Recently a client came to Wilner & O'Reilly with a major problem. He went to a large law-firm to file his immigration application, however a paralegal at the firm claiming he was an "attorney" offered to file his case on the side at a reduced rate. The paralegal did not realize that the client was not eligible for the immigrant visa and now this person has had to hire us to represent him in deportation proceedings. Any qualified immigration attorney would have recognized the problem and would have realized the filing of the immigrant visa application would place this person at risk for deportation. This underscores the importance of knowing your case has been reviewed and is being supervised by attorneys belonging to the California Bar.
Does this story sound familiar? Do you feel the staff at your immigration attorney's firm is "out of control"? Have you actually met with an attorney on your case? Has a paralegal ever offered to do your case "on the side" for less than the law firm normally charges? These legal staffing problems can be avoided by an insistence on attorney contact by the client.
At Wilner & O'Reilly we pride ourselves on our 100% attorney to client contact ratio. While legal staff assists with immigration cases, no client can start a case or file additional immigration applications without personal consultation with an attorney and that attorney's signature on a contract for services.
At many other large firms a client may be asked to consult with a paralegal or other staff person and have services recommended to them without any interaction with a licensed attorney. This leads to unfortunate consequences in which poorly supervised paralegals approach the client with offers to perform immigration services on the side or off the books of the law firm at a discounted rate.
What would you do if your paralegal asked you to file your immigration applications with them instead of their law firm? If you refuse to take the paralegal up on their offer, you now have to worry about the consequences, will you get poor service? Will the paralegal seek to retaliate in some way? Many clients may feel they have no choice but to pay the paralegal.
The consequences of taking the paralegal up on their offer can be quite severe. Many paralegals, some of them licensed attorneys in their home country, simply do not know intricacies of immigration law or the consequences of taking certain actions. Some necessary steps, such as filing of a waiver may not be accomplished without a licensed attorney. However, the Paralegal, not wishing to be discovered in his or her scheme to take business from his employer, will not recommend that a waiver be filed.
The damage to a case can be severe, and one available remedy, the ineffective assistance of counsel claim may be lost because the person providing poor or damaging advice was not an attorney. If you are approached by your paralegal to do anything that appears improper, I recommend that you not only notify their employer, but change attorneys. This sort of mis-conduct within a firm indicates that there is poor management, a failure to institute controls on how the firm is run, and may be the tip of the iceberg for problems including missing important filing deadlines, or failing to observe all requirements for filing crucial documents with an application or claim for relief.