How to Find a Lawyer

You are not required to have a layer when applying for an immigrant visa or green card in the United States or overseas. However , there are many times when you may need or want a lawyer’s help. You can avoid  some problems by hiring a lawyer from the start.

When do you need a Lawyer?

The most common  legal problem encountered by would-be immigrants is the claim by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that they are not allowed for one or more reasons, such as having committed a crime or previously lied to the U.S government. If any of these grounds apply to you, get legal help before you begin the application process.

NON-lawyers (Notarios) who practice immigration law

  • ANY and ALL forms filed with the purpose of obtaining any kind of immigration benefit (visa, green card, waiver, citizenship, etc) can have immigration consequences for the rest of your life. It is not just filing forms.
  • Make sure that you consult only with a lawyer or an accredited representative at an accredited organization. Don’t be afraid to ask about the person’s qualifications.
  • Notary public, immigration consultants, and others with fancy names do not have law degrees and are not qualified to help you.
  • FTC and USCIS warnings about immigration scams

Where to get the names of good immigration lawyers

Finding a lawyer should involve a fair amount of work. It is not advisable to pick the first name from the book or the one with the biggest advertisement.

  • Ask a friend- It is far better to ask a trusted person for a referral.
  • Local non-profit organizations serving immigrants can also be excellent sources for referrals.
  • USCIS offers a list of “free legal service providers” at its website, (click “resources,” then “finding legal advice,” then “free legal service providers.”) This list includes both attorneys and nonprofits.
  • The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) at 800-954-0254 or at AILA offers a lawyer referral service.

How to avoid sleazy lawyers

There are good and bad immigration lawyers out there.

Some signs to watch for are

  • The lawyer makes big promises, such as “I guarantee I’ll win your case,” or “I’ve got a special contract that will put your application at the front  of the line.” The U.S government is in ultimate control of your application and any lawyer who says they can put you in the front of the line is lying.
  • Do not be fooled by appearances. A fancy office and flashy jewelry does not mean that this lawyers successful.
  • The lawyer encourages you to lie on your application. A good lawyer can assist you in discriminating between information you don’t want to offer freely and can help you present the truth in the best light. USCIS usually knows the good lawyers and the bad lawyers and will scrutinize applications of bad lawyers.

Choosing your lawyer

  • Have a short list of lawyers and speak to each one.
  • Ask if they are familiar with cases like yours
  • A polite lawyer may be more beneficial with immigration officials then an aggressive one and thus better for your case
  • Lawyers who return your calls within 24 hours and who are available to answer legitimate inquiries
  • A lawyer who discusses a retainer agreement – the contract of services to be provided
  • FEES:
    • It is better to pay an hourly fee then to pay a flat fee – this gives the lawyer more incentive to spend time on your case. It also gives the client the ability to stop work when the fee reaches a certain limit.
    • Additional costs associated with your application such as photocopying, phone calls, postage, filing fees, and travel are usually charged separately. This is appropriate. Reasonable fees should be charged.
    • A lawyer can charge interest if you fail to pay your fee on time. If you are having trouble making a payment or need more time, call or write your lawyer to discuss.
    • NO GUARANTEES. It is not an excuse, it is the responsible thing for the lawyer to tell you because the government agency or the Judge makes the ultimate decision on the case and it is often based on an exercise of discretion.

Your responsibilities to your lawyer

  • A lawyer can best help you if you are honest with them. Tell the truth. Even during an initial consultation a lawyer has a duty to maintain your information confidential so you do not have be concerned that the lawyer will divulge your private information.
  • You must provide your lawyer with the documentation he requests promptly.

Your lawyer’s Responsibilities to you

  • Duty to work diligently and competently
  • To return phone calls within a reasonable time
  • To keep you appraised of your matter
  • To give you a copy of your file if you request it

Paying your lawyer

  • There may be an initial consultation fee. Some lawyers provide free consultations but many have found that they can’t afford to spend a lot of time giving free consultations because if the person does not have a visa or a remedy available to them, then the lawyer does not get work after the initial consultation.
  • Be ready to pay a reasonable fee for your initial consultation.
  • Many lawyers charge flat rates which means you can compare prices
  • Many lawyers charge by the hour. You should expect to pay between $150 and $350 per hour
    • Higher rate does not NECESSARILY mean a better lawyer
    • Lawyers usually require that you pay a retainer fee upfront before they start work on your matter.
    • Warning – while most lawyers will sell you advice on an hourly basis, most won’t agree to represent you in a USCIS interview if they were not hired to review the forms and documents before you submitted them. This is because they don’t want to be stuck cleaning up what you did wrong.
    • You can also look for a nonprofit organization that charges reduced rates. But be aware that the organizations depend on private funding to keep their costs low. As a result many are very underfunded and may ask that you wait a long time or may not be able to take your case at all.

Firing your lawyer

  • You can fire your lawyer BUT before you do
    • Make sure that the reason you are firing him is legitimate. Many people blame their lawyer for delays that out of their control and are caused by the government’s backlog of cases.
    • Before firing your lawyer, you can consult another lawyer to see if your matter has been mishandled.
    • You will still have to pay the lawyer for any work already done on the matter.
    • If you paid a flat fee, the lawyer can keep a portion to cover the work already done at an hourly rate. Ask for a complete list of time spent on your case and description of the work done in that time.
    • Once you fire your lawyer, you should notify the government agency handling your case.