I personally have hired my fair share of BAD lawyers during my first few years in this beautiful country. But, to be fair, I also understand the pressure that my fellow colleagues have to get answers to desperate clients who believe immigration lawyers have superhero powers (or have good friends at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.)
So, let me tell you about 5 Warning signs you have hired a BAD immigration lawyer:
1.YOUR LAWYER QUOTES OVER THE PHONE BEFORE AN INITIAL CONSULTATION
Lawyers receive daily phone calls of potential clients shopping around. When you call asking “how much for a marriage adjustment?” “How much for an H1-B?” you are not only doing a disfavor to yourself by treating your future attorney as the attendant at your supermarket Deli, but if your attorney dares to give you a price over the phone without knowing ANYTHING about your specific situation, it is 99.9% likely that the estimate will be wrong!!
When it comes to immigration law, the essence resides in the details! So, you will lose all trust on your attorney when you are asked for more money down the road, or when your attorney starts cutting corners in preparing your case because you have been undercharged.
2. YOUR LAWYER GUARANTEES THAT THE CASE WILL BE APPROVED
One of the questions immigration lawyers hear more often from their clients is “which are the chances of my case being approved?” The emotional and financial toll of getting a visa/benefit denied is sometimes so high that immigrants looking to hire an attorney feel desperate to hear some degree of assurance. Attorneys based on their knowledge and previous experience, can genuinely advise a client if a case appears to be a plain vanilla one or if issues are foreseen. But, unfortunately, an attorneys who gives you guarantees that your case will be approved is not being honest to begin with. All what real pros can guarantee is the quality of their work and their commitment to their clients.
3.YOUR LAWYER ACCEPTS MONEY FROM YOU WITHOUT SIGNING A CONTRACT
Except for payment for consultation fees, you are allowed (and even encouraged) to forget your checkbook when you meet your attorney for the first time. Before an immigration attorney accepts any money from you, the scope and terms of representation have to be agreed on, and you have to formally become a “client”. Although you are probably in a rush for your attorney to start working on your case, be wary of a lawyers who are taking money from you without clearly stating what exactly they will be doing for you.
4.YOU END UP MEETING A PARAPROFESSIONAL AT THE INITIAL CONSULTATION
During an initial consultation, an immigration lawyer usually assesses your situation, tries to learn all the relevant facts about your case, makes sure your goals are understood, and starts brainstorming a strategy to attain them. If the person conducting the initial consultation is not an immigration lawyer, is likely that important facts that can be crucial to define a path to get your visa will be missed. It is not enough for the person meeting you for the first time to follow a questionnaire prepared by an attorney. Not two cases are exactly the same, and a trained immigration lawyer knows it! This doesn’t mean that good lawyers always get it all figured out on the first meeting, but they will know what to look for, and will probably spot any area of concern before a case is filed (and pending denial!)
5.YOUR LAWYER IS NEVER AVAILABLE TO TALK TO YOU AFTER THE CONTRACT IS SIGNED
Depending on the size of the law firm you chose to represent you, you should expect to have more or less direct contact with the attorney who you (hopefully) met on the initial consultation. Often, larger firms have senior attorneys doing all the initial consultations and later delegating the cases to associate attorneys, while smaller firms have less staff working on each individual case, so that the same attorney who does the intake will later on prepare the case for filing. In either case, the lawyer who you initially met, trusted, and hired to represent you should ALWAYS be available to talk with you and answer your questions! This doesn’t mean that your attorney is not entitled to charge for it (as specified in the contract – refer to Item #3), or that your attorney will be available on a Sunday 10:00 am to answer “what’s the processing time for your F-1 change of status.” But your lawyer should be reachable. So, if there is a pattern where your lawyer is taking several lunch breaks a day, is sick every other day, tends to have family emergencies weekly, and/ or is usually with another client and unavailable to talk to you, it is likely you have hired a BAD lawyer!
So, next time you are shopping around for an immigration lawyer keep these 5 tips in mind, and remember that if what your lawyer promises seems too good to be truth, it probably is!