I have been practicing Immigration Law in Houston for the last 11 years, having graduated third highest from South Texas College of Law. I have seen many clients been swindled, abandoned, and left out of status for inadequate representation. So here are my tips on HOW TO CHOOSE A LAWYER. These are general tips for choosing any lawyer in general, and immigration lawyer in particular. I am assuming that readers of this blog will NOT go to a notario, or a lawyer not qualified to practice law.
HOW BRAINY IS YOUR LAWYER—–Ultimately a Lawyer is selling his/her brain power to you. The lawyer has to assess your situation and give you a creative solution. Thus his/her law school standing, how well she did in her class matters. Many lawyers practicing Immigration Law are not graduates of American Law Schools. The degree that you should be looking for is the JD degree. These foreign lawyers come over here, and do an LLM in Law. No American student does an LLM. You do not need to sit the competitive LSAT exam to get into an LLM program. Any law school, including Harvard, will take in ANYONE able to apply and afford tuition to their LLM programs, because law schools do not fill up their LLM classes. Foriegn lawyers often come from countries like India, where you do not need a brain to get into law school. (The science education in India is excellent, not law) So ask your lawyer if she/he has a JD, (and not an LLM) if so from where, and what his/her class standing was. Choose based on your lawyer’s brains, not his/her ability to be nice to you.
I am sure none of those foreign lawyers could get into any law school in the US in a JD program. Law unlike medicine is NOT universal. It is specific to a country, a region. Foreign lawyers often do not have a clear picture of our body of law, our principles and constitution.
EXPERIENCE-Your Lawyer should have substantial experience (at least 5 years) in doing your type of cases. For instance if you have a family immigration case, going to a lawyer who only does business immigration law or assylum, will not help you. If you have a knee problem you go to an orthopedic specialist, not a dermatologist. So ask your Lawyer how long she has experience and in what type of cases. Do your due diligence and google search and learn what you can before engaging them.
BIG FIRMS WHERE THEY WONT CARE ABOUT YOU: So you walk into this shiny office of a big law firm, to be interviewed by a partner. He promises you that they know the “immigration Officers and have all positive results.” You pay big bucks as retainer. That’s the last time you ever talk to a lawyer. Your case is being handled by a paralegal, who has no brains. You leave messeges and e mails, none of which are returned. Please bear in mind, that unlike most other countries, NO LAWYER in the US has any special relationship to the Government. The big bucks that you paid just went into the lawyers pocket and his expensive upkeep. In general, turn around time is much slower in big law firms. In Immigration Law the day you file your case is your priority date and that date MATTERS. Most big law firm will take upto a month to file your case, a valuable time loss for you. So ask your lawyer about who specifically will do your case (a lawyer or a paralegal), who will return your phone calls/e mails, and when will they actually file your case.
FEES: Last but not least is the money. I would choose the middle of the road fees. The lower end fees are generally charged by incompetent lawyers, who may take your money and may not even file your case. The higher end fees go towards a shiny office for your affluent lawyer. Generally the middle of the road fees are the best.