A lawyer sells skill, experience, knowledge, and time. The lawyer has knowledge from training in law school, from reading about changes in the law, and from experience as a lawyer. Unfortunately, there is no sure way to tell if the lawyer you choose is competent.
One way to select a lawyer is by recommendation of a satisfied client. Be careful though, since no two cases are the same, even if your friend's case was successful, it is no guarantee that your case will be successful. Also, lawyers have different personalities. The lawyer who works well with your friend may not get along with you. A satisfied client might be a good way for you to know that the lawyer has some knowledge and experience in the particular area of immigration law that you need help with.
Another way to choose a lawyer is by reading advertisements, articles, an Internet Web site, or other information about a lawyer or written by the lawyer. In this way you can find out what areas of the law the lawyer has experience in. If the lawyer has written books or articles, you may want to read them to see how the lawyer discusses situations similar to yours. You might also contact a bar association to ask for a referral to a lawyer. Make sure the lawyer is experienced in imigration law.
You may hear a lawyer speak at a meeting or when you visit the lawyer's office. You can decide if the lawyer sounds knowledgeable, intelligent, patient, understanding, precise, aggressive or whatever qualities you like to see in your lawyer.
Choosing a lawyer by the size of the fee may not be a good idea. Fees, whether high or low, do not always indicate the competence of an attorney. Of course, if the fee is too high for your pocketbook, you will have to look elsewhere. But sometimes a law office that charges a low fee may not have the staff and equipment to do a first class job. It is also good to remember that a high fee is no guarantee of competence. Some fees start out low but can become higher if the lawyer adds on extra charges as the case goes along. Be sure to ask if the fee covers everything in your case or if there may be additional charges. Ask when the payments will be due.
Some immigration attorneys set a fixed, exact fee. Others charge according to the time spent on your case. This is called an hourly retainer. The work to be done in some immigration cases can be estimated fairly accurately. Others are quite difficult to predict. A lawyer is more likely to charge an hourly rate for a case where the time to be spent is difficult to estimate.
If you request it, a lawyer should give you a Retainer Agreement or other paper with the fee written down. The agreement should say what the lawyer will try to do for you. If the lawyer does not want to give you a written agreement, find out why. Do not look for a guarantee in the agreement. All law cases are subject to change in the facts and in the law that take place as they are being worked on.
A lawyer should meet with you to explain how your case will be done. The lawyer may not explain all the details but the lawyer should tell you enough for you to have confidence in the lawyer and the plan for your case.
The lawyer should answer your questions clearly and with patience. A lawyer who is in a hurry or who is not clear does not install confidence. A lawyer cannot always give an exact answer and may only be able to estimate how long a case will take. While a lawyer cannot guarantee success in a case, the lawyer should give you an idea of the chance for success.
Ask if the lawyer will personally take care of your case. In some offices, junior attorneys, paralegals, or little trained assistants take over after a case is started and you may never see or hear from the lawyer personally again. It is not wrong for another person to take care of your case, but you may want to know about before you start.
A lawyer's office should be able to give you the status or what the next step is in your case when you ask. Since it takes valuable time to answer your status questions, do not ask too often. Some offices accept only written status requests.
If a lawyer has sent a letter or filed a paper for you, the lawyer should be able to show you a copy of the letter or a receipt for the paper. If the lawyer cannot show this to you and cannot explain why there is no receipt, it may be a sign of a disorganized office or that the paper was not filed.
Make sure the person in charge of the office is a lawyer. Notaries, consultants, or others who are not licensed as a lawyer will sometimes pretend to be a lawyer. If you are in the office, look for the lawyer's certificate on the wall. Since some licensed lawyers do not display their certificates, you can ask if the person is a lawyer. Look at the business card from the office. See if it says that the person is a lawyer or attorney.
If you are unhappy with your lawyer, you can change and go to another lawyer asking to have your case transferred. This may not be a good idea unless you are very unhappy since changing lawyers will usually cost additional fees and may increase the time needed finish a case.
If you find a good lawyer, tell other people. The lawyer will appreciate it.
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© Richard Madison, 1998
Last edit 11 Apr 98
Law Office of Richard Madison
© Richard Madison, 1998
Last edit 11 Apr 98