Choosing the right immigration law firm is critically important, and a decision that can not be taken lightly. With so much variety in quality in this field of practice, you need to be highly selective. Ideally, you will want to retain a law firm that possess the following characteristics:
- 1) Successful experience in your area of concern. Research the law firm’s reputation and the leading attorneys at the firm. Be sure that you find that their clients praise their quality of service, whether it’s employment based or individual/family based cases. If the attorney has been favorably rated by other legal professionals and by attorney rating organizations, it’s a good sign.
- 2) Personal attention and respect. Some immigration law firms are run on high volume, and turn into infamous “paper mills” where productivity is given greater value over quality. For many types of immigration cases, representation is far more than just asking for a list of documents and filling out forms. Without an active, collaborative approach, and may you risk submitting documents that haven’t been properly reviewed and which are not up to standard. If poor documentation is initially submitted, while USCIS might give you a request for additional evidence to cure some defects, the request for evidence may not necessarily cover all the bases which USCIS may use to deny your case. Lack of personal attention is often a problem experienced when retaining a large law firm. Bigger and more expensive does not mean better. It’s best to retain a boutique immigration firm that handles manageable case loads.
- 3) Attorneys with membership in the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). Although membership by itself does not ensure quality, an immigration attorney who is not a member of AILA lacks essential resources that no immigration attorney should be without, such as case assistance with AILA’s Liaison Department.
- 4) Licensure. Be sure that the attorneys are licensed. There are consultants who offer legal services to the unsuspecting public in violation of the law. Only a licensed attorney is lawfully permitted to provide legal advice. A consultant is only permitted to fill forms, and not assess the quality of documentation, or present legal arguments in support of your eligibility for immigration benefits. Also, unlike a consultant, an attorney is accountable to the state bar, and has a lot more to lose by being dishonest and providing false hopes.
- 5) Attorneys that stay current. The attorneys at the law firm should stay on top of current developments in immigration law. For example, on June 1, 2008, the DOL changed processing from Chicago to Atlanta for PERM labor certifications. After this change took place, if an employer sponsoring a worker for a green card placed an internal notice prompting the reader to send information to the Chicago DOL address instead of Atlanta , and the DOL audited the labor certification case, there is a chance that the DOL would deny the case just for this seemingly small oversight. Staying current matters.
- 6) Reasonable fees. A reasonable fee should be one which is both affordable, and sufficient to fairly compensate attorney and staff time. It is important that the firm monitor what competitors offer, and be willing to be flexible on fees where reasonable.
- 7) Dedication. It’s difficult to gauge this criteria, but some of the ways to see how dedicated the attorneys at the law firm are is to see whether they are active in the community. Read the profiles of the attorneys to see if they attend legal clinics, make media appearances, etc. If the law firm provides a newsletter and publishes articles on immigration topics, theses are also good signs.