Finding an immigration lawyer can be a daunting task. Finding a good immigration lawyer can be even more daunting. The better way to think about it however, is how can I find the right immigration lawyer?
For most people, finding a lawyer happens at the last moment when you suddenly need one. Often when this occurs there are usually two major concerns — is this person actually going to be able to help me? and how much is this going to cost? Needless to say rushing through the process of finding competent representation coupled with concerns about money are never a good mix. Not only can mistakes be made, but you might even incur thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal costs and still have a negative outcome in your case.
Overall, the most important thing to understand when starting your search for the right immigration lawyer is that immigration law can be very complex and the information available out there can be inaccurate. Immigration mistakes or errors can end up costing your family money or even worst federal imprisonment or deportation. Having or finding the right immigration lawyer might very well be the most important investment you will ever make to ensure your family’s future in the United States. As is often said, sometimes it’s better to leave it to the professionals.
To make this process easier, we’re going walk you through how to find the right immigration lawyer.
How To Find The Right Immigration Lawyer — before an emergency arises
Being proactive in your search for the right immigration lawyer is always the better option. Taking the appropriate steps and doing due-diligence and research can greatly provide a sense of relief and confidence if a legal issue should arise in the future. By taking the time to research an immigration lawyer ahead of time gives you the ability to focus on what’s most important, your case. But where do you begin?
Before you begin your search for an immigration lawyer, here are Four Steps to take before your first meeting with an Immigration Lawyer. There you will find a checklist that will help you enter your first consultation prepared and help guide you when searching for the right immigration lawyer.
Finding The Right Immigration Attorney — Time to Find a Lawyer!
Now that you’ve gone over the checklist to prepare for your search, let’s talk about the actual search for the right immigration lawyer for you and your family. There are many ways to find a good immigration lawyer. The first that might come to mind might be checking online but often great lawyers can be found through personal references. Ask family and friends. Contact university or other school alumni associations. You can even call your local immigration advocacy organizations in your community and check to see if they have a list of immigration lawyers that they would recommend. You can also check with your local library or community social clubs that target specific immigrant communities. And be sure to also give consideration to community reputation. Has the lawyer established a good name for himself or herself in the community? If your lawyer has a sterling community reputation, chances are it was earned through hard work. Although there is no one way to search for an immigration lawyer, personal or community references can be very helpful in distinguishing a good lawyer from a bad one. A strong reference from a friend or colleague is often the best indicator of whether a lawyer is good or not.
As you begin to make phone calls or appointments for first-time consultations with an immigration lawyer, there are several important things to consider. We’ve outlined some of the most important things to keep in mind as you find the right immigration lawyer for you and your family. Please keep in mind that a good lawyer or the right lawyer for you will always be open to answering your questions and provide the following information. If a lawyer is hesitant to answer your questions or gives misleading information, it might be worth considering finding another lawyer. The difference between a bad lawyer and a great lawyer is the ability for that lawyer to clearly communicate every step of the process regarding your case, all fees that might be included and be willing to answer any question you might have. Don’t be shy and ask if you are unclear or unsure about any step in the process!
Another important question that sits at the heart of most important things to consider when searching for the right immigration lawyer is cost. We’ve got a great outline to help navigate the cost of legal fees and more here: How Do Legal Fees Work?
Outside of cost however, what are some other things you should consider during your search? Here are more helpful tips:
What is the Lawyer’s Focus of practice?
Within immigration law, there are a variety of subspecialties – employment, family, asylum, deportation, etc. Consider going with a lawyer with a strong background in your particular type of case. Please also be aware that many lawyers list immigration law as one of a variety of types of matters they handle. It is tough enough for a full-time immigration lawyer to keep abreast of all of the developments in the practice area. It is nearly impossible to be a top-notch immigration lawyer while trying to balance being an expert in many other practice areas as well. So be mindful and be sure to find out if the lawyer is an immigration exclusive lawyer or not. While someone can be a good immigration lawyer and also be very competent in another practice area, watch out for lawyers where immigration is one practice area on a laundry list of claimed specialties. Make sure that the lawyer that you choose is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). AILA is probably the immigration lawyer’s best resource for up-to-date information. While being an AILA member is not a sure sign of quality, it may indicate that the lawyer is keeping up with this rapidly changing field of law.
How Many Years of Practice Do They Have? How Qualified Are They?
The amount of years a lawyer has been in practice seems like an obvious consideration when choosing a lawyer. But choosing a lawyer with multiple years of experience isn’t always the best choice. In truth, it depends on what your needs are and the experience of the lawyer. Much of immigration law is unwritten and the longer one is in practice, the better one’s instincts become. But the opposite can be true as well. Lawyers who have been practicing for years may become lazy about staying up to date on the latest changes. Some of the worst lawyers practicing immigration law in this country are the ones who have been around the longest. So try and strike a balance.
Another thing to consider is their Board Certification. A few states certify lawyers in the practice of immigration law. If your lawyer practices in a state that does, make sure he or she has this credential. It is no guarantee of quality, but it can certainly be an indicator. Also, give some consideration to the the lawyer’s educational background. While many fine lawyers have come out of mediocre law schools and lousy lawyers come out of the best law schools, where a lawyer went to school can still be an indicator of a person’s ability to achieve. With numerous sources of information now available in the internet, you can often find out not only where a lawyer went to school but awards they may have won, publications they have in well-known Law Journals or even extra-curricular activities they engaged in during Law School that might benefit your case or your community.
Who is Doing the Work? A Lawyer or a Paralegal?
One of the ways immigration practices are attempting to keep costs down is to hire paralegals and legal assistants to do much of the work that immigration lawyers used to do on their own. In some markets, this may be the only way to keep costs low enough for people to afford to hire a lawyer. But you should know what you are paying for. Some of the most expensive immigration firms still with extremely high ratios of paralegals – sometimes as high as ten paralegals per lawyer. A more modest ratio of one to two paralegals per lawyer may mean that the firm is not too overloaded with work and it may mean that the lawyer you thought you were hiring actually knows what is happening on your case and has the time to speak with you about your case.
Local vs. National: Should I always use a Local Lawyer?
Unlike most fields of law, the location of your immigration lawyer is not nearly as important as you might think. Immigration law is strictly federal in nature. This means that it is basically the same across the country and a lawyer in one state practices under the same system as in every other state. Immigration law is almost entirely administrative as well. That means that most petitions are submitted by mail and personal appearances by an immigration lawyer are becoming less and less common. It is recommended that you get a local immigration lawyer if your case involves appearances before local immigration judges or the local U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) district office. In these cases, local lawyers know the personalities and procedures of the local immigration office better than someone across the country. If your case involves filings at a regional service center or dealings with consulates, then it doesn’t matter where your lawyer’s office is.
We hope that this outline helps you to find the right immigration lawyer for you and your family. No matter who you choose to represent your case, what’s most important is that you find a lawyer who really seems to care about your case. These are the lawyers that will go above and beyond to represent you and help you with your legal needs. Taking the time to research an immigration lawyer and finding the right one for your legal situation is the best investment you can provide to yourself and your family. When it comes to US immigration there are no shortcuts. The process is long, hard and takes time. But with the right immigration lawyer to guide you, US immigration can be a much less daunting affair.
If you require legal representation or are looking to begin your immigration journey, please contact our offices at Diaspora Law. We’ve got great references from our local community too! To check out our community partner organizations, click here.