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By Adriana Perez, Esq. Immigration Attorney

Remember, remember always that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Introduction Finding a Lawyer vs. Choosing a Lawyer Avoid Non-Lawyers Practicing Law Experience vs. Competence Be Comfortable with the Lawyer you Hire Judging Credibility: The Lawyers Website Advertising How to Properly Discuss the Lawyers Fee The Initial Consultation Payment Plans Filing Fees The Retainer Agreement 12 Things to Never Say to Your Immigration Lawyer Avoid becoming the high-maintenance client Conclusion About the Author p. 4 p. 5 p. 6 p. 8 p. 8 p. 9 p. 10 p. 11 p. 13 p. 14 p. 15 p. 15 p. 16 p. 24 p. 26 p. 27

This book is dedicated to all immigrants - past and present - who came to this country in search of a better life.

2012 Adriana Perez All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in review, without written permission from the author. ISBN: 978-0-615-72372-3

This e-book evolved from a single email sent between me and another immigration attorney where, for the first time, we shared thoughts not on immigration law, but on the practice of immigration lawyering. Naturally, although we were different lawyers working for different firms, we heard the same questions, the same concerns, the same criticisms; and yes, the same snarky comments from our clients. We agreed that questions like Why should I hire you? Isnt this

something I can do myself? or Youre going to try your best, right? or I will pay anything to stay in this country, made us secretly roll our eyes. Yet clients kept asking them. At the same time, however, we wanted to help the immigrants in the United States and those aspiring to come, and we were dedicated in doing so. We understood how hard it was (and is) for immigrants to come to this country; to learn a new language; and to adapt to an entirely different culture. We also understood that many immigrants needed help in navigating the complexities of immigration law. Having been raised in Venezuela, I could relate. But from our perspective, there was growing conflict between our desire to help our clients and the frustration we felt in dealing with the aforementioned snarky comments. And so I began to wonder: Why are some clients a joy to work with while others are not? The answer to that question, I realized, was simple: While immigration lawyers have experience dealing with many clients; clients, by contrast, have very little experience dealing with immigration lawyers. What was needed in the immigration law practice was a guide for clients on how to hire an immigration lawyer. This e-book was written as that guide (albeit, an introductory one), and covers topics such as: (i) who to call; (ii) what to look for in evaluating an immigration lawyers competence and skill; (iii) how

much to pay; (iv) what questions to ask and; (v) what never to say to your immigration attorney. My goal in writing this e-book is to improve the attorney-client relationship. Doing so requires work from both sides. For every unique client, there is a unique immigration attorney with whom there is a perfect fit. follows is my advice on how to hire the right immigration lawyer for you. What


Not all lawyers are created equal. Some are better than others. The better lawyers freely admit this. The lesser lawyers wont like to talk about it. But its true. If you have made the decision to hire an immigration lawyer, then there is no doubt that youll have many choices as to which lawyer you choose to represent you. There are many ways to find a lawyer, but only a few ways to tell whether he or she is a good fit for you and your case. I call the latter part choosing a lawyer. To find a lawyer, I suggest conducting a simple internet search for the term immigration lawyer. You may want to add the name of your city to narrow the results, such as Atlanta immigration lawyer. Further still, if you want an attorney who speaks your native language, if not English, consider searching in that language, such as abogado de inmigracin en Atlanta, to find Spanish-speaking immigration lawyers. With all these immigration lawyers to choose from, how do you make your choice? What factors should you consider? What follows below is a list of items I think are particularly important when choosing an immigration attorney.

