Whether you are looking for a lawyer to begin an immigration process or in need of a legal screening, choosing the right lawyer is crucial. This guide contains information on how to find an immigration lawyer, how to prepare to meet with a lawyer, how to avoid fraud, and more.
Even if you are not thinking about starting an immigration process, meeting with a lawyer and getting a legal screening is important to find out if there are any options for adjusting your immigration status.
Below are some legal professionals you may encounter when seeking legal assistance. It is important to know the difference between the following to see which is best to help you with your case and to not fall victim to fraud.
A licensed professional authorized to practice law and advises and represents others in legal matters. (ABA)
Lawyers who provide legal services without fee for the good of the public. Typically in nonprofits and to low-income people. (ABA)
Non-attorney Accredited Representatives allowed to represent immigrants before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which includes the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). Accredited Representatives may only provide immigration legal services through recognized organizations (non-profits or federally tax-exempt entities). (DOJ)
Depending on the state and its criteria, some law students are able to provide some legal services under the supervision of a licensed attorney.
The first step in finding a good lawyer is knowing where to look. Below are some common ways of finding a lawyer.
Ask family members, friends, or community members if they can recommend a lawyer. Be aware that each legal case is different and that a lawyer who is right for someone else may not suit you or your legal problem. Make your decision about hiring a lawyer after you’ve met the lawyer, discussed your case, and decided that you feel comfortable working together. See the How to Look for a Good Lawyer section below for tips on how to find a lawyer that is a good fit for you.
There are some misconceptions about pro bono or nonprofit lawyers not being the best, that is not true! Immigration nonprofits’ main missions are typically to best serve or advocate for the immigrant community. Therefore, immigration nonprofits may know of or have pro bono immigration lawyers and services that are well suited to serve the immigrant community. Nonprofits may also host regular legal clinics where lawyers participate in pro bono services. Look for immigration nonprofits near you to see if they offer free or low-cost legal services.
Below are directories of low-cost or free legal services:
Another place to look for legal assistance is through your state bar association or the American Bar Association.
The American Bar Association is the national representative of the legal profession, providing practical resources for legal professionals, law school accreditation, model ethics codes and more.
A state bar association is a bar association that represents the attorneys practicing law in that state. Their functions differ from state to state, but often include administration of the state bar exam for admission of attorneys to practice law, regulation of continuing legal education, investigate, prosecute, and discipline attorneys for ethical or other violations, among other things.
Below is a list of immigration lawyer directories. These directories can help you look for attorneys in your area. It is important to still ensure the lawyers found through these directories match your needs. See the How to Look for a Good Lawyer section below for tips on how to find a lawyer that is a good fit for you and how to ensure they are a reputable lawyer.
After searching and creating a list of potential lawyers, it is important to know how to pick the best match for you. Follow the steps below to ensure you find the right lawyer.
Once you have your list, reach out to each office and ask for an initial consultation. Some lawyers may offer free consultations while others charge a fee. Make sure to ask when calling to schedule your initial consultation. The purpose of the initial consultation is for you to see if there is compatibility between you and the lawyer, to ask questions about their type of work, find out about their fees and fee structure, etc. See below for more questions to ask potential lawyers.
After this initial consultation, you should feel empowered and comfortable with the relationship with the lawyer. You will be sharing personal details about your life and trusting them with your future, it’s important you have good rapport with them. If you don’t, it is possibly a sign to keep searching.
If after the initial meeting you both agree to proceed, be sure to have a written services agreement or contract that outlines the work that the lawyer will do for you, the fees that you will need to pay, and how you will pay them.
You’ve scheduled your initial consultations, now this is how you should prepare to meet with the lawyer.
Your lawyer will have questions about your case, gather all important documents to help you prepare for this meeting. Examples of Documents to Prepare: visas, passports, work permits, USCIS correspondence, immigration court documents, documents given when entering the U.S. (such as Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record), any other relevant immigration documents.
This may be emotionally taxing or triggering, prepare to share details about your migration history and time in the U.S.
Details such as:
Being 100% honest is crucial for your lawyer to properly assess your immigration case and possibilities for adjustment of status. This is a confidential conversation between you and the lawyer, so you should feel free to be honest!
Prepare a list of questions you want to ask the lawyer so you feel equipped to make the right choice in hiring them. The next section contains questions to ask potential lawyers.
Remember that the lawyer works for YOU! Feel empowered to ask all the questions you have.
Ask your lawyer about how much their services will cost and how you will pay them. Some lawyers require a “retainer,” which is an amount paid at the beginning of the services. Others send an invoice each month or at the conclusion of your case. Some lawyers allow clients to pay the fees in monthly installments. It is important to discuss this at the beginning to avoid surprises later.
Once you find the right lawyer for you, ensure you have a service agreement that outlines the work the lawyer will do for you, the cost, and how you will pay them. Lawyers may call it different things such as terms of engagement, service agreements, or contracts. Whatever they may call it, ensure it is a written agreement.
Feel empowered to ask them questions about:
Ask how to contact them and how long it will take them to return your communications. What is their caseload currently like? Do they have the time to commit to your case?
Below are some green and red flags to watch out for when meeting with your potential lawyer.
In many cases, notarios or immigration consultants falsely claim they can help people with their immigration cases when they have no qualifications to do so. In other countries, a notario is someone licensed to practice law, but in the United States they are not allowed to give out legal advice or represent someone’s immigration case.
It is important to hire the right person to help you with your case, otherwise you may fall victim to fraud and jeopardize future processes. If a notario assists you with your case and you sign legal immigration documents containing false information USCIS can hold you responsible and deny your case for fraud.
A “notario” or notary public is only authorized to certify signatures on forms. In other countries, a notario is someone licensed to practice law, but in the United States they are not allowed to give out legal advice or represent someone’s immigration case.
Immigration consultants can help fill out paperwork, translate documents, and submit forms to government agencies. They cannot select what forms you need and how to fill them out, give legal advice, or represent you in court.
Both notarios and immigration consultants are not licensed to give out legal advice, cannot practice law, or represent people in court. Only a licensed attorney or an individual accredited by the Department of Justice to practice law in front of USCIS and immigration courts may provide you with legal advice.
When meeting with someone who will represent you, ask to see their credentials. If they refuse to show you their credentials, that is a red flag. You can also verify their credentials by checking the state Bar Association’s list of lawyers in good standing or the DOJ’s List of Accredited Representatives and Recognized Organizations.
USCIS does not accept cash payments, they only accept payments through the following methods: online using a credit/debit card; by mail with a card; check or money order (made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security); or in person at a USCIS field office. USCIS will not accept payments through Western Union, Paypal, over the phone or through email, and will never ask you to transfer money to an individual. If this request is made of you, it is likely a scam. (Source: USCIS)
Make sure to have a written contract that clearly states how much the services will cost, or, if it is an agreement for hourly services, what the hourly billing rates are for the attorneys and paralegals at the law office, how you will pay them, and what services are being provided.
Ending Your Lawyer-Client Relationship
If you are not satisfied with your lawyer’s services, you may need to look for a new lawyer. Talk to your lawyer to see if improvements can be made, if not it’s time for a new lawyer.
Before ending the relationship with your lawyer, review your agreement to see how payment will be made for the services performed for up to that time. Make sure to request your file so that you can use it with your new lawyer.
Remember that the lawyer is there to help you and is working for you, if you are not satisfied with the services you have the power to find a new one!
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