Ten Questions to Ask Before Hiring An Immigration Attorney

 

Many attorneys will say they can help you with your immigration case.  Some are qualified and reputable; others are not.  Only you can decide which one best meets your needs.

Below are 10 important questions to ask the immigration attorney you are considering hiring.  We hope this information helps you find the the one who is right for you, whether at our firm or another firm.

  1. Do I trust this attorney?  Trust is the most important part of an attorney-client relationship.  If you do not trust the attorney, do not hire him or her.  If friends or family members have worked with the attorney before, talk to them about their experience.
  2. Does the attorney practice in other areas of law besides immigration?  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, he or she may not be the best person to represent you.  (Remember:  A podiatrist may be a good doctor, but you wouldn’t go to one for brain surgery!)
  3. 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. AILA membership is also a good sign that immigration law is an important part of the attorney's practice.
  4. How long has the lawyer been practicing immigration law?  New immigration attorneys can certainly do a good job, but it is always desirable to hire an experienced attorney.  (Of course, the most experienced attorneys may be the most expensive, too!)
  5. Has the lawyer handled a case like mine before?  If the attorney has not handled a case like yours before, ask detailed questions about what he or she will do and why, what other options are available, and why he or she feels qualified to handle your case.
  6. Exactly what work will the attorney do?  Make the attorney explain exactly what he or she is going to do (for example, what forms will be filed, with what office, etc.).  Also, make sure that you know what he or she will not do (for example, will he or she represent you in immigration court if you are placed in deportation proceedings).  If the attorney just says, “Don’t worry about the details.  I’ll take care of them,” ask more questions or get a second opinion.
  7. How much will the work cost and how will I be billed?  Most attorneys will charge either a flat fee (fixed amount, no matter how many hours it takes) or an hourly fee (charge for every hour worked).  Find out what other costs, like government filing fees, you will have to pay.  If there is a language barrier, bring a trusted friend or family member to interpret.
  8. How long will it take to finish the work and roughly what are my chances of success?  Attorneys cannot predict the future, so they should not guarantee success.  This is especially true in immigration cases, where the outcome is usually in the hands of an immigration officer or judge.  However, based on his or her experience, the attorney should be able to tell you approximately how long the case should take and roughly what your chances of success are.
  9. Will the attorney put our agreement in writing?  Although verbal representation agreements are allowed, most respectable lawyers will prepare something for you in writing, unless you are already his or her client and have a written agreement already.  The agreement should clearly explain what the attorney will do and how much the work will cost.  If the attorney will not do this for you, then get a second opinion.
  10. Has the attorney ever been professionally disciplined?  All attorneys make mistakes every now and then.  In some cases, the mistakes are serious enough that the state disciplines the attorney.  In Minnesota, the state office responsible for overseeing attorney conduct is called the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility.  If the attorney has a poor disciplinary record or does not wish to talk about it, then you may want to get a second opinion.

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