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How to Choose an Immigration Attorney

The United States immigration system is complicated, confusing, and often frustrating. That is why choosing the right immigration attorney is crucial to achieving a successful outcome for your case. Selecting an immigration attorney to help you can be overwhelming and daunting. It is often hard to know where to begin, what to look for in an immigration attorney, and how to evaluate immigration attorneys to determine which one is a right fit for you.

This article provides some guidance to individuals in need of an immigration attorney by offering some suggestions on what to look for and what to avoid when it comes to selecting an immigration attorney for your case. 

What Does it Mean to Have a Good Immigration Attorney? 

Whether you are applying for a Green Card, adjusting status, or trying to have your family join you in the United States, having a competent and diligent immigration attorney can make all the difference. Below are some things you should look for when selecting an immigration attorney.

Necessary Qualifications

Here are some must-have qualifications you should keep in mind when selecting an immigration attorney for yourself or your family.

Friendly, Reliable, and Sympathetic

It might seem simple, but it can be very important to have an immigration attorney who is kind, caring, and appreciates the stress and frustration of the immigration system. Immigration to the United States is a huge undertaking, and is already an anxious experience on its own. Make sure your immigration attorney is someone you feel you can trust and rely on, and is also someone who takes your concerns and your situation seriously. 

Licensed Attorney 

Having the assistance of a trained and licensed immigration attorney is a fundamental qualification you should insist upon when selecting who to hire. Make sure you hire a licensed attorney, not a self-proclaimed “visa consultant,” “application preparer,” or even a notary. These individuals may claim to be experts in immigration law, and may even offer to help you with your immigration case at affordable rates, but they do not have the expertise of a licensed attorney. Licensed attorneys are more effective at handling emergencies, navigating complex and changing requirements, and are able to appear in court on your behalf, if necessary. 

Specializes in Immigration Law 

Some attorneys do not focus on a particular field of law, but instead work on a range of legal issues. Other attorneys pick a particular field of law to focus on, and in doing so, become quite expert at it. Because immigration law is so complex and unique, you should limit your choices to those who are focused solely or chiefly on immigration law when selecting an immigration attorney. Immigration attorneys are usually members of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), so membership to AILA is a good sign that an attorney focuses primarily on immigration law. 

Awards and Recognition

Excellent attorneys are often recognized with awards and other accolades by organizations, associations, publications, and other attorneys. After finding attorneys who specialize in immigration law, you can identify a great one by narrowing down your choices to those who have been recognized by awards or other accolades related to their work in immigration law.

Access to Your Attorney

The ability to contact your attorney and have them answer your questions is invaluable when navigating the complicated immigration system. Sometimes attorneys take on too many clients while offering cheaper services. Other attorneys may take on fewer clients but charge more money for their services. It may be worth it to spend more for an attorney who will give you a greater portion of their time. At the very least, when deciding which immigration attorney to hire, ask about the number of clients they have and the amount of time they are able to spend on your case.

Speaking Your Language

There are many bi-lingual immigration attorneys out there who typically work with clients that speak their language. Whether you speak some English, or none at all, it can make a big difference to have an immigration attorney that can communicate with you in the language with which you are most comfortable. 

Important Tips for Selecting an Immigration Attorney 

Ask Yourself: What Type of Immigration Attorney Do I Need? 

Immigration is a broad field of law in the United States. There are immigration attorneys who focus on adoption, business, employment, or other types of cases. Some immigration attorneys focus on deportation or refugees and asylum claims. When deciding on an immigration attorney who is right for you, make sure you narrow your choices to attorneys who focus on the type of immigration law and the sort of specific cases that are similar to your case. 

Research Attorneys

Conducting thorough research can be hugely beneficial to finding an immigration attorney that is right for you and your case. Here are some tips on how and where to find the names of great immigration attorneys. 

Ask Friends and Family

A great starting point for finding a quality immigration attorney is by asking family or friends if they have any suggestions or have hired an immigration attorney themselves who they would recommend. If you and your family are trying to come to the United States, it can be very beneficial to have the same immigration attorney handle your cases because they are most familiar with your circumstances. 

Find Attorneys on the Internet

Most, if not all, immigration attorneys and immigration law firms have websites that describe their law practice, experience, expertise, credentials, and accolades. Additionally, doing some research on the internet can provide you with reviews and impressions other clients have had from their experience with an immigration attorney. The AILA offers a free immigration lawyer search feature on their website, though not all attorneys who are members of AILA will appear in the search. If you find a few good candidates to hire as your immigration attorney, you can do some research about each individually to find out more about their career and reputation.

Schedule Consultations

Perhaps the most important thing you can do when deciding which immigration attorney to hire is to meet with the candidates you would most like to hire. Consultations can take place over the phone, Zoom or other video chat, or in person and are commonly free or low-cost. A consultation allows the attorney and yourself to determine if your case is a good fit for the attorney, and if you think the attorney is someone you want to work with. Do not be afraid to ask tough and specific questions at consultations and make sure you think critically about what you like and don’t like about the attorneys you meet with. Even if you or the attorney determine your case is not a good fit for their practice after the consultation, the attorney may have a suggestion or referral to another attorney you hadn’t considered yet. 

Compare Attorneys

After you have conducted research on various immigration attorneys or attended a few consultations, make sure you compare the attorneys you’ve researched or met with. You can compare their rates, their demeanor and temperament, their academic and experiential history, whether they’ve won awards, what each of them promises or recommends, and more. Comparing attorneys can help you recognize when an attorney is over-promising or is not as expert as you were hoping for because something they said or suggested does not match up with that of other attorneys you met with or researched.

Avoid Unethical or Unrealistic Attorneys 

Like any profession, there are some immigration attorneys who focus more on making money or procuring clients than successfully processing their clients’ cases. Keep an eye out for attorneys who overstate their ability to successfully process your case by promising astonishingly fast processing times or guarantees that you’ll be approved or selected in a lottery, to name a couple examples. If an attorney makes promises to you that you think are unrealistic, you may be correct. Before selecting an attorney to hire, you can cross-check the promises made by one attorney by asking another attorney if they could make the same promise, or what their opinion is about the promises made by the other attorney. 

It is especially important to avoid attorneys who use unethical tactics on behalf of their clients. Attorneys who act unethically are usually in violation of their professional code of conduct, and the unethical behavior may jeopardize your case. Unethical behavior can include an unclear fee agreement, suggestions to bribe or exchange favors with immigration officials, lying on petitions or other immigration documentation, using fake or doctored photo identification documents, or otherwise attempting to work around the normal application processes. 

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Sweta Khandelwal

Sweta completed her Masters in Law from the University of California, Los Angeles and her JD from the Faculty of Law, Delhi University in India and has been practicing law for 15+ years getting visas, green cards, and citizenship for 1000+ clients, 100+ companies across 50+ nationalities.

Sweta has been recognized as a ” Super Lawyer, Rising Star,” and as amongst the ” Top 40 under 40″ immigration attorneys in California (American Society of Legal Advocates). She is also the recipient of the Advocacy Award by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Sweta is also a chartered accountant — the equivalent of a CPA. This makes her uniquely positioned to understand the immigration needs of her business clients in the broader context of their corporate objectives.

Sweta is actively involved with immigration issues and immigrant communities in various capacities. She has assumed key roles at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), both at the local and national level. She has been a past chair at the Santa Clara Valley Chapter at AILA and has also been involved in various practice area committees at AILA National. Sweta has addressed multiple conferences/forums in the United States and worldwide on immigration and business issues.

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