Advice on Choosing an Immigration Attorney
Many international visitors will seek to work in and/or emigrate to the United States. International visitors typically pursue H-1B immigration status for employment authorization. Canadians may be able to utilize other visa options presented under the treaty between the U.S. and Canada (TN status). There are also other employment statuses such as O and P. Some international visitors who are highly skilled may opt for permanent resident applications through labor certifications, national interest waivers or as an alien of extraordinary ability. The legal procedures involved in obtaining employment and permanent resident status often require you to seek legal advice. This webpage is intended to offer practical advice on selecting an attorney who can best serve your needs.
Note to Prospective UC Employees
UC International Services will prepare your H-1B, TN or O employment petition if you will be working at the University of Cincinnati. We will also process your request for permanent residence if you are a faculty member or qualify for the outstanding Professor/Research category. Please consult our website for further information about these services.
Finding an Attorney
Although the attached list gives you the names of local attorneys and a few national firms, you should realize that this is not necessarily an endorsement, and you must still be prepared to interview the attorney. Over the years there has been a lack of coherent resources available to those seeking qualified immigration expertise. This often leads international visitors to opt for an attorney upon the recommendation of friends, acquaintances in the international community, or simply by looking through the phone book. Although these may not necessarily be bad resources, an individual should proceed cautiously in finding qualified legal assistance. Not every case is identical, so while your friend may endorse an attorney wholeheartedly, that attorney may still lack expertise in the specific situation you face.
Unlike most fields of law, the location of your immigration lawyer is not nearly as important as you might think. Immigration law is strictly federal in nature. That means it is basically the same across the country and a lawyer in one state is practicing under the same system as in every other state. Immigration law is almost entirely administrative as well. That means that most petitions are submitted by mail and personal appearances by an immigration lawyer are becoming less and less common.
Making Initial Contact
Once you have made initial contact with an attorney, you should be prepared to interview him/her as you would any job applicant. Depending on your priorities, and if money is a source of concern (and for most international visitors it is), you should ask if there is an initial consultation fee. Some attorneys do not charge a consultation fee, others may have a special dispensation for students, and still others may bill you for the time they spend talking to you or charge a set consultation fee. As a potential client, you must decide whether the initial consultation fee is a concern to you. We also suggest that you attempt to speak with the attorney prior to your consultation. This phone contact allows both you and the attorney to assess the merits of your case and to discuss the general fees involved on a preliminary basis. It allows you to assess the breadth of knowledge the attorney has in immigration law, determine whether they can establish an initial report, have your general questions answered, and learn about fees. Most attorneys allow for some preliminary discussion, but are reluctant to go further due to time constraints and the need to know all the facts before rendering a full legal opinion. Attorneys are not permitted by the professional rules of conduct to give more than basic, general legal advice without a contractual agreement.
Meeting the Attorney
At this initial meeting, the attorney will interview you regarding your various immigration options. You should also take this time to interview the attorney. The most frequent question an attorney is asked is how long he/she has been in practice. The answer may not always be indicative of the breadth of knowledge, as those in practice for many years may have become complacent, and those brand new may be very keen to increase their knowledge, and provide you with zealous representation. The more pressing question is how committed the attorney is to the field of immigration law. Try to ascertain what the attorney does to keep apprised of recent developments, which is crucial in the ever-changing immigration field. Ask your attorney if he/she is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). Ask your attorney whether he/she is active in various organizations concentrating in immigration law, attends immigration conferences, speaks at conferences, or has published articles on immigration. We strongly believe that you may gain an advantage by retaining an attorney who is active in the field. Such activity is usually a good sign of his/her dedication to his/her work.
In addition to the level of dedication to immigration law, try to ascertain whether your attorney has a particular area of concentration in immigration law. Immigration law can basically be separated into family-based, employment-based and deportation-based practices. While the lawyer may be familiar with all aspects of immigration law, he/she probably has strengths in some areas. If you are seeking an H-1B visa, you want to know that H-1B petitions are your attorney’s strong suit.