Avoid Non-lawyers Practicing Law, a.k.a. Notarios

Be wary of hiring someone who is not a lawyer but pretends to be. In fact, dont hire this person at all. These non-lawyers often call themselves notarios, or legal consultants, or legal advisors. The truth is that notarios are not lawyers and therefore do not have the same responsibilities under the attorneyclient relationship that real attorneys do. These notarios will gladly charge you a fee to (i) file papers, (ii) review your file, or even worse, (iii) get you a green card, or even worse than that, (iv) take your money but do nothing to help your case. Dont believe any of it. Notarios never went to law school; never passed a bar exam (or even studied for one); and never bothered to learn all the many nuances of the law. They will gladly take your money. But they have no idea what they are doing. Hiring someone who is not a licensed attorney may hurt your case. Sometimes a real lawyer can fix it. Other times she cannot. The damage can be long-term: A problem that you thought was solved today actually was not solved at all. But you may not know about the mistake until several years down the line. Why take the risk? The misbelief is that the notarios can do the same thing as a lawyer but for a lesser price. Another misbelief that we (immigration lawyers) hear a lot: they helped my friend so I thought they could help me. Both are false. Lawyers are regulated by rules set forth by the local state bar. Licensed attorneys are obligated to follow these guidelines and deliver professional services to their clients. If the lawyer violates any of these rules, such as the attorney-client privilege, and the client is harmed, the client may file a complaint with the state bar. Notarios, however, are a little harder to catch in the act. If a notario takes your money and disappears, you can tell your state bar about it and file an unauthorized practice of law complaint.

Good luck.

Notarios have a

reputation for disappearing and not coming back. Another solution is to call the police to file a report, or sue in civil court. Either option doesnt end well. The police may consider the issue a civil matter and may not bother filing a report at all. Plus, a lawsuit in civil court takes years to litigate and a lot of money before you win, if you win. The lesson here is to always make sure the person you are hiring for your immigration case is a licensed attorney. someone who has no license. I suggest asking: What is your bar number? Or . . . Can I see your bar card? Licensed attorneys almost always either carry their bar card or, at least, know their bar number. I have two bar cards (one for Florida and one for Georgia), and I can show it to any client in a matter of seconds. One benefit of asking this question is that youll be able to confirm that the person you are speaking with is, in fact, a licensed attorney. Another benefit (for truly thorough clients) is that you will learn what state bar the attorney is admitted to. You can later use this information to check that state bars website to investigate whether the attorney is in good standing with the bar (i.e., not suspended). By contrast, notarios have neither bar cards nor bar numbers and therefore will not be able to show you one. They will probably try to convince you that its lost, or they dont need one. Dont believe any of it. My advice to you is that if you ask to see a bar card, or if you ask for the lawyers bar number, and you do not immediately receive a straight-forward response, leave immediately. If you are unsure, there are two questions you can ask that will ensure you hire a licensed attorney versus

Experience vs. Competence

An experienced lawyer is not the same as a competent lawyer. If you take anything from this e-book, its that you need to know how to identify a competent lawyer. The very definition of competent means having the necessary ability, knowledge, or skill to do something successfully. Nowhere does the word experience appear in the definition of competent. The amount of past experience a lawyer has is important, but not as important as you might think: There are great lawyers who have been practicing only a few years and terrible lawyers who have been practicing for decades. Instead of asking how many years have you been practicing immigration law? try to ask questions that address the lawyers skill and competence. Some examples include: i. ii. iii. iv. Have you worked on this type of case before? What issues good and bad do you see with my case? How did you learn the practice of immigration law? How do you keep up with all the changes that take place in the field of immigration law? These questions go to the root of what you need to know: Does the immigration lawyer have the skill required to do a competent job on my case?

Be Comfortable with the Lawyer you Hire

It may sound obvious, but youll want to hire a lawyer with whom you are comfortable with. An entire book could be written on this topic alone. For

whatever reason, I routinely take calls from prospective clients that start with the client saying I cant stand my current attorney. The phrase comfortable with can mean different things to different people. Some clients want their lawyers to be rough around the edges, because they think that will translate to the lawyer being tough in court. Other clients look for lawyers who speak their native language, like Spanish, Chinese, or Russian. It is all a matter of perspective, really. To determine your level of comfort, here are a couple questions to ask yourself: i. ii. iii. iv. v. vi. Does this lawyer make me nervous? Do I feel intimidated asking the lawyer questions? Did the lawyer answer the question I asked? Did the lawyer treat me with respect? Did the lawyer treat my family with respect? Do I think this lawyer will take my phone calls six months from now? That last one is important. If you cannot get the immigration attorney on the phone early in the process, then that is a good indicator of how the relationship will be down the road.

