Ask Avvo: Can I handle my immigration case on my own?

Immigration, Rights

Q: My husband and I have been living in the United States for seven years and we have two children who were born here. I think we’re eligible for the new Deferred Action immigration program and I’m wondering what we should do now. Can we complete the paperwork ourselves, or do we need to find a lawyer or other legal aid professional to help us?

A: I used to work for a judge who handled divorce court. One day someone asked the judge if she could handle her own divorce. “Sure,” she said. “You can also do your own dental work, but I wouldn’t recommend it.”

The same thing goes for immigration law. Before you start doing your own immigration case, it’s a good idea to at least consult with an expert. Sometimes you can do your own paperwork, but first you need to carefully analyze whether you’re likely eligible for the benefit. Especially now that President Obama announced executive action on immigration, it’s important to be very careful about whom you turn to for advice.

Here are some tips for finding a great immigration lawyer.

Before you meet with the attorney:

  1. Look at the attorney’s Avvo profile. Does the attorney have good reviews from clients and other attorneys?
  2. Check to see if the attorney is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. While attorneys are not required to join, this organization helps immigration lawyers stay up to date on legal developments.
  3. How many areas of law does the attorney practice? Immigration law is extremely complex. Most attorneys who are very knowledgeable in immigration practice only practice this area of law or maybe one or two other areas.
  4. Has the attorney published articles or given trainings on immigration law? This is a good sign that others look to this attorney as an expert.

Questions to ask the attorney:

  1. What percentage of your work is with immigration cases?
  2. What type of immigration cases do you handle? There are many types of immigration matters, and often attorneys will focus on specific types of cases.
  3. How will we communicate about my case?
  4. How quick should I expect a response from you?
  5. Who will be doing most of the work on my case? Many immigration offices have paralegals and legal assistants. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for a non-attorney to be doing work on your case, but make sure you know who will be doing the work.

Things to consider after meeting with the attorney:

  1. Did the attorney explain the process well?
  2. Was the attorney clear about the total cost? Cost is definitely a factor to consider, but if you go for the lowest bidder, remember that you sometimes get what you pay for.
  3. Did the attorney provide you with a written representation agreement?