Monday, November 23, 2015

How Do I Know Which Attorney To Pick?

Bear in mind that an immigration attorney is writing this article. The answer to this question is not so much about which attorney to pick as it is about which attorney is the “right fit” for you. I equate answering this question to answering another question, which for men is “which luggage should I pick” or for women, “which shoes/handbag should I pick?”

Men, do you want to the Louis Vuitton suitcase-long history in the market, name-brand quality, seems to be durable, limited selection, but the cost is far beyond what you can afford. Or will you settle for Samsonite, which is more affordable, probably a lot more durable, more options to choose from, and a more affordable price-tag?

Women, would you opt for the gorgeous Manolo Blahnik’s that hurt like hell but don’t mind because you hope to only wear them for special events?  Or would you settle for the Guess brand because you can use them daily and they look nice enough even though they don’t carry the impressive “Manolo Blahnik” label (which your foot sits on and no one sees)?

Just like choosing luggage or shoes/handbags, the choice of which law firm to retain is a personal decision.  Consider this, when you interview for a job, the potential employer is not the only interviewer.  You are an interviewer too!  You are interviewing the potential employer just as much as the potential employer is interviewing you.  This should be no different than when deciding which attorney to hire.

Although I am a NY-licensed attorney, I had the choice of either solving a New York state legal matter myself, or, hiring another NY-licensed attorney to do the same.  I chose the latter.  Why?  For a couple different reasons.  First, I believe in the old proverb, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.”  President Abraham Lincoln was an attorney and he said, ““He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”  Second, I believe in paying for expertise, and you can bet that I vetted that attorney before I decided to hire him.

Below are my personal opinions of some of the deciding factors regarding which attorney to hire:

COMFORT LEVEL: In my opinion, going to meet an attorney should not be like going to the dentist, a scary experience that you dread on a yearly basis.  I selected a dentist who is funny, pleasant, has a calming atmosphere, makes me feel “at home,” and most importantly, never chides me for any poor dental habits (no one likes to feel judged).

Many of my in-person consultations are from potential clients who are dissatisfied with their current attorneys.  In order to find out if I can help them, I ask the potential client questions about their case.  Many people respond that they “don’t know what is going on with their case” or “don’t know what has been done” on their case.  When I encourage them to talk to their current attorneys so they can learn more about their own case, they are usually either afraid to talk to their attorneys or they cannot reach their attorney by phone, meeting, or email.

Remember, although your attorney is the legal expert, you are the “Boss” in the sense that you ultimately determine what steps are taken in your case!  Being afraid of your attorney is like an employer being afraid of the employee.  No one will care about your case more than you, so it is in your best interest to always stay informed of what is going with your case.  Second why are you agreeing to pay someone of whom you are afraid?  You should be comfortable with the person you will be tied to for the next 6 months or longer (depending on the type of petition being filed).  Third, why are you letting someone (whom you fear) handle your case?  It is possible to find an attorney who will not only advocate for you, but also will keep you informed during the process.

You may be salty about having wasted a consultation fee, but do not let that payment convince you to hire that law firm.  Let’s say you meet the attorney and he or she has a reputation for being very good, but you do not feel comfortable or are scared of the attorney.  Would you feel comfortable to work with that attorney during the pendency of the process (months if representation is for nonimmigrant visas and green cards or years if representation is for employment-based immigrant visas and immigration court)?   Isn’t better to forego the consultation fee and hire an attorney with whom you feel comfortable?

COST:  When it comes to cost, I am a firm believer in “what you pay, is what you get”.  Everyone who knows me, knows I am a big fan of Samsung, from its televisions, to appliances, to laptops and tablets/phone.  Since the company’s products have always offered top quality, I am willing to pay the exorbitant prices, and thus far, I have not been disappointed.

Within my own practice, I offer services in “packages” or “a la carte”.  This way my client can choose the best option that he or she can afford.  However, 100% of the time, the client, of his or her own volition, chooses the “premium package.”  When I ask my clients why they chose the most expensive option I offered, they explained it was because they wanted their best chances of approval, which required doing the most work possible and therefore the most amount of attorney time.  Saving your money in this day and age is always a smart idea, but at the same time, don’t be “penny-wise, pound-foolish.”  Look at the big picture – obtaining lawful status, a work permit, a green card, naturalization, etc.  This is not to say that the highest charging attorneys are the best, but in my own practice of law, I know that a client gets his or her value out of each dollar spent, and that I can guarantee.

