Anyone who has ever hired a family law attorney is going to be a vociferous advocate of flat fee pricing. Almost every single time, a flat fee arrangement is going to save you a tremendous amount of money over an hourly arrangement. In my office, we take the estimated number of hours for a typical case, divide it in half, and come up with the flat fee price. Attorneys like the flat fee arrangement because, although far less money, it is administratively much easier, the money is paid up front and therefore there are far fewer collection issues, and clients are generally much happier with a flat fee arrangement.
Cheap Does Not Equal Value
Do not shop for the cheapest attorney; instead try to obtain the most value for the money. Avoid "visa mills" where a figurehead lawyer sells the service (by conducting the initial consultation with you) but in reality, the support staff, law students, paralegals, and new or inexperienced attorneys do most of the work. The ancillary to all of this is do not expect your attorney to personally handle all calls, payments, collection of documents or data entry. These types of tasks are more efficiently and economically handled by non-attorneys. If I have a client who insists I take every one of their calls and meetings even for non-substantive tasks, I have to charge a premium for such exclusive access.
Don't Be Your Own Worst Enemy
Once you find a good attorney who is going to provide good value for you, LET THEM DO THEIR JOB. Don't micromanage them and do not constantly bombard them with stories you've gleaned from the Internet or friends. Now that you have made the decision to hire an attorney after much thought and research, trust your decision and let the attorney do his or her job and let them do it in the best way they know how. THE GOLDEN RULE: If you think you know more or as much as your lawyer, then don't hire one.
Elevator Pitch Your Case on the Phone
oIf you are legal, what is your status (e.g., B2 visa expires March 1, 2010)
oIf you are illegal, did you sneak into the country or did you overstay a valid visa
oWhen did you enter the U.S.
oWhat is your short term immigration goal?
oWhat is your long term immigration goal?
Identify a Possible Price Gouger
A good test question to gauge if an attorney is a price gouger is to ask how much they charge for copies. Attorneys who make money off of anything and everything will typically say anything from $1 to $2 per page. Our Fiance/e petitions are typically 50 or more pages. It is my opinion that in addition to making extra profit, an attorney might charge these exorbitant prices to avoid having to provide you with a copy of the work they've done for you. My personal feeling on this matter is that it's ridiculous to charge more than about 50 cents per copy unless it's a special kind of copy (e.g., color copy).
Another good question is to ask the attorney is, "Are there any extra processing fees your office charges." I was surprised to learn that some attorneys charge $200 - $500 for "processing fees" related to your immigration application. However, only the government actually "processes" your immigration application.
Look for a reputable law firm (large or small), or a good solo practitioner who is intelligent, organized, a hard worker, and not doing this job just for the money. If you are going with a solo practitioner, ensure that attorney has backup resources and if it's a large law firm, ensure you are getting what you pay for. In all cases, it's always better to have a True Believer on your side. Remember, your attorney is going to be your advocate for many, many years to come. Cultivate a good relationship from the start. Good luck!