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Finding a Damn Good
Immigration Attorney



Pages  1, 2

Finding Information:

The Web is a place where anyone can be published. Fancy software can make a site look impressive while providing no other certainty that the information on it is correct. Of course, this is true for all subjects, but it can be a serious matter when it comes to immigration issues.

Pay attention to how often a site updates. Look for those that update daily or weekly and which provide or link to the most up-to-date processing times, waiting times and visa bulletins.

Find out who hosts the site, what their credentials are and what sources they use. Be wary of those who make wild promises and sound too good to be true. There are no magic fixes in immigration. Under various circumstances, even marriage to a US citizen may not guarantee anything immigration-wise. Wild promises indicate a certain lack of responsibility and may even hint at fraud.

Once you've educated yourself in the basic immigration ins and outs, and hopefully not before then, it's time to chose an attorney, there are many things that you can use as an indicator.

"Help! Where and How Do I Find a Good Attorney?!"

Most cases can be handled from afar, says Greg Siskind. "Only cases where an [INS or court] appearance is necessary, really require a local attorney," he points out. "Although travel expenses are usually not that high for most cases," the Tennessee attorney maintains, "we can either hand pick   local counsel, or work in association with a lawyer located in your area."

Located in Los Angeles, California, The Law Offices of Carl Shusterman also take many long-distance cases, says Shusterman, and he is very familiar with top immigration attorneys around the country that he can recommend.

Of course, taking a look at where the attorney went to law school, what associations he/she belongs to and other credentials is all important, says Siskind.

He stresses that first and foremost, an immigration attorney should be a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). "This shows the commitment of the attorney to this area of practice," he says. Also, "AILA provides an information Net forum containing many posts where attorneys can discuss all kinds of difficult cases and ever-changing procedures. There is a daily immigration library and annual seminars as well.

Very true," says Shusterman, just don't let that be your only indicator. "AILA is not that selective," he explains. "Membership is acquired through payment of a fee, and they don't monitor how well the attorney does his or her job. Use this as a mandatory prerequisite, but not the sole criteria."

Another great indicator can be a website, says Siskind. While some of the most outstanding attorneys do not have a website, having one that provides good, consistent and accurate information can be a solid testament to how well-informed that attorney is. "If they don't have a website," he says, "figure out what the attorney does do to stay in touch. Do they have a newsletter for clients? Do they initiate and answer e-mails quickly and readily?" And you can ask for a firm answer on how often they meet with clients.

If the attorney does have back issues of a newsletter, Shusterman suggests that you do a little historical research to see how accurate some of their legal predictions were in terms of changing INS policies and case outcomes.

This is a fluid and ever-changing sector, says Siskind. "Make sure the attorney you hire has several years of experience in immigration law and only immigration law. There is virtually no way that an attorney can keep up with this area of law while practicing in other areas at the same time.

You don't want to be someone's Guinea Pig," says Shusterman. If they are right out of law school, they may be inexpensive, but the risks are far greater unless you have an extremely simple case. One wrong answer on a form can lead to months of backlog and red tape. "It can be deceptively easy to 'just fill out a form,'" he warns.

Lawyers.com provides a listing of the Martindale- Hubbell ratings on attorneys, says Shusterman. Martindale-Hubbell is considered the single most reliable source for information on lawyers and can help you select one to meet your needs.

Furthermore, in Texas, Florida and California, attorneys are classified by their area of specialization. While attorneys in other states specialize without the benefit of this system, this official specification provides yet another means for doing a background check on your attorney if he or she is in one of these states. According to Shusterman, the certification requires a listing of courses taken by the attorney, the passing of an exam, and an collection of professional recommendations.

Siskind points out that many immigration attorneys further specialize in particular areas within immigration law. If you have an amnesty case, search for an attorney that specializes in that. In this kind of very specific specialization, having several specialties is fine, but you don't want to have an attorney represent you on a deportation case, for example, unless he or she has experience in that area. (So how does an attorney learn if they can never take a first case?" you ask? Well, they can work on a case with a senior attorney until they know the ropes well enough to work their own cases, but that shouldn't be your concern.)

In addition, it can be helpful to know that the attorney in question has had extensive dealings with the INS, either as a previous employee or in other significant capacities.

Another good way to monitor a lawyer's professionalism is through reviewing the press they have received and taking note of how often those attorneys are used as sources by major media, Siskind points out. Part of what immigration information on the web has done, is to make both journalists and clients much more knowledgeable. A good attorney should greet this pressure with relative ease and be able to rise to the occasion. "Interview your attorney!" says Siskind. The Internet has made clients much more savvy and it's getting harder for lousy attorneys to pull the wool over their eyes. If you are seeking an immigration attorney, you too should be one of those savvy interviewers.

Shusterman points out that being put on the spot for an immediate answer, i,.e. by reporters on the phone, or in professional live chats, is definitely a good indicator of being on the ball. "Journalists don't keep calling you if you aren't providing legally accurate information," he points out. Look too at which publications are quoting the attorney. How well known and prestigious are those publications? Do you trust them to identify top sources?

The Internet Changes Client/Attorney Dealings:

The availability of Immigration information on the web will inevitably, to some extent, change the way things have been done. "You will start to see the unbundling of legal services," says Siskind, where clients fill out forms and the law firm checks them over, handles complications and oversees the case. This will enable those without financial means to reap the benefits of having an attorney.

Another things we will start to see more of is client-specific, password protected web sites, says Siskind, who may implement this at some point. In other words, immigration attorneys will eventually set up pages where their clients can look at their own files right on line and perhaps view personal messages from their attorneys.

One firm, Frageman, already does this, says Shusterman. But it's a very large corporate firm that takes few if any individual cases and is not publicized for the general public. The firm is also responsible for some of the top immigration law books available to those practicing law.

These changes are a good indication of the trends toward a more client-friendly environment when it comes to immigration law. It used to be nearly impossible to find legal information unless you went to a law library, or subscribed to an prohibitively expensive online database for attorneys. Now, however, freedom of legal information on the Net means that you can be an educated consumer, and a cunning interviewer of your prospective attorney. This may even be a pretty good situation for immigration attorneys, who, instead of spending time taking hundreds of phone calls about general laws or procedures, can spend most of their time learning about the ever-changing laws and procedures, and directly handling your case instead.

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