Tips for Choosing an Immigration Lawyer

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There's a fair bit of paperwork to get done during the immigration process, and you may feel overwhelmed when you first sit down to prepare your immigration forms. You might begin to wonder if you need to hire an immigration lawyer to manage the process. However, if your case is fairly straightforward, you should be able to manage things on your own.

There are good reasons, though, to hire an immigration lawyer to handle your case.

If you run into a snag partway through the process, you might need legal assistance to work through the issue. If your immigration situation is complicated, or if you simply don't have the time or confidence to prepare the forms yourself, you might benefit from the help of an immigration lawyer.

If you're going to hire an immigration lawyer, you need to do your homework. A good lawyer can be worth his or her weight in gold, while a poor one may just add to your problems. Here are 5 tips to keep in mind during your search.

  • Get references. Ask family, friends or colleagues if they know any immigration lawyers. Even if they haven't been through immigration themselves, they may be able to connect you with someone they know who has retained the services of an immigration lawyer. People are quick to recommend a good lawyer and even quicker to name a poor one, which can be a great help when you're beginning your search.
  • Search AILA. Search for a lawyer on the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) website. AILA is a national association of lawyers and attorneys who teach and practice immigration law, so you can be reasonably certain you're dealing with someone who understands immigration law and policies. If you're starting your research from scratch, you can search for a lawyer in your area. If you've been given the names of a few lawyers, you can look them up to see if they are members. While membership in AILA is not a requirement to practice immigration law, membership can be a good indication of a lawyer's level of commitment to the practice.
  • Interview your short list. Interview potential lawyers to find one who matches your needs. Ask them if they have any experience with your type of case. Immigration law is a huge specialty, so you'll want a lawyer who is familiar with your type of case. If the lawyers provide client references, use the contacts to get a better understanding of the lawyers' work styles.
  • Compare fee schedules. Some lawyers bill by the hour while others charge a flat fee. Ask if there might be additional costs such as postage, courier fees or long distance charges.
  • Check credentials. When you're sure you've found a lawyer you feel comfortable with, there's only one thing left to do before you sign a contract for services. Contact your local state bar to find out if your lawyer is licensed and in good standing, and if he or she has ever been subject to disciplinary action.