17 February 2007
Do I need an Immigration Lawyer, and if so, how do I find a good one?

Practical Tips on Finding The Right Immigration Lawyer.

Do I need an Immigration Lawyer?

Short of one’s own health, and the health of loved ones, an alien’s immigration status is probably the most important issues in his or her life. And, considering that immigration law is among the most complex areas of law in the United States today, anyone seeking to acquire some sort of immigration status should at least consult with an immigration lawyer.

Although relevant government agencies try to disseminate information with regard to immigration matters, it can be a serious mistake to rely exclusively on such sources for the following reasons:

1.They have no responsibility or liability for information they provide, and no legal duty to do what is best for you. Nor must they keep what you tell them in confidence, as attorneys must;

2.As enforcement agencies, the mindset is often to keep out as many people as possible.

3.Information officers are frequently not adequately trained in immigration law and usually do not keep up with the latest developments. In fact, the officers are often so poorly trained that our staff is not allowed to call an information officer for information. Rather, we research the law and cases; and

4.Individual case situations differ so dramatically that, even if they wanted to, agencies do not have the resources to properly assess your case and correctly advise on how to proceed.

What about ?immigration consultants? or ?Notarios??

Immigration law involves far more analysis than simply filling out forms. By far the most difficult cases I have ever worked on have been those that have been started by ?immigration consultants? and/or ?notarios?, and have resulted in people being in deportation proceedings as a result. In fact, in most states, people who work as immigration consultants are violating the law by practicing law without a license. Because these individuals are operating illegally, their work is not regulated, and they are not bound by the Attorney Rules of Ethics, as lawyers are. Furthermore, ?attorney/client privilege?, which legally requires lawyers and their staff to keep in confidence their clients’ information, does not apply to non-lawyers. Also, the USCIS does not recognize immigration consultants and will not allow them to intervene on your behalf should a problem arise in your case.

In much of Latin America a notary public or ?notario? is legally authorized to draft wills and contracts, and to perform many legal services. However, in the United States a notary public, after registering and paying $25.00, is only authorized to verify signatures. There is no required training, rules of conduct, or even educational requirement.

As we noted above, apart from an alien’s health, his or her immigration status is probably the most important aspect of his or her life. But, Yet letting a janitor working at a hospital perform surgery on you, to save a few dollars, would be absurd. But that’s similar to what people are doing by hiring ?notarios? to represent them in immigration matters. And the strange part is that most ?notarios? that I have seen charge even more than most immigration attorneys do.

Not to name names, but I have spent a great deal of time trying to ?undo? the damage that has been caused to many of our readers by unscrupulous ?immigration consultants? who charged huge sums of money and promised green-cards through filing inappropriate applications. Now, when the time to become legal arrives, such bogus applications will be in those people’s immigration files. Although she simply disappeared, had a lawyer filed such applications, he or she would probably have been criminally indicted and disbarred.

In sum, because immigration is so important, and because immigration law is so complex, one would be well-advised to retain a reputable immigration lawyer to handle such matters.

How do I Choose an Immigration Lawyer?

Choosing the right immigration lawyer can be as difficult as it is important. However, there are some consideration which will help you find the right immigration lawyer.

1.Jack of all trades, but master of none: Look for a lawyer who practices exclusively in immigration law. Because immigration law is so complex, a lawyer who practices in many areas like real estate, personal injury, family law, in addition to immigration law, probably has not developed the level of expertise in immigration law that someone who only practices immigration law has. Also, it is a good sign if the lawyer is a member of AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association).

2.Client references and community reputation. A reference from a friend or colleague is often a good indicator of whether a lawyer good. Has the lawyer established a good name for himself or herself in the community?

3.Communication and technology? The number one complaint against lawyers is that clients are unable to find out the status of their cases. However, technology has revolutionized the practice of immigration law, and can make attorney/client communications automatic. For example, in our firm, every client is issued a user-name and password to our site, where each development is securely posted for review. Also, by offering a system of immigration news updates, and e-mail notifications, the attorney has likely put time and effort into making sure his or her clients stay informed.

4.Publications ? Lawyers who write frequently about their practice area tend to keep themselves better informed about their area of law. Being published may also indicate that the lawyer?s expertise is respected.

5.Personality ? When choosing an immigration lawyer, pay attention to his or her personality. Not only should you consider if he or she is likable, but also how he or she will come across representing you in immigration procedings.

6.Disciplinary actions ? Has the attorney ever been disciplined by the Board of Professional Responsibility of the state bar? There are also people who falsely claim to be licensed attorneys, and the local bar is the place to check that the attorney is licensed and in good standing.

7.Promising too much ? Be nervous about lawyers who promise success. A lawyer who honestly presents the risks is a far better choice than the one who promises success. Also be very suspicious of attorneys who claim to have ?connections? or ?influence? with the government.

8.Local v. national ? The location of your immigration lawyer is not nearly as important as it is for other types of lawyers. Because immigration law is federal and not state law, an immigration lawyer, licensed in any state, can represent clients throughout the United States. For example, although both our offices are in New Jersey, we routinely handle immigration cases in virtually every state and U.S. Consulates overseas. So, if after weighing the above factors, you are most comfortable with a particular immigration lawyer from another state, ask if he or she will represent you in your area.

9.Language skills ? Even though many people are more comfortable speaking in their native languages, keep in mind that in the United States legal matters are conducted in English. Although it is often helpful if your immigration lawyer has assistants who speak your language, your lawyer’s mastery of English is far more important than his or her mastery of your native language.

10. Get a Written Retainer Agreement ? Once you find an immigration lawyer that you feel you would like to retain, make sure that he or she provides you with a written retainer agreement, and insist that it be explained to you. In this way you and your lawyer will have a clear understanding of what will be done and the costs.

If consideration is given to the above factors, chances are good that you will have selected a good lawyer to represent you in your immigration matters.

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