Judging Credibility: The Lawyers Website

As a matter of diligence, a prospective client should always search the internet to see if the lawyer has a website. This is true even in instances where youve been referred to the attorney by a friend or relative. A lawyers website is an excellent way to gauge that lawyers credibility. I do not think any of my colleagues will argue with me when I say that immigration lawyers with a wellpresented website care about how clients perceive them. However, keep in mind that a good-looking website doesnt mean the lawyer is competent. Again, there are plenty of good-looking websites masking

incompetent lawyers. But a good, well-designed immigration website does tell you that the lawyer cares about her image. And the truth is credibility tends to be a good indicator of skill. I will go so far as to say that in todays world, a website is so important to the issue of credibility that it is better, I believe, for an immigration lawyer to not have any website than it is to have a bad-looking one. At least without a website, clients will not develop a negative impression of the lawyer before they visit that lawyers office. Think of it this way: You probably would not want to hire a lawyer who came to your first meeting wearing a t-shirt and jeans, would you? What about hiring a lawyer who has empty soda bottles and pizza boxes strewn about her office? Because hiring a lawyer involves making a judgment-call on that lawyers competence, confidence, and credibility. Someone who wears a t-shirt and jeans to a client meeting does not outwardly reflect those characteristics.

Advertising is simply a means by which lawyers try to bring clients in the door. That is all advertising is ever meant to do. As Ive pointed out before, there are some incompetent lawyers who advertise, and there are excellent lawyers who never advertise, and vice versa. The choice as to which lawyer to hire is, of course, up to you. But if you are so inclined to call an immigration lawyer whose advertisement you noticed, then perhaps keep the following suggestions in mind. Is the advertisement professional in every respect? Are there spelling mistake? Grammatical errors? It should be perfect. Any flaw in the ad speaks volumes about the lawyers attention to detail. For example, in researching this book, I found one advertisement that said, simply Immigration Law. Speak Chinese. Is the lawyer offering lessons on how to speak Chinese? I believe the ad was meant to say We speak


Chinese, or the lawyer speaks Chinese. Either way, the grammar of the ad was incorrect, which reflects poorly on the lawyers attention to detail. Does the advertisement focus on a single area of law, or many? It is an unspoken truth among lawyers that the best attorneys in any field focus on one particular area of law. For purposes of this e-book, that area is immigration law. Many lawyers, however, refuse to let a single case walk out the door, so they advertise and promote expertise in many areas of law. Hiring this type of jackof-all-trades lawyer may adversely affect your case. For example, is there anything wrong with this advertisement? [this lawyer represents] clients in Drug Crimes, DUI, Family Law, Divorce, Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, Immigration, Breach of Contract, Civil Litigation. I suppose there is nothing wrong with the ad, per se. But based solely on this ad, its obvious that the lawyer accepts a wide variety of cases. Is it possible the lawyer is an expert in all these complicated legal fields? Yes, I suppose it is possible. But ask yourself: how much time will this lawyer put into my immigration case if she is dealing with so many other cases, all in different fields of law?


Now that youve met with the immigration lawyer, discussed your case, and feel comfortable with that lawyer, its time to talk about the lawyers fee. In an ideal world, this discussion should be a pleasant one where both lawyer and client are 100% at ease discussing how much the client will pay the lawyer. But in the real world, the fee conversation is often difficult and uncomfortable. Below are some tips on how to approach the lawyer about (i) negotiating the fee, (ii) arranging a payment plan, (iii) the initial consultation fee, (iv) filing fees, and (v) the all-important Retainer Agreement. Immigration lawyers are not totally insensitive to the financial needs of our clients. Many of our clients are recent immigrants to the United States who