TRACK RECORD OF SUCCESS: Track Record of success should be taken with a grain of salt.  Although there is a difference between knowledgeable and experienced, I do not believe that this distinction should determine whether you hire a particular attorney.  Some in-experienced attorneys are more equipped to obtain an approval than experienced attorneys.  Why?

First, they may have either declined to take a certain case due to client’s inability to pay legal fees or they have never been approach (and therefore given the opportunity) to file a certain type of case.  However, if that attorney will strongly advocate for you, then knowledge and creativity are the only other factors that may be needed.

On the other hand, experienced attorneys may take a “rubber stamp” approach and treat your file like the run of the mill filings, ignoring or discounting new USCIS requirements based on the fact that “this is how it’s always been done.”  So when

SIZE OF FIRM: Does the size of the law firm matter?  My brother had the same choice when choosing his Residency Program in Ear, Nose, Throat (ENT).  He was selected by Yale and Indiana University-Purdue (IUPUI). Although Yale carried a renowned reputation, my brother chose IUPUI because for ENT surgery, it was more important for him to get first-hand experience performing surgeries.  At Yale, the surgery would be primarily performed by the surgeon and my brother would not gain the same level of experience. I would say that the size of the law firm should not be the deciding factor when selecting a law firm.

REPUTATION: Retaining a law firm with a well-known reputation should not be a deciding factor.  I would say that reputation of the law firm matters only to the extent that the law firm has not engaged in unlawful practices, but does not accurately reflect the level of service or quality that will be provided.  Remember that in most instances, when you visit a law firm (e.g. small, medium or large) other than a solo practice, you are usually hiring the law firm, not, the particular attorney.  Therefore, the attorney who you meet during your in-person consultation may not be the same attorney who will appear with you in removal proceedings.

It is important to know whether one or more attorneys will be assigned to your case.  This may help determine what size law firm you wish to retain.  Do your due diligence about the attorney who will be handling your case. You can read reviews on Martindale, Avvo, Google, etc.  Research the internet to make sure that there are no lawsuits pending against that attorney for unethical practices.

For me, I always select small businesses for my needs.  I have always received top-quality services and individualized attention, have never been overcharged, and have thus, never been disappointed.  I build a rapport with every professional that I encounter, whether it is my hairstylist, mechanic, accountant, physician, dentist, or loan officer.  Since these relationships are built on trust, there is a mutual sense of loyalty and respect.  Even when I had to retain an attorney, I selected a NY-licensed solo practitioner because after speaking with him, I felt comfortable with him, I knew that he had my best interests in mind, and I felt that he would strongly advocate on my behalf.  Those were the qualities I wanted in my attorney and these are the qualities that I implement in my practice of law.

GUARANTEE: No ethical attorney can “guarantee” a particular result.  The reason being is that each State Bar has ethics requirements that prohibit an attorney from advertising a guaranteed result.

When asked about their chances of approval, here is what I tell my clients: “If I was USCIS [or other applicable government agency], I could give you that answer; but I’m not.  What I can tell you is that I will submit the strongest application possible and I will not submit the application until I feel that it is approvable.”

I WANT A NEW ATTORNEY: If you decide that you just cannot continue with your attorney, there are a few steps that you need to take.

First and most important, request a copy of your file.  The file that the attorney has is legally your file so do not be scared to ask for it back.  Also, unless specified in the Retainer Agreement, the attorney must return all original documents to you (since documents in the file belong to you).  If the attorney chooses to make a copy, he or she can do so (and can charge you a fee for the same).

Second, make sure you have a copy of your signed Retainer Agreement. This will help if a discrepancy arises as to whether service(s) have been rendered.  If a legal fee has been paid and services have not been rendered, in most instances, you are entitled to a refund of unearned legal fees.

Third, always pay your balance on your account.  I’m sure that you wouldn’t work for free so it’s not nice to not pay someone when they have rendered a service upon which you agreed.  If you doubt whether a services has been rendered, ask for a copy of your file.  If the services was to file an I-130 relative petition, an I-130 receipt notice should be in your file.

Finally, you may request to sign a “Disengagement Agreement” to ensure that both parties have proof that representation is terminated and the date of termination.  Some law firms may include the balance on the account, upcoming court dates, notice of withdrawal by the attorney with immigration court/USCIS, etc.

*Nothing contained herein shall be deemed legal advice, and users are cautioned not to rely on any information contained herein.

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