Whatever your needs - citizenship, asylum, residency, tourist visas, green card, or naturalization - immigration can be a daunting experience. In the first instance, you’ll need to contact USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) - and many people choose to hire an attorney to help them through that process. But how do you select the immigration attorney who’s right for you? Here are nine questions you should ask to help you make your choice.
Look at it this way. Do you want a lawyer who’s a “Jack of all trades” or one who is exclusively focused on immigration issues? Immigration is a highly complex and complicated area of the law, with new regulations being implemented all the time. Experience counts, as does keeping up to speed with the latest legal rulings and new legislation. Accordingly, it’s an area where you’re better off with a lawyer who focuses their attention solely on immigration.
A lawyer who has plenty of experience dealing with immigration matters is better placed to help you than one who’s newly qualified or who doesn’t specialize in the area. However, remember that experience isn’t the sole consideration when you’re choosing your attorney.
You also need to look at their track record, charges, quality of service, localness, references, and so on. Finally, there are many different aspects to immigration, so you may want to look for an attorney with experience in the area that’s most relevant to you.
Of course, every case is unique, but if you work with a specialist, experienced lawyer, there’s a good chance that they’ll have worked on something similar in the past. A dedicated professional is best-placed to guide you through the many different immigration options.
They provide expert advice for immigrants in areas like employment, family matters, deportation, green cards, different types of visa applications, cases of denied entry, and, if necessary, they can represent you in court. They also help to speed up the overall process and make sure you avoid common mistakes.
In Which States Are You Licensed To Practice?
Some attorneys claim that because immigration comes under federal law, they can practice right across the USA. While technically that’s true, you’re generally better off working with a lawyer in your state for three main reasons.
First, some aspects of state law may relate to the immigration case. Second, from a practical point of view, the lawyer is more comfortable to reach if you ever need to see them in person. Finally, if there’s malpractice on out-of-state work, you won’t be covered by your state’s consumer protection laws.
You could choose an attorney who claims to be an immigration expert or select a certified, specialist AILA member with long experience in the area. The fact is, in some states, there’s no specific exam to become an immigration lawyer.
That means you could be working with a self-proclaimed “expert” who has minimal experience. Your best bet? Find an AILA-qualified lawyer in your state to ensure you have a fully certified professional on your side.
Sometimes, when you work with a big law firm, your file is passed down to a junior, less experienced staff member. Alternatively, with a small company or sole trader, your case may be one of many competing for the attention of a single, overworked lawyer.
Many people conclude that they can get the best of both worlds by using a medium-sized law firm. You still get personalized service - but with the added benefit of working with someone who’s part of a team and who can call on colleagues for additional advice and experience.
These days, many modern, progressive law firms offer a free-of-charge preliminary consultation. It’s a welcome development in a profession that doesn’t always have the best reputation for moving with the times. A free consultation is a great way to get to know a lawyer and decide whether they’re right for you.
That notwithstanding, there are plenty of excellent immigration lawyers who do charge for an initial consultation. But it’s also possible that you decide that you don’t want to work with that professional after you’ve paid.
We’ve all heard stories of lawyers who are evasive about their fees; who promise that everything will be manageable and then present their clients with a whopping bill at the end of the case.
If that’s a chance you’re prepared to take, then fine. But if not, ask your lawyer about their rates, and also for an estimate of what the final bill will be. If they won’t tell you, walk away, and find a lawyer who’s more upfront and honest about their retainers and hourly rates.
Some lawyers are easily contactable when they’re looking for your business but are impossible to get hold of once you’ve signed up. So right from the start, agree with your lawyer about your preferred method of communication: email, phone, letter, face to face, and so forth.
That approach also applies to the decision-making process: some people like to be involved, and others prefer to leave everything to a professional. You can avoid a lot of hassle by being clear about everything from the very beginning.
You may only get one chance with your immigration case. If you mess it up or get things wrong, the consequences are severe and potentially life-changing. So, it makes sense to give it your best shot. For most people, that means working with a dedicated, qualified, specialist immigration lawyer.