It never ceases to amaze me how many individuals come to me that are already represented by another lawyer. Some of these lawyers are bagitos; others, beteranos. And, while I am not surprised why people come to us, I naturally must ask them, "if you are already represented, why are you here?" The common answer is something to the effect of: the lawyer I hired is not the lawyer on my case and no one, whether lawyer or "paralegal" returns my calls.
A lawyer's failure to respond to your inquiries is merely the "tip of the iceberg". As I have written before, the attorney-client relationship is based upon communication. And, you must ask yourself: if my lawyer doesn't communicate with me, how can he communicate with the government? The answer: he can't.
Studies have shown that most attorney client relationships fall apart due to a lack of communication, either with a client's failure to respond to attorney's requests, or the attorney failing to return phone calls and e-mails. Communication is a two way street, but when the attorney side of the equation keeps changing the client is understandably upset. At some law-firms clients meet with one attorney only to find out later that their case has been handed off to another attorney, or that a paralegal is the only person that knows anything about your case. Worse yet, some people don't even meet with an attorney. Even the initial client interview is done by a paralegal. This is not, I repeat NOT, how law should be practiced.
From the law-firm's point of view the using different attorneys for different types of visas or representation in court makes perfect sense. Meaning, certain lawyers are better equipped to handle a transactional case while others are more familiar with the court process. What doesn't make sense, however, is the failure to inform the client that the attorney they think they have hired is not working on the case. The courtesy of an introduction to the attorney working on your case and explanation of why they are qualified to handle your family's immigration is absolutely necessary. No one appreciates feeling they have been on the wrong end of the "bait and switch", and simple honest introductions to the team working on your case keeps the client informed and comfortable with their representation.
Failure to return phone calls within a reasonable time indicates three things: 1. The level of respect that the firm has for his client; 2. the level of organization of the firm; or 3. something has not been done on your case and the firm is not comfortable talking about it. As the old saying goes, no one disappears like the friend that owes you money. The same holds true for attorneys that owe you services and cannot seem to produce. More importantly the attorney's most essential tool is communication and if they cannot do something as simple as inform you of the status of your case, chances are they do not communicate well with the Immigration Service, the Embassy or the immigration judge either.
If you haven't heard from your law-firm recently regarding your case, call them, write them, or better yet, ask to speak with the lawyer that you though you were hiring. If none of these inquiries work, take a long hard look at this relationship. You have been doing your part, providing documents making your payments, showing an interest in your case. Simply, your attorney should be able to do the same.
Richard M. Wilner is a principal in the firm of Wilner & O'Reilly. He is Board Certified as a specialist in Immigration and Nationality Law by the State Bar of California and was elected to serve as a Commissioner on the State Bar's Immigration and Nationality Law Advisory Commission.