HOW TO FIND A GOOD IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY
By: Attys. R. Reeves and R. Dupont
Finding a lawyer who will represent you before the immigration service is one of the most important decisions an immigrant will make in their life. This task is made more difficult by the assorted advertising claims of attorneys. When you and your family seek to find the right lawyer to immigrate or to obtain permanent residence status or defend you in deportation court, it is vital to establish that this attorney has the experience, the integrity and is devoted solely to the practice of immigration law.
WEBSITE & ADVERTISING
When looking for a lawyer or law firm it is important to examine their internet web-site. A good law firm website will list all the attorneys working at the firm with a full description of lawyer’s education, type of immigration work he or she has performed, any published articles or opinions, certification with the California State bar and admission to the various courts, both immigration and federal courts in which that attorney is admitted to practice. Well organized web-sites also provide timely information as to developments in immigration law and are a valuable resource.
Equally important is client access to attorneys and paralegals in order to ascertain the status of their cases 24-7. Many top-tier law firms now make available through the internet (using a secured password) the notes of their lawyers and paralegals on the progress of the case. Clients are free to check the status of their case from any place, twenty four hours a day – seven days a week.
It is also important to examine the advertising of the law firm. Avoid firms that claim to do everything. The web of laws, regulations, administrative decisions and constant changes requires the full attention of an immigration attorney. Avoid law firms or attorneys who present themselves as the “everything” firm. It’s simply not possible for an attorney to competently represent clients in immigration, real estate, family law, contract disputes, criminal law and dog bite cases. The immigration lawyer you want should be devoted to the practice of immigration law exclusively. An attorney willing to do everything, is the mark of an attorney desperate for business and willing to take on any case. Also, avoid attorneys who make outrageous claims as to results or using cheap flashy promotional stunts to impress the reader. The key here is to pay attention to the attorney’s credentials and reputation.
Consult the California State Bar. With a click of the mouse and keyboard you can visit the California State bar at www.calbar.ca.gov. You can then click on a bar in the left-hand margin marked Attorney Resources, and just follow the cues. You can check to see if your attorney has current California Bar membership by clicking Member Search and entering the attorney’s name or bar number. Also click on Legal Specialist Search and see if your attorney is a California Bar certified specialist in immigration law, but don’t stop here!
Many immigrants are victimized by attorneys and consultants. Some attorneys have been found liable in civil court for fraud, deceit or other acts of misconduct. Ascertain whether the attorney in question has any civil judgments against them for this kind of conduct. Attorneys who have been sanctioned by a civil court may not show in the state bar check. Consequently, it is important to use the internet search engines to perform a more specific background check. For example, if you are seeking a lawyer in the Pasadena area, go on-line and using any of major search engines i.e. google.com, yahoo.com , msn.com etc. enter “Pasadena immigration lawyer”. This type of web-search will indicate prominent immigration attorneys in your area, as well as any news-reports regarding their reputation in the community. If you know the attorney’s name, you may also search the internet about that particular attorney. If the attorney has been found liable for dishonesty, ethical violations, fraud or deceit or other misconduct this is the last attorney you want representing you.
Once you have narrowed the choice and go to the attorney’s office, pay close attention to everything you see. For instance, does the waiting room look like an empty restaurant? Or are there several other seeking a consultation. There may be a reason why it is empty. Make sure your attorney is attentive, takes notes and understands your case. You should understand what your attorney proposes to do and should receive a detailed plan including the proposed fees. Do not accept a general assurance that everything will be fine, get the answers to important questions. Most important, make sure that you are talking to a licensed attorney and not just an unlicensed assistant or immigration consultant. You are entitled to speak directly to a licensed attorney or better yet, a board certified immigration attorney.
THE FIRST ATTORNEY MAYBE THE MOST IMPORTANT
Unfortunately as a practicing immigration attorney I am faced with the difficult and expensive task of correcting mistakes made by unqualified attorneys and unlicensed consultants. Many clients are lured by low prices in their pursuit of a work authorization, permanent residency status or a deportation defense. Some seek a miracle and pay extraordinarily high fees. Watch out if the fees are too high or too low, seek a second opinion.
Investigating the attorney’s reputation in the community and choosing a good attorney from the very beginning will go a long way in assuring a successful result. The correct approach will also greatly reduce the cost paid by the client and take years off the immigration journey. Failure to find a good attorney at the beginning in many cases may create tragic results with family separation and even removal from the United States. Be sensible.