Why do I need to hire an immigration attorney?

A US Supreme Court Justice once said that, after the tax laws, US immigration law is the most complex set of federal rules and procedures. The area of employment-related immigration law is ever-changing and requires the assistance of specialized and knowledgeable counsel. Mistakes can prove very costly both financially and with respect to the applicant’s future US immigration status. There are many unlicensed individuals who claim to providing immigration assistance but are not licensed or regulated and may be engaged in outright fraud.

  • Immigration law is broadly seen as one of the more complex areas of federal law including laws and regulations from several government agencies. An experienced immigration attorney will be best able to interpret these rules and their application to your matter
  • Immigration law changes regularly in that its interpretation by the agencies changes literally on a daily basis. An immigration attorney stays current on these changes and their applicability.
  • While the rules which apply to each matter are uniform, the facts and circumstances are never identical.  Following what happened in another matter may end up being a problem for yours. An attorney can determine how the law applies to your facts.
  • Many immigration issues involve other legal issues with which an immigration attorney should be familiar.
  • Timeliness and deadlines are important – making an error can mean the difference between a petition being granted or rejected and whether or not the applicant is able to remain in the U.S. A licensed attorney is responsible and can be held accountable for these and other case aspects.
  • If a problem arises, an experienced immigration attorney will know how to handle it.

What questions do I need to ask when hiring an immigration attorney?

  • How long has the attorney been practicing in the area of immigration law and specifically in employment-related matters? Look for at least 5-10 years of experience in the type of case which you are asking her or him to handle.
  • Where is the attorney licensed? While immigration law is national in scope, there can be matters which relate to state law so the attorney should be licensed in the state where she or he is practicing.
  • Has the attorney ever been the subject of a grievance or complaint? Is so, what was the outcome? You can verify this with the state’s attorney licensing or registration authority.
  • Who will actually be working on your case? While experienced paralegals may typically be involved in case preparation, how much involvement will the attorney have and at which points? If your case will be managed also solely by a paralegal with little or no attorney oversight, you probably ought to look for someone else.
  • What will be the manner of communication? Telephone, email, web portal for status information? How often will you receive case status updates? Ask how long it will be for you to receive a response to a question or concern from the attorney or paralegal and decide whether that level of responsiveness will meet your needs.
  •  Look at the staffing and resources of the firm to see what happens if the attorney is unavailable or out of office for any significant period of time. Who will back her or him up and are you satisfied with that person’s experience?
  • What systems and technology are in place to guarantee the security and privacy of your file in recordkeeping and communications? If forms and other documents are to be transmitted over the internet, will they be encrypted?
  • What legal fees are involved and what do they cover? Will you pay a flat fee or on an hourly basis? Most employment-related immigration matters are quoted on a flat fee basis but look carefully at what the fee includes. Will there be a retainer fee and, if so, will that be “nonrefundable”? What other costs are involved such as foreign credential evaluation, translations, photocopying, phone or fax? Will you be paying for each call or email or are case-related contacts within a flat fee? If additional evidence is requested by an agency or an adverse decision occurs, what additional fees and costs would be involved? In any event, you should assure that the scope of representation and fees and costs are set forth in a written agreement.

A few other things to think about:

  • Do not ask for percentages of approvals or successful outcomes. Attorneys do not keep such statistics and cannot guarantee success. Rather, ask for the attorney’s initial opinion on the likelihood of a favorable outcome and the key factors which could influence it.
  • Do not ask who the attorney represents as, with few exceptions, such information is confidential and cannot be shared with others without a client’s permission.
  • Do ask for references. Be cautious about an attorney who cannot conjure up a reference.
  • Every case is different so don’t assume your case will progress the same or as quickly as someone else’s. Don’t rely on self-serving statements by friends, co-workers, and on the internet as to how quickly or easily their cases went.
  • Are you comfortable with the attorney’s communications style?
  • While there is nothing wrong with obtaining 2 or 3 fee quotes, avoid selecting an attorney on price alone.