1) Make sure your US immigration attorney actually has a law license
If you’re trying to find immigration lawyers in Chicago, you might have heard this advice before. Even so, it’s worth repeating. The best immigration lawyer in Chicago (or anywhere else, for that matter) is one who, first and foremost, actually has a law license. There are innumerable fakers out there who often charge even more than a competent attorney will for the same work.
These pretend lawyers can be found in many shapes and sizes. They often appear in the form of neighborhood business proprietors such as tax preparers, accountants, insurance or travel agents, etc., who boast that “we’ve handled these types of cases a thousand times.”
Another example of a breed of non-lawyer can be found in professional interpreters as well as other folks who have worked in some capacity in the legal field. These people might even be trustworthy to you already because they do their job well. Then they make an effort to transfer that trust to the handling of your immigration case.
Don’t fall for any of these individuals’ bluster, because you will be in for a rude awakening when your deportation order comes in the mail and you realize that your “lawyer” wasn’t one.
2) Choose a US immigration attorney that is a member of AILA
AILA is the acronym for the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association (www.aila.org), which for seventy years has been a powerhouse of information and advocacy for the top U.S. immigration lawyers. The best immigration lawyer will always be an AILA member!
Ask your prospective attorney to send you an email with a screen shot of their AILA login page that shows that they are indeed a member of the organization. This shows that they lawyer has a genuine commitment to the profession and also has access to one of the most important databases of legal information out there which can be used in preparing your case.
You also might want to ask how many years they’ve been a member of AILA because only two or three years’ membership might indicate you have too “green” an attorney.
3) Ask your US immigration attorney how many residency cases she has handled
Try to find immigration lawyers who have won numerous immigration cases. If he or she has handled less than fifty cases you might want to find another lawyer.
Several firms have handled literally hundreds of residency cases with success and will have learned a great deal about the ins and outs of how USCIS handles their cases. These are often details that only experience can provide and that aren’t available in a book or on social media that can give your case an edge and help propel it to approval with the help of this level of experienced law firm.
4) Ask about the background of the firm’s principal
Know who owns the firm. Is this someone who only is about making money or does the owner of the firm also have a social conscience? The other extreme is a lawyer who has no knowledge of how to run a business, which might bode poorly for your ability to get proper service from the firm’s legal team. Does he or she have experience in another profession or a second degree, which denotes ongoing learning and worldliness? Does she or he have endorsements on LinkedIn (On the importance of endorsements see this great Forbes article)? Does she have a “presence” in the community?
5) Is there a positive learning environment at the law firm?
This may seem like a weird and difficult way to qualify your lawyer, but it really matters. In a Harvard Business Review article by entrepreneurial guru Dan Schawbel, titled “You’re Probably Wrong about Millennials” Dan writes that the companies that engage intergenerational mentoring have an advantage. This is because the mentoring and philosophy of ongoing learning together environment creates the sort of “can do” teamwork that is required to get the cases out the door routinely, successfully.
If when choosing a firm the lawyer handling your consultation (and it should be a lawyer) stutters when you ask him or her to describe their relationship with the team or how well the legal team works with one another, generally, keep looking.
Every immigration case needs good paralegals, administrative support staff and competent, experienced attorneys who work well together so each of the moving parts of your case are properly aligned to get your packet out the door properly.
The best immigration lawyers are those that work for the best immigration law firms, which are the ones that have a competent business process, which engages an open dialogue among staff and is always learning. This is important because the law changes literally every day and this type of team will be on top of its own ongoing learning and be the most likely to get the law right when handling your case.
A recent article in the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business’ journal Capital Ideas highlights just how important openness and the ability to “be real” with colleagues is for business success, not just for immigration firms or law firms, but indeed for all businesses.
None of the advice contained in these materials serves as a substitute for individualized legal representation by a licensed attorney with experience in the practice area.