I am privy to some pretty good jokes about lawyers. Friends, family and fellow attorneys have shared some very entertaining thoughts about lawyers and the individuals who represent the legal profession. Often these jokes revolve around the great lengths that an attorney will go for money or about how hard it is to speak with an attorney once you hire him. Though meant to be funny these commentaries unfortunately find their humor in how close they come to the truth.
To an immigrant in need of a work authorization so the bills can be paid or to a daughter asking for a travel document to see her sick mother in the Philippines there is nothing funny about a lawyer who cannot be reached and the only contact with the law firm seems to be the monthly bill. I know that these scenarios are familiar to many people and to these folks you need to know there is something you can do about it, Maria did.
Not too long ago Maria came to the U.S. with a tourist visa to visit some friends and to get some ideas for her business back in the Philippines. After a few months here in the she met a man that would soon be her husband. After courtship and marriage Maria applied for her permanent residency using one of the attorneys referred to her by a friend. At first the fees seemed expensive but she was assured that it was in her best interest as "you get what you pay for." Confident that her case was being taken care of, Maria signed the retainer with the attorney knowing that she was leaving her life and trust with him. That was the last time she saw him.
Like most of us, Maria had things pop up in her life that required her to speak with her lawyer. Things like her employment where her manager wanted to speak with her attorney, a family illness in the Philippines and the need for permission to travel and other things that required the assurance of her attorney, so that she could have some peace of mind.
However, each time Maria called her attorney she was given the choice of speaking with a paralegal or to leave a voice mail. At first Maria just left a voice mail thinking she would receive a return phone call. Days would pass and no such call came. Each try seemed in vain as she became very familiar with how the phone system worked in that law office.
When it became apparent that the lawyer would not speak with her she decided to contact the paralegal assigned to the case and through her get the messages to the attorney. The paralegal was polite at first but Maria still did not get that return phone call from the attorney. After a few more attempts with the paralegal Maria was told not to call back and if she did she would be billed. Despondent, feeling alone, Maria looked elsewhere for help.
Now this type of treatment does not happen to every immigrant and there are many fine law firms that have made customer service a top priority. However, there is a growing trend where an attorney disappears after he is hired. You can take steps to make sure this does not happen to you. Here are few ideas to help.
When you seek that first consultation with your attorney ask him about your right to speak with him, can you call him, will he return your calls, can you have his cell phone number in case of emergency and will he be the one working on your case. If the attorney who you consult with will not be the one to work on your case ask to speak with the lawyer who will be assigned to you and go over the previous questions again with the attorney actually assigned to work on your case.
After you have hired the attorney you should realize that you are the boss and you do not have to stand for an attorney who gives you the run around. If the attorney will not answer your calls you can use email to try and contact him and if that still does not work call the office and set up an appointment to meet with him or her personally. Make sure to discuss your feeling about your treatment and what will be done differently. If the lack of proper treatment continues you can leave that attorney and find another that will better serve your interests.
Many immigrants are under the wrong impression that if you sign a retainer agreement with a lawyer that you are stuck in that relationship even if you are not happy. This is not true. An immigrant can terminate that relationship at anytime and find counsel somewhere else.
When the possibility of leaving is expressed the customer service of the offending law firm usually improves.
It is bad enough that the Immigration Service is this large, unfeeling behemoth that does not listen that your attorney should mirror its practices. Find a lawyer that you can speak with, that you can trust and put yourself at ease. There are plenty of good firms that do this and you will find that someone is in fact listening.