An initial discourse allows you to discover the attorney’s commitment to the field. When you question an attorney about his/her livelihood, note whether he/she truly enjoys the work. This passion will be replayed in gestures, intonation and ease in discussion of the parameters of immigration law as they relate to you. Obviously, the attorney’s work product will reflect such zeal, whereas those whose work is perfunctory may perform adequately, but may not stay abreast of changes that could have an impact on your case.
Another concern we urge you to raise is internal office protocol. Ask whether the attorney will do the work himself/herself, or whether your case will be allocated to another attorney or paralegal. If so, you should ask to meet that person. When the work is allocated, ask with whom will you have contact. Find out general information about the contact person too. The answers to these questions should make you feel comfortable. Otherwise your search for an attorney should continue.
Pay attention to a law firm's marketing and promotional materials. Evaluate whether the materials are professional and polished or make the firm appear to be “fly-by-night.” How the firm presents itself to its clients and potential clients may be an indicator of how the firm will present itself – and, consequently, you – to the USCIS.
Pay close attention to the ethics of your attorney. Run as fast as you can from lawyers that tell you it is okay to lie or otherwise act dishonestly in your case. Aside from the obvious questions of morality, you are risking jail time and potential lifetime banishment from the United States.
Be weary of attorneys who promise too much. There are actually immigration lawyers out there who swear they have never lost a case even after a lengthy career. Be nervous about lawyers who promise success. A lawyer who honestly presents the risks is worth a lot more. Likewise, be very weary of attorneys who claim to have special influence with the government. Also beware of lawyers who speak too negatively of the competition. If the lawyer is worthy, they can stand on their own record rather than tearing down the record of competitors. Note: It is important for the attorney to be honest with the client and vice versa. Find someone you feel you can trust.
More Specific Questions You Will Want To Ask Include:
Do you take individual clients?
Many attorneys deal almost exclusively with corporate clients. This not only precludes an individual from retaining the services of many attorneys, but also limits the variety of cases such attorneys are accustomed to dealing with. By locating an immigration attorney whose clientele consists largely of
individual clients, you will increase your chances of receiving personal attention in a manner that’s appropriate to your particular situation.
Are you familiar with student needs?
If you are dealing with an immigration matter related to your education, make sure that the immigration lawyer has considerable experience in this area. The law provides a number of options tailored expressly for students, and retaining an immigration lawyer who routinely handles such cases will ensure that you have access to the most current options in immigration law.
How do you set fees?
Most immigration attorneys work on a flat fee basis, though in many matters, hourly billing or contingency billing may be done. If an attorney prices way outside of the market – either on the high of the low side – this should be a source of concern. The lawyer may not have any idea how much work is really involved in the case. Or the lawyer may simply be attempting to price gouge. A lawyer who quotes a price too low may also be able to price that way because the work is being pushed down to the level of a legal assistant or very junior associate. There are great lawyers who charge more and lawyers who operate extremely efficiently who can charge less. But comparison shopping will serve you well.
Have you ever had disciplinary action taken against you?
You will want to find out if the attorney has ever been disciplined by the Board of Professional Responsibility of the state bar. This is an obvious sign of problems.
How do you communicate with your clients?
The number one complaint against attorneys in this country is not poor work quality. It is failing to communicate with their clients. You are paying a lot of money to hire a lawyer and it is your right to expect to be kept informed of the developments and have your calls and emails returned in a timely manner. On the other hand, there is still such a thing as excess and calling your lawyer everyday to find out what is happening on your case is not necessarily fair either. At the end of the day, making yourself an educated consumer of legal services will improve your chance for your case to be managed successfully. That means learning as much as you can about immigration law so that you can work with your lawyer to achieve the best solution possible for your case. It also will help you make sure that you are hiring a lawyer that really knows his/her stuff.
Local & Regional Attorneys & Firms
Marybeth W. Rutledge, Esq.
Attorney at Law
580 Lincoln Park Blvd.
Dayton, OH 45429
Charleston C.K. Wang, Esq.
The Wanglaw Building
6924 Plainfield Road
Cincinnati, OH 45236
Mary Joan Reutter, Esq.
6924 Plainfield Rd.
Cincinnati, OH 45236-3799
National Attorneys & Firms
Rund, Wallman, & Robbins, LLP
151 N. Delaware St., Suite 520
Indianapolis, IN 46204