are simply trying make ends meet. Times are tough: Jobs are hard to find and the jobs that do exist dont pay as much as they used to. But like everything else in the world, however, when it comes to immigration lawyers, the old adage rings true: You get what you pay for. When talking to an immigration lawyer about fees, try to keep in mind that no one works for free. Some lawyers will be insulted if you ask for a lower fee. By contrast, some lawyers dont mind negotiating the fee. The trick is to know how to negotiate with tact. Immigration lawyers want to help people. Accordingly, we want to help you as a client but we do not need you as a client. A client who walks into a lawyers office and acts pompous or arrogant, and who starts demanding things, can expect the lawyer to ignore that clients request to lower the fee (and perhaps she will even show you the door). But if you find yourself in a position where you might have to negotiate the attorneys fee, keep in mind the following tips. Tip 1: Do not be afraid to ask about the lawyers fee over the phone. It is wrong to assume that all immigration lawyers charge the same amount. Some lawyers charge way more than others. If the lawyer quotes you a fee that is way above what you can afford, then perhaps it is best to not book an appointment at all as it will save both your time and the lawyers time. Tip 2: If you do decide to meet with the immigration attorney and the issue of the fee comes up, speak matter-of-frankly and honestly. amount of your fee first. You may consider saying things like I want to hire you but I want to talk about the Again, the lawyer will appreciate your honesty. Lawyers are businesspeople we negotiate under the right circumstances. Tip 3: If you meet face-to-face, and the lawyer, upon evaluating your case further, quotes you a much higher fee than anticipated, do not be embarrassed to tell the lawyer that you simply do not have enough money to pay. I understand that not having enough money is always a sensitive topic. If the lawyer will


not lower her price, and you simply cannot afford it, then the best thing to do is shake hands and go your separate directions. Chances are, if the immigration attorney likes you, she will work with you on the fee before letting you walk out that door. A big part of successfully negotiating with an immigration lawyer is being honest (see Tip 2 above). Saying things like I have enjoyed meeting you and thank you for taking the time to discuss my case, but I was wondering if we could agree on a lower price? will get you somewhere. But saying I spoke to five lawyers and your fee is the highest, why is that? will likely end the negotiation.

The Initial Consultation Fee

Almost all immigration lawyers charge a small fee for a consultation. We are not like most other lawyers in this regard. Lawyers in different fields criminal defense lawyers, for example always promote a free initial consultation. Immigration lawyers dont do that. Why? We dont participate in the free consultation, because we want to be compensated for our time. During your initial consultation, it is likely that you and your lawyer will talk openly about what needs to be done on your case: what forms to file, when to file them, what back-up documents are needed, and so forth. This information is your case. And therefore it has value. To compensate the lawyer for his or her time, and to compensate the lawyer for the golden information he or she is about to give you, lawyers charge a small fee for the initial consultation. Keep in mind that if you do hire the lawyer, he or she will most likely include the initial consultation fee with the overall fee. So the money is not lost.


Payment Plans
A payment plan is a great option if you and your immigration lawyer can agree on one. It is always easier to pay over time than to pay all at once. The problem is that most immigration lawyers wont go for it. From the lawyers perspective, the concern is that the client will stop making payments after one or two months. That leaves the lawyer in the unfortunate position of either becoming a debt collector, or withdrawing from the case. In some cases, such as a Deportation Defense case, the judge may not let the lawyer withdraw at all, thereby forcing the lawyer to stay on the case until the very end without payment. For this reason, payment plans are generally disfavored among immigration lawyers. Still, if you do ask for a payment plan, dont expect a miracle. Even if the lawyer is willing to accommodate you, she will probably require 50% up-front with the rest due over the next couple months. Most lawyer require at least 50% up-front because experience has shown that if the client cannot pay 50% of the fee today, then he or she will not able to pay 100% of the fee tomorrow. Here are additional tips that may help when discussing payment plans: i. Be realistic. Do not expect a 12-month or 24-month plan. Most plans are only for 2-4 months. Anything longer and the issue of non-payment comes up. And as I stated before, we have no interest in the field of debt collection. ii. iii. Have at least 50% of the fee ready to be paid immediately. If the lawyer is reluctant to give you a payment plan, consider dropping the issue. There is no use negotiating further if both parties are not 100% comfortable with the idea.


