Choosing a lawyer can be the most important decision an immigrant makes. Before hiring legal counsel, take the time to find out what you're getting. Here are questions you should ask during an interview with a prospective attorney:
How long have you been practicing immigration law?
There is no substitute for experience when it comes to handling the most challenging cases. It’s important that your attorney not only knows the law but also understands the process. Don’t be afraid to ask about the lawyer’s background and credentials, either. It can be a good idea to talk to a former client and ask how things went.
Are you a member of AILA?
The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) is a national organization of more than 11,000 attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. They are specialists who are up to date on U.S. law. AILA attorneys represent U.S. families seeking permanent residency for family members and U.S. businesses seeking talent from overseas. AILA members also represent foreign students and asylum seekers, often on a pro bono basis.
Have you worked on cases similar to mine?
It’s always a plus if the lawyer has been successful working a case that is similar to yours. Immigration cases can vary greatly and experience with your particular situation can make all the difference.
What actions will you take immediately and what will follow?
Try to get a mental picture of the road ahead. Get an idea how complicated or difficult your case may be. Take the opportunity beforehand to find out how knowledgeable and how aggressive your prospective attorney is.
What are my chances of a positive outcome?
An experienced, reputable attorney will have a good idea what’s ahead and won’t make promises that can’t be kept. Be wary if you hear something that sounds too good to be true. It just might be.
What can I do or what can I give you to improve my chances for success?
Try to be a working partner in your own cause. Get your lawyer the documents or information she or he requires as soon as possible. Make sure you are forthcoming and that the information you give about yourself is accurate and complete. Get involved and learn the legal terminology.
Can you give me an estimate of how long it will take to resolve my case?
It is always difficult to come up with a precise timetable when you’re dealing with the government, especially when it comes to immigration issues. But an experienced attorney can give you at least a rough estimate of what the schedule ahead might look like. You also can check on your case status directly with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Who will be working on my case besides you?
Support staff can be critical. Ask about any paralegals, investigators, researchers or even secretaries that will be assisting your attorney. It’s good to know their names and understand their roles. If there are language or translation issues, find out who might speak your language in the office.
How will we communicate with each other?
Find out if the lawyer wants to talk by phone, or communicate by emails, text messages or overnight mail. Many attorneys still rely on traditional postal services (snail mail) to do much of the work. If that doesn’t suit you, make other arrangements or hire someone else. Don’t leave the office or turn off the phone without getting all the contact information you will need. If you’re overseas, you need to think about time differentials when you’re calling or text messaging.
What is your rate and what is your best estimate of the total cost?
Ask what type of payment the lawyer accepts (are credit cards OK?) and when you will be billed. Ask for a breakdown of the charges and see if there are any ways to minimize the cost. Find out if there are any extra expenses that might come up.