The following article does not pertain to any specific lawyer or lawyer. Instead, this article simply offers suggestions on what you should consider in making the decision to hire a lawyer. Additionally, this article is an informative piece that can apply to those of you that have already hired a lawyer to represent you.
The Oxford Dictionary of American English defines attorney as a "person that is empowered to act on another's behalf" while a lawyer is defined as a "legal practitioner." Although one may refer to oneself as an attorney or lawyer if they have graduated law school and passed an appropriate State Bar exam, certainly, the person that you are hiring to act on your behalf should be more qualified than that. The person should be more than a simple practitioner of the law.
The immigration attorney that you are empowering to act on your behalf should practice only immigration law. If the lawyer practices in other areas, make sure that the disciplines are related. For example, "dog-bite" law and immigration law have no practical relation with one another while immigration lawyers who delve into the criminal courts, or immigration lawyers who are familiar with employment law are lawyers that you may wish to consider hiring. Of course, it depends on the issues involved in your individual case.
Obviously, the lawyer you hire must be knowledgeable about immigration law. I would recommend only hiring a lawyer that is certified as a specialist in immigration and nationality law by the State Bar of California or have sat for the specialization exam and passed it. In order to find out if your lawyer is certified as a specialist, you can visit the State Bar of California's website, or simply ask the lawyer. If they are not certified as a specialist, ask them why.
I would also recommend that the lawyer you hire to act on your behalf be admitted to the Bar of the State that you reside in or intend to reside in. If you are in California, do yourself a favor. Insist that the lawyer you hire is admitted to the State Bar of California. See, to practice immigration law in California, one is not required to be admitted to the State Bar of California. Immigration law is federal and therefore, if one is admitted to practice law in any State of the Union, one can practice immigration law in California. The draw-back to this, however, is that your lawyer may have been admitted to practice in a State that has a less difficult bar exam than California and therefore is not expected to meet the arduous requirements imposed by the State Bar of California. Moreover, if the lawyer is not admitted to the State Bar of California, he is not subject to discipline by the State Bar of California. Consequently, one is unable to find out the Bar history of one's lawyer unless one knows which State his lawyer was admitted to.
Thus, prior to hiring an immigration lawyer I would recommend that you ask if they are admitted to practice law in the State of California. If so, I would immediately ask that attorney if she has ever been subject to any disciplinary proceedings by the State Bar. I would ask that attorney to go on-line, with you in their office, and print out their State Bar history which will reflect either the absence of presence of disciplinary proceedings. It goes without saying but will be said anyway: if the State Bar has disciplined your lawyer, do not hire him. Along those lines, ask you attorney if she has ever been sued by a client or has sued a client. If your attorney reveals that she has sued clients before, ask them why.
Simply put, in order to act on your behalf, your attorney must be qualified. As indicated above, there is more to being qualified to practice immigration law than having a law degree. Qualification and naturally the quality of the subsequent representation will depend on the ability of your lawyer to communicate and prepare your case. Your attorney must be able to effectively communicate with you and explain things in plain and simple English. Communication is not only essential to positive attorney-client relationship(s), but perhaps more importantly, to effective presentation of your case. Put differently, if your attorney cannot communicate with you, your attorney cannot communicate with the tribunal before which she represents you.
Effective communication begins at the initial client interview, and must be present at all levels of your case. This holds especially true in immigration court proceedings. At a recent presentation by the Honorable Bruce J. Einhorn - a Los Angeles Immigration Court Judge- his Honor commented that communication translates into preparation and without preparation, cases are lost. Judge Einhorn went on to comment how troubling it is that the same lack of preparation that he noticed on the part of immigration lawyers when he first took the bench 14 years ago, is still a major problem today. Lack of preparation on the part of your attorney is, to say the very least, unacceptable.
During an initial consultation you will be able to sense whether or not the consulting attorney (who in many firms will not be the attorney representing you) is able to communicate with you and thus, be able to effectively prepare your case. You will be able to immediately glean whether or not your attorney, or a paralegal, will be charged with practical duty of preparing your case. An attorney will never tell you that the paralegal will be the one preparing your case. After all, such a revelation would likely be a violation of the rules of the State Bar of California (but perhaps not a violation of other State's Bar rules). This is something that you will have to figure out for yourself. And, you will be able to figure it out either in the initial consultation, or after you hire your immigration lawyer.
If in the initial consultation you are unable to ascertain the levels of preparation and communication that will be afforded you and decide to hire the attorney anyway, I would suggest asking yourself some of the following after you have made the decision to hire: are you able to contact your attorney when you need to? How are your telephone calls being handled? Are you addressed by name or file number? Are your voicemail messages returned by the individual that you leave them for? Or, does a "paralegal" return your call. Worse yet, does anyone return your calls or are your forced to leave multiple messages. Are you able to meet with your attorney when you need to? How long will you be kept waiting for your appointment? Will you get to meet with the attorney with whom you have an appointment or a fledgling?
There is nothing wrong with asking a consulting attorney the questions posed above. If your attorney is reluctant to answer these simple questions, I would be reluctant to hire him. If your attorney is unable to communicate simple answers to these simple questions, answers which would normally be provided in the comfort of her office, she will be unable to communicate more complicated answers to interviewing INS officers, or worse yet, an interrogating judge. Communication begins at the initial consultation and translates into preparation. Preparation and credibility wins cases. Nothing more. Nothing less.