Some immigration lawyers offer free consultations, while others charge a fee. Either way, it would be best for you to look at your consultation not only as a chance to seek advice about your immigration case, but also to interview the attorney to find out whether he is a good fit for you. The following are some tips on selecting and interviewing immigration lawyers.
- Any lawyer you consider should be a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), an organization of around 15,0000 attorneys that is dedicated to providing resources to US immigration lawyers. Although AILA membership proves very little about the quality of the lawyer, lack of membership in AILA could mean that the lawyer’s specialty lies elsewhere and that he only occasionally takes immigration cases.
- Interview more than one immigration lawyer. Become familiar with their online presence, and do your best to find reviews of their performance that have been submitted by their previous clients. Reviews from clients with the same problem that you have are particularly relevant.
- Prepare carefully for your consultation, to give the lawyer a chance to prove his competence. Assemble basic information about your case as well as related documentation (birth certificate, visa applications, documents you received from US immigration authorities, police reports, court documents, etc.).
- Prepare a written list of questions to ask the lawyer, and refer to the list during your consultation so that you don’t forget anything.
Cross-Examining the Attorney
The following five questions are essential, although you may need to ask other questions as well.
How Many Cases Have you Handled that are Similar to my Case?
Immigration law is a broad field, and a lawyer who is good at family-based immigration petitions might be barely competent when it comes to employment-based immigration petitions or deportation proceedings. Ask the lawyer to describe the case strategy he used in cases he has handled that are similar to yours.
What are my chances of success?
To some extent, this is a trick question. If the lawyer purports to offer you a guarantee of success, eliminate him from consideration. What you should be looking for is a nuanced and conditional answer that gives you odds, not certainties. The lawyer should also be able to give you advice on how to strengthen your case.
How long will it take to complete my case?
The answer that you might most want to hear is also the answer that should raise the most concerns. In most cases, the quicker the lawyer promises to resolve your case, the less realistic his estimate is likely to be — and the less trustworthy he is likely to be. Immigration cases usually take time. This is not always the case, but it usually is. A good immigration lawyer should offer a plan of action with an estimated timeline.
Will you be handling my case personally?
Many immigration lawyers pass off their cases to paralegals and other non-lawyers, examining the case in-depth only immediately before it is submitted to immigration authorities. In other words, the lawyer you hire may know very little about your case until very late in the process. Select a lawyer who will take personal responsibility for your case and who will be able to answer your questions.
If you decide to accept the involvement of paralegals or other non-lawyers in your case, you should insist on being provided the name of a contact person in case you have questions.
How much are your fees?
Immigration lawyers typically do not work on a contingency basis (where your obligation to pay is conditioned on the lawyer winning your case). Instead, you pay an immigration lawyer to exercise his best efforts, and from there on out you simply take your chances. An immigration attorney may charge an hourly rate or a flat fee, and some offer monthly payment plans.
Immigration lawyers are more likely to charge a flat fee for a visa application rather than for immigration court proceedings because the time it takes to file a visa application is more predictable than the time that might be required to, say, fight deportation proceedings. In any case, you will need to read and fully understand the fee agreement before you sign it. Pay particular attention to any upfront retainers you might be required to pay.