With so many immigration attorneys in today’s market to choose from, finding the right one can be an overwhelming experience. Below are ten important questions to consider in your search.
- Do I trust this attorney? Trust is the most important part of an attorney-client relationship. You must be comfortable telling your attorney very personal details so that she can properly represent you. If after speaking or meeting with an attorney, you feel you do not trust him or her, follow your instincts and keep looking.
- How long has the attorney been practicing law? There are new immigration attorneys who can do a good job, but it is usually desirable to hire an experienced attorney. There are many procedural landmines in the field of immigration law and there is no substitute for experience. Look for an attorney who has been practicing for at least 5 years.
- Is the attorney devoted exclusively to immigration law? Any licensed attorney may represent you in your immigration case. However, immigration law is very complicated and changes frequently. Therefore, if someone practices immigration law infrequently, or is not devoted to this complex are of the law, you are likely not getting the most value for your money. Similar to the preference for a doctor who specializes in your medical condition over a general practitioner, you deserve an attorney who has experience solving immigration problems, and even more preferable, your type of immigration problem. During times when there appears to be big changes in the law on the horizon, such as now, attorneys who rarely or ever practiced immigration law appear to pop out of the woodwork, so be careful.
- Is the attorney a member of the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association (AILA)? AILA is the preeminent professional association for immigration attorneys in the United States. An attorney does not have to be a member of AILA to practice immigration law. However, AILA helps its members keep track of best practices and frequent changes to the law. Being an AILA member also shows that the attorney considers immigration law to be an important part of her practice.
- Has the attorney ever been professionally disciplined? You can find this information by looking up the attorney with the State Bar. If the attorney has a poor disciplinary record or does not wish to talk about it, then you may want to keep looking.
- Is the attorney active in any other professional or community organizations dedicated to assisting immigrant communities? Again, participating in these organizations, or doing pro bono work, is not a requirement to practice law. Nonetheless, being an active advocate for immigrant communities does show dedication and a level of trustworthiness.
- Exactly what work will the attorney do? Ask the attorney to explain exactly what he or she is going to do for you as well as what he or she will not do for you. These details should be included in the client services agreement.
- How much will the work cost and how will I be billed? Most attorneys will charge either a flat fee or an hourly fee. Find out what other costs, like government filing fees, you will have to pay. However, do not simply chose the lowest priced immigration attorney you can find. Attorneys who quote a very low fee as compared to other qualfied attorneys have often underestimated what needs to be done or the amount of time it will take to accomplish a successful result for the client. It is also likely that in their volume-based practice, you will not receive the attention you deserve.
- Who exactly will be doing the work in your case? Some attorneys delegate a significant portion of their work, such as completing applications, to paralegals or legal assistants. While that is not in and of itself a problem, it is something you should know up front.
- Similarly, how accessible will your attorney be? Most attorneys have boundaries regarding their accessibility to clients; however, it is important to know how easy or difficult it will be to reach your attorney. Will you have the ability to call or email her directly? How soon can you expect a response to your questions?
While each person is likely to attribute different importance to these questions, obtaining this information will you help find the attorney that best suits your needs.