Filing Fees
The next issue that usually comes up when discussing money with the immigration lawyer is the issue of the filing fee. Almost all applications made to the Department of Homeland Security, or any other government entity, require payment of a filing fee. This fee is different than the fee you pay your lawyer. The filing fee is the administrative fee the government agency charges to process your paperwork. If you dont pay the filing fee, and if you do not qualify for a fee waiver, the agency will return your paperwork and your case will not move forward. By contrast, the lawyers fee is the agreed-upon fee that the client will pay to the lawyer for the time the lawyer will spend on your case. Although this seems like a straight-forward concept, clients routinely ask me to pay the filing fee for them with the promise of I will pay you back later. The bottom line is that immigration lawyers are not bankers: we are not interested in financing your application by paying the filing fee on your behalf and hoping that you will pay us back. If you dont pay the filing fee to the immigration attorney, your case will sit (and sit, and sit) until that filing fee is paid.

The Retainer Agreement

Now that youve agreed upon a fee with the immigration attorney, we come to the issue of the Retainer Agreement. This agreement is a contract between the immigration lawyer and the client. And, like any contract, the Retainer Agreement lists out the responsibilities of each party. It is a fairly complicated document that does not simply state for a fee I will represent you. What surprises me most, however, is how few clients actually take the time to read the Retainer Agreement. Most clients I encounter probably 95% of


them merely flip to the last page and sign. To make sure my client has read the entire Retainer Agreement at least once, I read it to them. immigration lawyers do the same. The Retainer Agreement covers the scope of the immigration lawyers representation and you, as a client, have a responsibility to read it and to understand it. Do not be afraid to ask questions of the attorney. What legal services are not covered under this agreement? What is the entire fee? How much are the filing fees and are those fees addressed in Retainer? Does the fee include any subsequent complications with the case? Is an appeal included? It never hurts to ask the immigration lawyer as many questions as you can think of concerning the Retainer Agreement before you sign it. It is your case and your money. The immigration lawyer will appreciate your due diligence. By carefully reading and understanding the Retainer Agreement, the client will help improve the attorney-client relationship by coming to a mutual understanding with the attorney and avoiding complications down the road. I suspect many


So youve hired an immigration lawyer. Congratulations. What comes next? Well, hopefully a mutually beneficial attorney-client relationship. But like any relationship, sometimes saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can cause trouble. This next section covers twelve (12) things that immigration lawyers never want to hear. As I mentioned in the Introduction, these are statements that secretly make us shake our heads. The purpose here is not to criticize you, the client; but to have an honest, frank discussion about how to make this attorney-client relationship work best.


1. I will pay anything to stay in this country.

We appreciate your motivation but statements like this are completely irrelevant. Some clients seem to think and probably influenced by Hollywood that the more money they spend on a case, the more likely it is that they will win the case and be allowed to stay in the country. What those clients fail to understand is that in the United States, more money spent on a case doesnt mean a better result obtained. The very symbol of American justice is an icon called Lady Justice. She is usually depicted with a blindfold over her eyes. The blindfold represents objectivity: Justice shall prevail regardless of identity, money, or power. The message Lady Justice portrays applies to immigration law. Youve hired a lawyer and now it is up to that lawyer to use her best skill, knowledge, and experience to arrive at a successful outcome for your case. Thats all. Rich. Poor. It doesnt matter. No amount of money will bend the rules in your favor.

