What to Consider When Hiring an Immigration Lawyer
People across the world hope to come to the United States for reasons such as family, work, or education. Some of them may want to spend only a limited time in the US, while others may want to settle here permanently. A maze of laws and regulations governs the options available to foreign nationals. If you are seeking legal status in the US, therefore, you should strongly consider hiring an immigration lawyer. They can explain all the opportunities available to you and assist you with the detailed procedures involved in applying for a visa or green card.
Unfortunately, some foreign nationals living in the US are charged with violations of criminal or immigration laws. This can result in the loss of their right to stay here. If the government places you in removal proceedings, you should immediately get an attorney on your side. Removal proceedings technically are not criminal proceedings, but being deported to your home country can be a severe, life-altering blow. The federal government devotes substantial resources to the removal process, so you should devote any resources that you can afford as well.
Deciding who is the right lawyer for you can be challenging. A basic Google search can be a good place to start, but this should be only a first step. Google searches will lead to a wide range of results, including many paid listings that do not necessarily reflect the skill of a lawyer or their aptitude for your case. Similarly, you might gain useful insights from talking to friends or family members who have hired an immigration attorney, but the right fit for them may not be the right fit for you. Each situation is unique. Here are certain guidelines that can help you knowledgeably research and compare attorneys.
Background and Experience
You should hire a lawyer who has substantial experience assisting people in situations similar to yours. Immigration law consists of many distinctive areas, each of which is filled with nuanced rules. For example, if you want to bring your fiancée or spouse to the US, you should hire an attorney who has helped other foreign nationals pursue K-1 or K-3 visas. If you want to take the next step in your engineering career by working for an American company, you may want to hire an attorney who has guided other foreign engineers through applying for H-1B visas. If your loved one was convicted of a drug crime and is facing deportation, you should hire an attorney who is familiar with immigration court procedures and the forms of relief that may be available for foreign nationals with criminal convictions. Some attorneys may have relevant board certifications or memberships in professional organizations. They may have received awards or other formal recognition of their legal prowess.
Immigration lawyers sometimes focus on assisting foreign nationals from certain countries or regions. They may speak the first languages of these foreign nationals or employ staff who do. If you are not fully comfortable with speaking English, being able to communicate in your first language may help you work more closely with your lawyer.
In general, you should aim to hire an attorney without a history of serious disciplinary issues. Information about an attorney’s professional record can be found by searching for them on the state bar website for their jurisdiction. You may want to review the details of any disciplinary action to get a sense of the events leading to it. Some violations are less significant than others. You may not want to automatically remove an attorney from your consideration based on a very minor infraction if they are currently in good standing.
On the other hand, a record of serious violations should be a red flag, even if the attorney has achieved some good results. You do not want egregious mistakes by your attorney to prevent you from pursuing your American Dream.
Reviews and Testimonials
Reviews by previous clients can give you a sense of what it would be like to work with an attorney. You may find insights into their personality, level of professionalism, and communication skills. Client reviews can be helpful even if the details of your case are different from a previous client’s case. However, beware of very brief reviews that are harshly negative or effusively positive without providing details. These reviews may not be trustworthy.
If an attorney has received favorable reviews from other attorneys, this may indicate that they have a strong reputation in the legal community. They may be more likely to be respected by immigration authorities, government attorneys, and judges, which can help resolve your matter more favorably and efficiently.
Often, an immigration lawyer will discuss their most notable successes on their website or blog. Each matter is decided on its own facts, so you should not assume that you will receive the same outcome as a previous client. However, a history of successes for people in roughly similar situations to yours can be a promising sign. You may also gain insight into the cases in which an attorney performs most impressively if many of their strongest results involve the same type of issue.
Some immigration lawyers offer free consultations to prospective clients, while others provide consultations for a small fee. You can set up a consultation by phone or online after providing some initial details about your case. The consultation helps the client and the attorney decide whether they are the right fit for each other. Even if you are impressed by an attorney’s credentials and achievements, you should not choose them on that basis alone. Instead, you should make sure to work with a lawyer whom you can trust and who relates well to you. You should feel that your lawyer is personally invested in your situation, rather than treating you as just another case number. Ideally, you should set up consultations with several attorneys before deciding whom to hire.
Bringing a list of questions to the consultation can help you decide whether an attorney is the right fit. For example, you may want to describe your goals and ask how likely you are to attain them, based on what the attorney sees as the strengths and weaknesses of your position. An optimistic answer may be encouraging, but you should think twice if an attorney makes guarantees or seems much more confident than their competitors. They may be overpromising. Also, you should listen to how the attorney explains their evaluation. They should be able to articulate their reasoning in a way that is coherent and accessible to a non-lawyer.
Fees are another important issue to address at the consultation. While some immigration lawyers charge an hourly fee, others charge a fixed fee for a certain service in its entirety. For example, an attorney might have established a certain rate for a family-based non-immigrant visa and another rate for a family-based green card. Any fee arrangement should be clearly set out in your representation agreement so that you understand your obligations. If you cannot afford to pay a lawyer, you might consider seeking assistance from a non-profit organization. However, while attorneys at these organizations work hard for foreign nationals, they tend to lack the time and resources that a private attorney can dedicate to each case.
Fraud is rampant in immigration legal services. In the Spanish-speaking community, for example, non-attorneys called “notarios” often claim to offer legal services. Be aware that “notarios” are not qualified to provide legal advice or representation. You should not hire someone who advertises as a “notario.” Their errors could result in the denial of an application or loss of status.
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