Lately I have come across friends and family members who received service ranging from poor to extraordinary from professionals in various fields. Their experiences have reinforced the importance of hiring the best immigration representation one can afford.
Recently a family member, Beth, wanted to sell a condominium for a fair price in what was considered to be a good market. The problem was that at the time, there was an almost identical unit in the complex that had been on the market for four months, with a similar asking price, that had not sold. Beth called a real estate agent whom I had used in the past. The agent, Bob, was professional, responsive, and presented well. He met with Beth, walked through the unit, made suggestions, took detailed measurements and expressed confidence that the unit would sell quickly. He prepared an impressive statistical analysis of the area. Once Beth signed the broker agreement, Bob took detailed measurements, sent a professional photographer to take pictures of the unit, and advised Beth that the house would not be listed on the MLS until two days before the open house. The photos and presentation on the MLS were so breathtaking that Beth had second thoughts about selling the unit! She accepted an offer to purchase that home for the full asking price within two days following the open house. This was after Bob suggested that the initial lower offer by the same buyer be rejected. To make the story even better, within a week after my family member’s unit sold, the competing unit that had been on the market for several months sold as well for a similar price. Because of Bob’s expertise, the complex had become desirable.
The moral of this long story? Talent matters. A great doctor can mean the difference between life and death, a quality lawyer can mean the difference between freedom or confinement and in extreme cases, life and death. On a lesser scale, a talented chef will create an unforgettable meal, and a fantastic secretary can make an office run like clockwork.
IMMIGRATION REPRESENTATION: THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY
When it comes to immigration representation, finding quality representation can be a minefield for the uninitiated.
Some immigrant communities have notarios who accept fees to complete immigration paperwork and offer advice. These people are the most dangerous of all as they are engaged in the unauthorized practice of law and often take money from unsuspecting foreign nationals and fail to file forms or even worse, file incorrect or fraudulent documents with the government. This in turn leads to a terrible mess for those who would have been in a better position had they never hired the notario.
Then there are the lawyers. Immigration law is federal so it can be practiced by anyone who has passed the bar of any state. Passing the bar is a great accomplishment however, it does not ensure that the attorney has had any exposure to immigration law. In fact, the bar exams that I took (New York and Massachusetts) did not cover immigration law at all. Some states, such as Florida and California certify immigration lawyers. When hiring a lawyer in a state that offers certification, this would be a helpful criterion to consider.
The General Practitioner
There are lawyers who handle criminal law, divorce, bankruptcy, small business matters AND immigration. It is hard enough to be great in any one of those areas, never mind three, four or five of them. I know physicians who are wonderful in their specialties but would be the first to admit that you should see a cardiologist for your heart problems or a neurologist of you have had a stroke. I have yet to meet a doctor who practices dermatalogy, neurology and orthopedic surgery. There are of course Primary Care Doctors, who tend to know if and when to refer patients to the appropriate specialists. However the PCPs are not themselves the specialists.
There was a criminal lawyer who advised a client who was undocumented in the United States to file a naturalization application. Luckily he consulted with us before proceeding. Many people, including lawyers, are not aware that immigration laws are very complex and that it requires far more than completing forms to obtain benefits under the law.
Choosing an Immigration Lawyer
The immigration process, especially through employment, can be a long one. You want an immigration lawyer who knows what they are doing, someone you can feel comfortable talking to and addressing your concerns with. Can your friends or family recommend a good immigration lawyer? How about an attorney you have used for another matter in the past? Take their recommendations, then do your research. You can find a fair amount of information about immigration firms online.
If you do not have any personal recommendations, then an online search may be all you have to go by. Just like when choosing a good restaurant or hotel, read reviews, visit sites such as avvo.com that lists attorneys by practice area, read articles they have written, and check to see if their practice concentrates on immigration law. Even more specifically, find out if they have experience in the type of immigration case you have. Our office does not handle asylum or deportation cases. However we have a fairly extensive EB-5 practice, which is an area many other lawyers do not like to touch. Finally, schedule a consultation. Meet the lawyer to determine if they are a good fit. Are they knowledgeable, approachable? Is this someone you would like to have representing you for the next few months, or years? The consultation is almost always worth the few hundred dollars it will cost. If you decide to hire the firm, many lawyers will credit the cost of the consultation to the matter they are retained to handle.