2. Youre going to try your best, right?

Although well-intentioned, this question is sometimes borderline insulting to the immigration lawyer. Before asking this question, remember that you are sitting in the office of a professional. The question is irksome because it implies that the lawyer may try her best in some cases and not try her best in others. Of course, thats completely false. Immigration lawyers, all of us, take pride in what we do. If we didnt, wed move on to another area of law. We want to resolve your immigration law issue successfully. completely silly and unnecessary thing to ask. Asking us to try our best is like asking a pilot if hell try his best while flying the plane. Its a

3. I turned in my paperwork, why hasnt my case moved forward?

We typically hear this question three or four months after the initial consultation. The client hires the lawyer and the lawyer asks the client to either


fill-out paperwork or obtain certain documentation (e.g. school records). All this happens on Day One. The client says ok, and disappears for a couple months. The immigration lawyer follows up with the client a couple times but the client doesnt respond. Then, one day, months after the initial meeting, the client hands in all the paperwork. A couple days later, the client asks Why hasnt my case moved forward? Really? It is not reasonable to expect movement on your case when the client has been the largest delay has been obtaining the paperwork in the first place. If you ask this question and expect immediate action on your case, when it was you who, in fact, caused the delay, then expect a terse response.

4. I didnt know you were trying to contact me.

For whatever reason, some immigration clients disappear for long stretches of time. Please do whatever you can to make sure your lawyer can reach you. In the old days, we used to rely solely on telephone calls and letters. Today, you can make yourself available via Facebook, email, Twitter, or a combination of all three. Losing contact with a client is one of the most frustrating things immigration lawyers experience today.

5. Do you mind if I bring my family with me to the consultation?

This one isnt that bad, but I put it here for those clients who abuse the right to bring the family in to the lawyers office. Immigration lawyers understand that this is a stressful time in your life. As a result, you want your support group there with you. We get that. Where things go downhill quickly, however, is when the family universally believes the lawyer is there to answer all their questions; to answer all their phone calls; and to quickly respond to all their requests for information. When a lawyer has to manage all these competing personalities, it makes it difficult for the immigration attorney to focus on the case at hand. To make sure you dont alienate your lawyer by monopolizing her time by having different family members asking the same question, I suggest one of a


couple things: (i) appoint one person (probably you) to be the sole contact on your case for questions and requests (i.e. all phone calls are made by you and you alone); (ii) ask the lawyer ahead of time is it okay if I bring my family? and; (iii) ask your family to respect the lawyers time and attention. Doing any of these suggestions will improve the attorney-client relationship.

6. I called you earlier today and you never called me back.

By far, the biggest complaint I hear from clients everywhere is I cant get my immigration lawyer on the phone. There is a reason for that: were working; in court; in a meeting; or all three. Remember that were not only practicing law, but were also running a business. The simple truth is that immigration lawyers have a lot of clients. It does not mean the lawyer wont pay attention to your case, but it does mean that you have to be patient. In my practice, I usually take phone calls either immediately or, if I am out of the office or busy, I have my assistant take messages. Later that day or the next morning, I will set aside a period of time to return every phone call that I missed earlier. Problems arise, however, when a client calls an immigration lawyers office, leaves a message, and expects an immediate response. Exercise patience when calling an attorneys office. You may reach the attorney immediately or you may have to leave a message and wait. And when you do call your attorney, the best time to call is on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday; and the worst time to call is Monday morning at 9:00 AM. Your case is moving forward, but it did not move forward over the weekend. Give your attorney a chance to settle in and call on a Tuesday.

7. Ive talked to four immigration lawyers before talking to you and they told me that . . . .
Clients who call lawyer after lawyer seeking legal advice are easy to spot. There is nothing wrong with calling several attorneys and asking questions of


each, but it is one thing to be diligent and another to seek free legal advice. Clients like this either admit it: you are the fourth lawyer Ive spoken to, or they know just enough key legal terms that it becomes clear that you have spoken to several lawyers on the topic, and are now repeating stuff you have heard from someone else. Why does this matter? For most immigration lawyers, it doesnt. We are not concerned whether we are the first or last lawyer you have called. What matters to us is the reason why you are calling so many lawyers. Why call so many lawyers but book appointments with no one? Immigration lawyers know that the best way for a client to choose a lawyer is to talk, interact, and ask questions of that lawyer. The face-to-face interaction between lawyer and client is important. In some instances, such as with out-of-state clients, a conference call will suffice. Either way, only after you talk extensively with the lawyer will you be able to make an informed decision as to who to hire. So calling lawyer after lawyer can sometimes be a red flag. We are not here to give you free legal advice over the phone. Nor are we here to listen to you explain to us your interpretation of how immigration law works. We know how it works, correctly.

