I am constantly amazed when clients hire me after a 30 minute consultation without ever asking several basic questions about me. I believe an important part of an initial consultation should involve you learning about me. Following are questions I think every client should ask when meeting with a prospective immigration attorney.
How many cases like this have you handled in the past year? If you are prepared to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for representation, it is appropriate to ask how many of those types of cases the lawyer handled in the previous year. If the lawyer has immigration as only a small part of his or her practice, it is fair for you to know this information when deciding who to hire.
Are you licensed to practice law in this state? Because attorneys can practice immigration law across state lines and because many non-attorneys try to provide immigration services, it is entirely appropriate to ask to see the attorney’s license. This will tell you if the person is an attorney and what state licensed the attorney.
I believe that people needing immigration representation should work only with a licensed attorney. Immigration law is too complex and the consequence too severe for a person to pay someone who is not a lawyer. In addition, you should consider whether it is wise to work with an attorney who is not licensed in the state where you live. It is often legally permissible for an attorney licensed in one state to represent clients in a different state. However, the client should consider how available the out-of-state lawyer will be to clients in a remote state.
What will the cost be and will it be in writing? Clients should expect the cost and scope of representation to be in writing. It is appropriate to ask detailed questions about the fee arrangement: Is this a flat fee? Will there be other fees in the future? If I hire you on an hourly basis, what is your hourly rate? How much will it cost each time I visit or call you in the future? Don’t be afraid to ask questions about money.
How long have you been doing immigration work? While new attorneys can be very competent and, in fact, are often motivated to work hard to earn your trust, the level of experience of an attorney is an important consideration when deciding who to hire.
Have you ever been punished or sanctioned by your state bar? Much information about lawyer discipline is now available on-line. For example, you can look me up here: http://www.scbar.org/Bar-Members/Member-Directory. You should ask about and investigate whether the attorney has ever been disciplined by the licensing body.
If approached in a professional manner, I think you will find many attorneys appreciate the client who wants to candidly address these questions.