Immigration law is complex, nuanced, and ever changing. As such, is it critical for you to find the best lawyer possible to obtain a favorable result and to prevent any avoidable problems, processing delays, or denials of your case. Finding the right lawyer means finding someone who is experienced, skilled, and competent in addition to being organized, running an office in an efficient manner, answering questions clearly, and communicating effectively.
In preparing to meet with a U.S. Immigration attorney, you will want to generate a list of questions in addition to preparing some biographical information which will help you be the best personal historian for your case. It will be helpful to write down any important dates or events important to your case and to make copies of important immigration-related documents for the lawyer to review. This will help you to maximize the experience of the initial consultation by providing the most thorough overview for the attorney to systematically analyze. Prior to meeting the attorney for an initial consultation, you should certainly review the attorney's website, read online reviews from other clients, and refer to the AVVO website, which is a reliable and reputable source for obtaining ratings about lawyers using a formalized algorithm which looks at multiple factors to determine the best lawyers. Furthermore, the following is a list of six things to ask your prospective immigration attorney which will be important in determining if he or she is the right practitioner for your specific immigration case.
1. How long has the immigration lawyer has been practicing law? There is no substitute for experience. You want a lawyer who has had enough experience that he or she will be able to handle your particular case with familiarity and ease. The longer a person practices, the more exposure he or she has to the fine nuances of immigration law and acceptable practices. In addition, with repeated exposure to certain types of cases, the seasoned attorney will be able to predict certain outcomes and be able to work around and compensate for any potential pitfalls. Likewise, experienced attorneys have appeared before and are familiar with all of the local judges, trial attorneys, and adjudicators, which helps in determining the particular strategic and tailored approach to handling cases. Finally, with a seasoned attorney, he or she has developed a network of proven professionals familiar with immigration law who may be needed to assist with a case. This can include medical and mental health professionals who would be able to write supplementary reports that may act as a compelling adjunct to the probative documentation that the attorney is compiling. This may likewise include consulting with other specialized attorneys, such as criminal lawyers, who may be called in to try to "cure" or remedy outcomes of criminal cases (e.g., PTI) which may free up blocks to adjusting one's immigration status. All of this comes with experience.
2. Is the lawyer a general practitioner or is the practice specifically limited to Immigration Law? When a lawyer specializes only in immigration law, that means that every day of their practice is spent handling only immigration cases. With a specialized practice, combined with years of experience, the attorney will thus have focused expertise in that area. As a metaphor, you wouldn't want to go to your general internist for a complex heart procedure. When a practitioner dabbles in multiple types of law, his or her intimate familiarity with all aspects of immigration law may be compromised because they are spreading their practice and focus across multiple sub-disciplines. Ideally, you want your lawyer's focus to be solely on immigration law. Getting things right the first time can surely prevent delays, saving both time and money that may be associated with having to re-applying or re-do aspects of your case. Finally, since Immigration law is constantly changing, someone who practices immigration law infrequently may not be the best person to follow all of the changes and know all of the inner-workings which may include new case law, USCIS memoranda, legislative changes, or executive orders. When a practitioner refers to him or herself as an Immigration Attorney, there is a specific commitment to the field and the chances are that they have handled a case like yours before.
3. Is the immigration attorney a member of AILA in good standing? AILA stands for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. It is the preeminent professional association for all immigration lawyers in the United States. Membership in AILA suggests a commitment to immigration law and that immigration law is important to the attorney who wants to keep abreast of all changes within the field. AILA also helps its members keep track of best practices, which is critical for the integrity of the field. Finally, if the attorney is not only a member of AILA, but has served in any capacity for the organization (i.e., providing lectures during annual conferences, taking on positions as an officer), this suggests that they have been recognized as an expert in the field by their peers and by the AILA national governing body in Washington D.C.
4. What is the estimated cost for the case and will the attorney put the representation agreement in writing? Although verbal representation agreements are allowed, any respectable lawyer will draw up an official retainer agreement which will clearly explain exactly what the attorney intends to do for the case and how much the work will cost. Most immigration attorneys charge an initial consultation fee and then a flat fee for the entire case. Some attorneys do offer an hourly fee but clients must be careful because there is a tendency for overcharging and some clients feel "nickel and dimed" for every e-mail sent, every call made, every ounce of postage sent, and the like. With a flat rate, the client knows up front the exact cost for the entirety of the case from beginning to end so nothing is a surprise and everything is transparent from the outset.
5.What are my chances of a successful outcome to my case? No attorney should ever guarantee or promise success since he or she cannot predict the future, particularly since outcomes are typically at the hands of an immigration officer, adjudicator, or judge. Having said this, the experienced immigration attorney will be able to discuss the chances of success and be able to explain an action plan for how they intend to handle or work around any potential pitfalls for the case. Likewise, an honorable attorney with years of experience may actually be overly honest in discussing situations where, based upon particulars of a case, the chances may not be good. As a potential client, you want an honest and upfront attorney who warns you of potentialities and does not over promise only to disappoint you or under deliver in the future.
6. What are the methods of communication and is there direct communication with the lawyer? You want a lawyer who is available and communicative. If you place a call or e-mail the attorney, you want to know that they will communicate with you directly in an expedient fashion. No one likes to have to pester an attorney's office or to repeatedly contact an attorney to get a question answered. You want to know that the attorney will be responsive when you need assistance or clarification about your case. From the second you walk into an immigration lawyer's office, you want to feel comfortable and know that the office is run effectively.
Edward Shuman, Esq., founder and head lawyer at the Shulman Law Group, LLC is an immigration attorney whose firm works exclusively in the field of Immigration Law. He has been a lawyer for 24 years, has always had extremely positive reviews from clients, has never had any disciplinary actions against him, and has committed himself to the field of immigration law. Not only is a member in good standing of AILA, but he is a frequent lecturer to peers at the organization's national conference, has served in multiple official capacities including Chair of the New Jersey chapter of AILA, and is a National Mentor for AILA, assisting other immigration attorneys who have questions about immigration law. Mr. Shulman believes in direct and honest communication with clients and runs a practice that is efficient, organized, supportive, and helpful. The firm welcomes new cases and the opportunity to passionately assist any intending immigrants with their journey to legalize their status in the United States.