8. Monday: Tuesday: Wednesday: Thursday: Friday:

I would like a case update. I would like a case update. I would like a case update. I would like a case update. I would like a case update.

From time to time, you will want to know the status of your particular case. There is nothing wrong with this. But if you want to be a good client,


avoid calling for a case update every day or every week. Calls once in a while (every couple weeks or every month) are fine, but dont push it. Immigration lawyers want to do a good job on your case and obtain the best possible result. We are looking forward to you being a happy client. So believe me, as soon as something happens on your case, you will be the first to know about it. Immigration lawyers do not keep your case status secret from you. If you have not heard from your lawyer in a couple of weeks, the reason is simple: Nothing has happened on your case. A large part of the immigration law practice involves waiting for the proper federal agency to process the paperwork. Sometimes that happens quickly, but other times it happens not-soquickly. But believe me, as soon as there is an update, we will call you. Even more unacceptable than the daily/weekly case update call is the unannounced office visit. Arriving at a lawyers office without an appointment and demanding to be seen is completely unacceptable. Some lawyers are known to let a client wait for hours before being seen. Remember that you are visiting a law firm. It is a professional office. If you want your attorney to appreciate you as a client, then appreciate the attorneys time as well.

9. What can an immigration lawyer do that I cannot do myself?

This is not a question to ask the lawyer but a question to ask (and answer) yourself. Do you think it would be better to do-it-yourself rather than to hire an attorney? Do you feel comfortable filling-out the application and sending it in? Are you prepared to blame no one but yourself if your application is rejected? Immigration law is complicated and becoming more complicated with each passing year. The source of immigration law comes from many different areas. There are: i. ii. iii. statutes (laws written in books), case law (opinions by judges that interpret the statutes), administrative directives (rules issued by federal agencies such as Homeland Security);



adjudicator field manual(s).

A competent immigration lawyer is trained in the rules and regulations that apply to your particular case. The lawyer is there to ensure things are done right the first time. For this service we charge a fee. For our service, the client has peace-of-mind. Keep this in mind when hiring an immigration lawyer: If you want it done right, and you do not want to risk doing it yourself, then pay an immigration lawyer for his or her time to work on your case.

10. I have a lawyer already but I want your opinion as to whether he or she is doing a good job.
There are so many things wrong with this statement that I dont know where to begin. First, if you want to know whether your immigration lawyer is doing a good job, set up a meeting with your lawyer so you can talk. Interact! Ask questions! someone else. Second, immigration lawyers are not in the business of immigration consulting. We work to provide legal services to our clients, not to critique the work of another lawyer. And finally, the phrase doing a good job, is hard to evaluate. As Demand answers! If your current lawyer ignores you completely, then thats a good sign that maybe you should look at hiring

discussed earlier, there are a lot of important factors to consider when evaluating an attorneys performance. Maybe the attorney is waiting on a response from the government? Maybe the attorney was late in submitting your application because you were late obtaining it? Most immigration lawyers are not going to investigate this case just to answer your question about whether your current attorney is doing a good job.


