Choosing the right lawyer to represent your immigration case can be a difficult decision. After all, this is an incredibly important part of your life, and how can you know if they’ll be able to provide you with the best support and advice? Luckily, there are some questions to ask your immigration lawyer in order to determine if they meet your needs:
1. How long have you been practicing law?
When selecting an immigration lawyer, you should ask for their background and credentials. You want to make sure that you choose someone who has real-world experience. More importantly, you should select a lawyer who specializes in immigration law. Even if you have a trusted lawyer that you’ve used before for other legal matters, they may not be the best choice for your immigration case. Immigration law requires a deep understanding of the specific requirements, forms, and processes.
2. Are you an AILA member?
You may want to consider a lawyer who is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). AILA is a national association of over 14,000 lawyers and law professors. Because they are actively teaching immigration law, they are informed on all current US immigration laws. Additionally, some AILA lawyers offer pro bono legal advice.
3. Do you have any experience with cases similar to mine?
A lawyer who has handled similar cases will have a better understanding of how to handle your case and navigate any possible roadblocks. This is especially important if you have specific circumstances, such as business immigration or asylum. If your prospective lawyer has not handled a case similar to yours, ask them why they think they’d be the best choice to represent you.
4. Have you ever been disciplined professionally?
While many great lawyers don’t have a perfect record, you should be aware if your prospective lawyer has ever been professionally disciplined. If they have an awful disciplinary record with many infractions, then it is probably best to look elsewhere.
5. If I choose you to represent me, what would be your first steps?
A good lawyer will be able to give you an outline of their plan of action. If your prospective lawyer seems clueless about where they should start, they may not be the best person to handle your case. This question will also help you determine if they are enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and driven enough to get you a positive outcome.
6. What do you think my chances are?
While you certainly want to choose an immigration lawyer who is confident, you also need someone who is realistic. It may be nice to have a cheerleader on your side, but not if they can’t deliver on their promises. On the other hand, you don’t need a naysayer either. Choose someone who is self-assured but who can also provide honest and informed feedback about your specific situation.
7. Is there anything that I can do to improve my chances?
This is actually one of the most critical questions to ask your immigration lawyer. While your immigration lawyer’s job is to help you receive a positive outcome, it shouldn’t all fall on them. It’s important to remember that you’re not their boss—you’re their partner. Without your cooperation and assistance, they won’t be able to do their job to the best of their ability. If they ask you for any information along the way, your response should be prompt so that you do not cause any delays in the process.
8. How long do you think this will take?
Immigration cases can take a long time, and having an approximate timeline can help you devise a plan. While not every case is the same, an experienced and competent immigration lawyer will be able to give you at least a rough estimate of how long it will take to complete your case. If your prospective lawyer hems and haws over the question, they may not have adequate experience to compare to. Conversely, someone who gives you a guaranteed timeframe may not be able to follow through on that promise.
9. Will there be anyone else working on my case?
Out of all the questions to ask your immigration lawyer, this one is of the utmost importance. Just because they are the only one present during your initial meeting, that doesn’t mean they will be the person who handles the bulk of your case.
Many law firms have research assistants and paralegals who do most of the heavy lifting. This is not necessarily a bad thing—in fact, having multiple people working on your case can help make sure that your case never falls on the back burner. It’s important that you not only meet your lawyer, but that you also get to know these people as well. Learn their names and professional qualifications to make sure that you’re in the most capable of hands.
10. Do you speak the same language that I speak?
If you do not know English very well, then it may help to have a lawyer who speaks your primary language. If your prospective lawyer does not speak your language, find out if there is anyone at their firm who would be able to translate during meetings. If you can communicate with them in the language you understand best, you will be able to better assess your prospective lawyer’s competency and ability to handle your case.
11. Do you have any references?
Ask your prospective lawyer if they have any references that you can contact. Speaking with prior clients will give you an unbiased account of the lawyer’s abilities.
12. How do I reach you?
Before you leave the meeting with your prospective lawyer, find out how you’ll be able to contact them. Immigration cases are a complicated and lengthy process, and you need to make sure that the person who represents you will be available to answer your questions along the way. You don’t want someone who is always out of reach or who only passes you off to their secretary or assistant.
Additionally, find out what their preferred method of communication is. Are they partial to email or do they prefer to hop on a phone call? Ideally, their preferences should align with your own. For example, if you’re uncomfortable with phone calls, you probably want someone who primarily uses email. Or if you hate waiting for email or even “snail mail” responses, choose a lawyer that matches those preferences.
13. How much will this cost?
It’s important that you get at least an estimate of what your prospective lawyer will charge to represent you. Do they charge a flat fee or by the hour? You should also find out their accepted methods of payment and their billing schedule. If you don’t have a lot of money, find out if they allow you to pay your bill in installments. A good lawyer will also be upfront about any additional costs that may arise during the process. Be aware that some law firms will withhold documents or work they have completed until they receive your full payment.
14. Will you prepare a written agreement that I can review?
While verbal agreements are legal, a good lawyer will provide you with a written agreement for you to review. This agreement should explain the services and costs for your case in clear and thorough detail. If you ask for a written agreement and the lawyer refuses, it is probably best to seek another firm.
15. When can you get started?
Many people do not realize that the work on their case may not begin immediately after paying the law firm. It is important to find out how many cases are ahead of yours before you begin working with an immigration lawyer. If they are taking on too many clients to be able to fully support your case, then you may want to seek the help of a different firm. A good immigration lawyer may be in high demand, but they should still be able to handle the clients they take on.
16. What do you need from me?
Like we mentioned above, you are a partner with your immigration lawyer. It is important that you work closely with them to make sure you provide all the information they need. This includes documentation. Find out ahead of time if there are any documents you’ll need to bring to your first meeting. This way you can get started on your case as soon as possible.
These questions to ask your immigration lawyer will help you make sure that they will be able to handle your case with the best possible care and attention. If you have any doubts based on their answers, then you should seek a second opinion.
The knowledgeable immigration lawyers at Katz Law Office, Ltd. have a wealth of experience in many types of immigration cases, and they are prepared to help you with all your needs and questions. Contact our office today to schedule your free 30-minute consultation.
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.