How to Choose a Qualified Immigration Lawyer
Choose a Lawyer who provides excellent service.
How accessible is your lawyer? Will you be able to make an in-person appointment with your lawyer within the same week you call? Will you have alternative ways to reach your lawyer personally (by phone, email, fax, and mail)? Will you be able to speak with the lawyer personally about your case as opposed to only being allowed to speak with the lawyer’s staff on major issues?
Choose a Lawyer who offers free educational seminars.
A lawyer who is constantly in the office and is never out in public addressing needs of the local community is likely out of touch with the most recent concerns and issues that may be of importance to you or your family. A lawyer who frequently offers free educational seminars to groups in the community must be knowledgeable to handle detailed questions about immigration problems facing different immigrants in different situations, or else lose his or her credibility in front of those s/he is speaking to.
Choose a lawyer whose practice is primarily devoted to immigration law.
Immigration law is a highly complicated speciality of the law. It is based on federal law and is unlike any civil or state-related case procedures common to all other areas of law. This, combined with the reality that immigration law is constantly changing due to political realities and more tightened borders as a result of the September 11 tragedy, dictates that any lawyer claiming to be an expert in immigration cannot possibly devote a large amount of his or her practice to another area of law. There’s just too much to keep up with to be a general practitioner who practices other types of law and merely dabbles in immigration law.
If you have any doubt that the lawyer you speak with about your case does not devote a large amount of his or her time to the immigration part of their practice, then you should ask them for specific examples of cases they’ve worked on, the same they claim to know all about. Try not be concerned about offending the lawyer – this is your life. Your future and the possibility of losing lawful immigration status, opportunities under amnesty laws, or the potential for deportation, are worth asking the tough questions.
Choose a lawyer who is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association
The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) is the only national association of its kind, consisting of over 8,000 attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. AILA is an Affiliated Organization of the American Bar Association and was established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, and advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice.
Attorneys who are members of AILA must be in good-standing with their state bar, have no disciplinary or ethics actions taken against them from former clients, and must apply for admission before being accepted.
Only AILA Attorneys have special access to CIS offices through designated attorney liaisons, who continually handle special case problems directly with the CIS Service Centers and local offices, working more effectively and quickly for a client than any non-member could. AILA member attorneys also have access to in-depth minutes and memos about internal procedure changes within CIS and new policies and views towards various types of cases, helping member attorneys formulate the best strategies for their clients’ cases, given the realities of how CIS is operating on a month to month basis. If an attorney who you consult is not a member of AILA, then it is unlikely that they are in touch with the most recent developments in immigration law. Ask the attorney why he or she is not an AILA member.
Choose a lawyer who is a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Immigration Law Section, if your case will be decided in Southern California
The Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Immigration Section constantly publishes changes in local CIS policies and procedures to its attorney members, that other attorneys would not necessary know about. These changes often drastically affect how and where cases are filed, changing and new inquiry procedures available to attorneys, key phone numbers and CIS staffing change information, and office procedural solutions to problems that attorneys face in the Southern California CIS offices. Attorney members of LACBA’s immigration section also have access to a filing service directly in the Los Angeles, Santa Ana, and El Monte CIS offices, which saves clients time and money.
If you are filing for protection because you are an abused spouse or victim of crime, choose an attorney who is a member of the National Network to End Violence Against Women or the National Lawyers Guild (public interest attorneys organizations).
The Violence Against Women Act provides specialized immigration protection and benefits for abused spouses and victims of crime. This is a highly specialized sub-area of immigration law that most immigration attorneys do not handle on a regular basis, because these are not easy cases. As a result if the attorney does not constantly handle these cases, then it is unlikely that s/he will know the changes and timing requirements that could affect a case and the strategies unique to this area of immigration. Attorneys who handle a lot of these cases are usually members of the National Lawyers Guild or the National Network to End Violence Against Women, and attend week-long national conferences just in this specialized area.
If the attorney you are speaking with is not a member of either of these organizations, it is unlikely that s/he will have the necessary insight and in-depth knowledge of the law to take on your case and be an effective advocate as s/he is not privy to the procedural and substantive law changes that could make a person eligible or ineligible for relief.
For more information on these organizations, visit www.nationalimmigrationproject.org or www.legalmomentum.org (formerly NOW Legal Defense & Education Fund, a founding organization of the National Network to End Violence Against Immigrant Women)
Choose an attorney who will actually represent you throughout the entire process (i.e., be by your side in front of the officer at a green card interview, not just an attorney who files the initial paperwork)
Wouldn’t it be terrible knowing that you were prepared for the green card interview with the right immigration paperwork but your case was denied anyway because you answered a question with the “wrong” answer or did not know that you, in some circumstances, had to file an additional waiver application or other paperwork at the interview itself, failure to do so causing your case to be denied?
It’s important to know what you are getting into. Many attorneys will take on cases, agreeing to file the paperwork but will charge extra if the client wants him or her to come with them to the green card interview. Other attorneys will not attend green card interviews at all because it’s not a profitable use of their time and only are in the business to file the right paperwork for the client. This doesn’t mean that the attorney is wrong; it’s just a fact that some operate this way and some of their clients do not want further representation. Therefore, you need to determine when you speak with an attorney how important it will be for you, your confidence level, and your future, in having an attorney who will be by your side in important moments in your case.
Choose a lawyer who has written articles for the American Immigration Lawyers Association or other organizations to train other lawyers.
Evidence of a lawyer’s knowledge and expertise in any area is being recognized by his or her peers, who look to the lawyer for guidance with their own cases by reading articles or publications written by the mentoring lawyer. Being asked to write for the American Immigration Lawyers Association is not only an honor, but is evidence of an immigration lawyer’s expertise, as such articles are published nationwide and thousands of immigration lawyers rely on these articles. Further, choose a lawyer who has conducted trainings for bar associations or other continuing legal education credit approved courses for attorneys. These are lawyers who are recognized as experts.
Determine the likelihood of success for your case before you hire an attorney.
Make sure you understand the positives and negatives in your case. It’s rare that a case is perfect and no lawyer is legally allowed to give you a guarantee that your case will be approved. You need to be realistic about your chances and what to expect. Use your gut instinct to determine if you are being told everything, when you consult a lawyer to determine how strong your case is. You need to be able to trust whichever lawyer you are working with.
When Experience and Ethical Reputation Matters.
98 % Approval on all Family-Based Immigration Cases*
100% Approval on Citizenship Cases
* as of August 2006.