11. I have no criminal convictions or arrests, (but that is a lie).

The hidden criminal conviction is the bane of all immigration lawyers. While its true that, unfortunately, a criminal conviction can have adverse immigration consequences, clients should not, under any circumstances, hide this information from their immigration lawyer. The conversation usually starts off like this: Lawyer: Have you ever been convicted of a crime? Client: No. Lawyer: Have you ever talked to the police? Client: No. Lawyer: Have you ever sat in the back of a police car? Client: No. Subsequently, the immigration lawyer processes the application and it is denied by USCIS. Why? The client had a previous criminal conviction and didnt disclose it to the attorney. client may have committed fraud. It is beyond the comprehension of many an immigration lawyer as to why clients try to hide criminal convictions. I assume the client declines to disclose the conviction because: i. The client has, in fact, been charged with a crime but doesnt know it. This is typically seen with a crime like Driving with Suspended License, which is a criminal infraction. ii. The client knows about the conviction but is nevertheless hoping USCIS wont find out about it. iii. The client knows about the conviction but is too embarrassed to tell the immigration lawyer about it. To make matters worse, by signing an application that the client knew misrepresented his or her criminal past, the


No matter what the reason, clients should never withhold information about a criminal conviction (or arrest) from their immigration lawyers. Doing so only hurts the client in the end.

12. A friend of mine filed her application after me and is already approved, what are you doing wrong?
Immigration lawyers dislike hearing this because the question implies any delay is due to something the lawyer did wrong. But the truth is we understand where you are coming from. If you applied before your friend and her application is already completed whereas you are still waiting, then it makes sense that you would want to know why. The simple truth, however, is that immigration lawyers have no say in how fast or slow your application is processed by the government. There are many different variables that make a case move forward: the backlog of the reviewing officer, the completeness of your application paperwork, and the extent of the background check are some examples. Different cases take different amount of times. The processing of a visa application is not an exact science. So while we understand you frustration, keep in mind that what are you doing wrong? is a strong question to ask. While sympathetic to your situation, many lawyers will resent being asked what are you doing wrong because the answer is, frankly, nothing.

Avoid Becoming the high maintenance client

There is but one more piece of advice I wish to share with you. I have left it for last on purpose. No matter what, above all else, most critically, and most importantly, avoid becoming the high maintenance client.


What is the high-maintenance client? someone who: i. ii. iii. iv. Is rude on the phone with everyone;

A high-maintenance client is

Has unrealistic expectations about his or her case; Disrespects the attorneys staff and; Calls repeatedly on issues that have already been discussed. When the immigration lawyer believes that the client has become high

maintenance, certain things are known to happen. For instance, the attorney may simply decide to buffer the clients calls by having someone else, such as a receptionist or paralegal, answer the call and take a message. The attorney, of course, has a responsibility to communicate with the client, but that does not mean the attorney shall immediately take every phone call from the client whenever the client calls. Second, to compensate the attorney for the extra time above normal that she spends on the high maintenance clients number of calls, emails, requests for information, etc., the attorney may elect to charge an extra fee. From the clients perspective, of course, this is outrageous. How dare the attorney increase the cost of representation after a price has already been agreed upon! You may not like it, but the bottom line is the fee you pay compensates the immigration attorney for the time she spends on your case. If she spends more time than what is typical, she has the right to charge you a higher amount. And finally, although unusual, the attorney may simply fire the client. Attorneys can fire clients? Yes, attorneys can fire clients. In the same way a client a can fire an attorney to hire a new one, an attorney can fire her client. This effectively will end the attorney-client relationship. This solution is extreme, and immigration lawyers dislike it, but sometimes there is no other alternative. A client-firing usually occurs when the client is not happy, the attorney is not happy, and neither party is willing to compromise.


The key to avoiding becoming the high maintenance client is, of course, mutual respect. Mutual respect is critical. Without it, the attorney-client relationship deteriorates.

I truly hope this e-book answers some of the questions you had about the process of hiring an immigration attorney. And always remember, your immigration attorney is there to help you; to work with you; and to achieve the goals you have for yourself in this country.



Adriana Perez is a practicing immigration lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia. Her legal education and career started in Valencia, Venezuela, where she graduated with a law degree from the Universidad Bicentenaria de Aragua. Years later, in 2004, she returned to the United States where she earned both a Masters in Comparative Law and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Miami School of Law. Today, Adriana is a practicing immigration attorney and passionate supporter of immigrant rights. For more information on Atlanta immigration attorney Adriana Perez, visit her website,