How do you select an immigration attorney who is responsive to your needs? It's not as difficult as you may think to select an immigration attorney who is both competent and ethical. Below are some tips to help you make the right decision and avoid making a bad one.
It's Only Paperwork
We often are questioned by prospective clients (and even other attorneys) as to whether our services are really needed as "all we really do is fill out forms." The answer is that a good immigration attorney takes the time to explore all aspects of his client's case in order to help him achieve his goals and avoid costly errors. Further, a qualified immigration attorney will be able to advise his client about potential pitfalls and shortcuts to help the client obtain his objective more quickly.
Read the Attorney's Biography
Start by reading the attorney's biography. Are these biographies self-serving and possibly a little puffed up? Perhaps, but they are a good source of information. Take statements like, "Attorney Smith has been listed in Best Lawyers in the U.S." with a grain of salt. However, use these bios to see how long the lawyer has been practicing immigration law, whether he is Board Certified, how active he has been in the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and other professional organizations and whether he specializes in any particular area. Note, however, that membership in many organizations means only that the attorney pays his dues, not that he is a actively involved or a good attorney.
Select a Board Certified Specialist
Four states (California, Florida, North Carolina and Texas) make it easy for you to select an immigration attorney. These states allow attorneys to qualify as Certified Specialists in immigration law. In order to achieve this certification, the attorney must pass a rigorous examination, have the requisite amount of experience and be favorably rated by their colleagues. This is usually a very good indicator of quality. How do you determine whether a particular attorney is a Board Certified Specialist in immigration law? Read their business cards, their letterhead, and/or their biographies. Certified specialists have no interest in hiding this designation. If they are a Certified Specialist, they will let you know. The bar associations of each of these four states have websites listing all Certified Specialists.
Where Is The Attorney Located?
"Location, location, location" may be the three most important words in business, but in selecting an Immigration Attorney to represent you, location is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Most immigration applications and petitions are submitted by mail to USCIS Service Centers in California, Texas, Nebraska, Missouri and Vermont. Immigration law is federal in nature. This means that an attorney who is admitted to the Bar in ANY state can practice immigration law in EVERY state. When contemplating hiring an Immigration Attorney outside your local area discuss with him whether there will be any hearings or interviews and how that affects your legal fees and out of pocket costs. For example, although our law firm is located in South Florida, we represent people who reside all over the U.S. and the world. We never meet many clients personally, but communicate with them via phone, video conferencing and by e-mail.
Compare Attorneys by Quality, Not Fees
Compare attorneys first by quality, then if necessary, by price. We recommend that you narrow your search to two or three attorneys based strictly on quality, and only then to compare fees. In most cases the fees of attorneys of similar quality will not vary more than 10-20%. For example, compare Board Certified attorneys to others who are also Board Certified. They will often charge more than a non-certified attorney, but you are paying for top quality and experience.
You Get What You Pay For
For a lot of individuals it's all about price. Some people simply chose the lowest priced immigration attorney they can find. This is often a recipe for disaster. Attorneys who quote a very low fee as compared to other qualified attorneys have often underestimated what needs to be done and the amount of time it will take to accomplish a successful result for the client. We are constantly besieged by prospective clients with horror stories about how they paid an attorney a ridiculously low fee for their case which turned out poorly or the attorney refuses to work on their case until additional legal fees are paid.
He Speaks My Language
Why do Indian clients hire Indian attorneys, Chinese clients hire Chinese attorneys, Hispanic clients hire Spanish speaking attorneys, etc., etc? Having someone who speaks your native language and shares your cultural heritage can be a big comfort factor. Unfortunately, this does not guarantee quality. Too many individuals let the ethnicity of their attorneys unduly influence their hiring choices.
If It Sounds Too Good To Be True...
Beware of the attorney who claims to have "inside connections" with the Immigration Service, and that he can do what no other attorney can do, or that he can get approvals in a matter of months while other attorneys must wait years for results. Follow the old adage: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Chose An Attorney You Are Comfortable With
A successful attorney/client relationship is based upon mutual understanding and trust. Without these, the relationship is doomed to failure. If you do not get a good feeling about an attorney during your initial consultation then that attorney is probably not for you. You must be comfortable telling your attorney your innermost secrets so that he can properly represent you. Withholding information because you are embarrassed can compromise your case.