and English; this is beneficial to communicating with agents and clients who prefer their native language. We are proud to have been able to meet the expectations of trust, confidentiality, and diligence that the attorneys supervise us, even if it does result in a mountain of paperwork. We never knew, till now, that paper cuts were a job hazard! The work can be intimidating and at times overwhelming. However, we know that the SMS Law team is supports us and is behind us. All of it is worth it when the applications pass, and we successfully fulfill the clients’ goals. At SMS Law Firm, we prioritize customer service, and we strive to serve our clients with the best of our abilities.



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