Finding the Right Immigration Lawyer in Grand Rapids – Part 2

In Part 1 of my series on how to find the right immigration lawyer in Grand Rapids, I gave an overview of why you need to hire an immigration lawyer and some basic considerations of what a good immigration lawyer should be able to do for you. I also told you to do your homework! A client needs to have completed some basic steps before deciding on the right immigration lawyer.

In Part 2, I provide you some detailed factors to consider when choosing an immigration lawyer. This list does not cover each and every factor that could exist but, it does give you some good ideas on what you need to think about in order to make the best possible choice.
In the end, you are the customer and the customer is always right. If you remember two things as a customer, you can lower the risk of picking a lawyer that is not a good fit: 1) a knowledgeable customer rarely makes a bad choice; and 2) don’t settle for anything less than you are willing to accept.

Now, on to the factors:
Experience –  Much of immigration law is unwritten and the longer one is in practice, the better one’s instincts become. However, you should be aware that experience is a two edged sword. Lawyers who have been practicing for many years may become lazy about staying up to date on the latest changes. Indeed, some of the worst lawyers practicing immigration law in the United States are the ones who have been around the longest. So try and strike a balance. Look at other factors listed here to see if the lawyer is someone who is on his game or someone who simply rests on his history.
Use of Technology – Technology has revolutionized the practice of immigration law probably as much as any other area in the legal profession. Does the lawyer use email? Does the lawyer have the latest research and case management software? Does the lawyer use a client portal that allows you to log in to a private and secure website to see what’s happening on your case? It should be obvious that lawyers who master technology deliver legal services with better quality and can often leverage technology to deliver legal services less expensively.
Competence – Simply doing the job is not enough – a client should expect that the job is done right and as efficiently as possible. There are a number is considerations when determining whether the lawyer is competent to give you a better legal experience. For starters, what is his educational background? While many great lawyers come from mediocre law schools remember that there are also some really bad lawyers coming from some of the best law schools. Where a lawyer went to school is only a starting point to determine a person’s ability to achieve.
Next, what is his caseload like? How many open cases does he or she have? How many of those are immigration files? Unfortunately, whatever number the lawyer gives you is the number you’re going to have to accept. But, the lawyer should have an answer for this question right away if he stays on top of his practice.
Is the focus of his or her practice limited to one or two areas of the law?  Or, does he or she practice in just about anything? Criminal? Employment? Family? Bankruptcy? Personal Injury? Workers Compensation? Oh, by the way … Immigration too. That could be trouble and be on guard for the practitioner who is a “jack of all trades but, master of none”. In the old days, one could master a handful of areas of practice but, those days are gone. The law is getting more and more complex and to be an expert in more than a couple practice areas is simply unrealistic.
Is the lawyer published? Has he or she made presentations to the public? These are the characteristics of an expert and you should not hesitate to ask if these credentials are in his or her background.
Communication – The number one complaint against lawyers in this country is not poor quality work but rather, failing to communicate with the client. You will be paying a lot of money to hire a lawyer and it is your right to expect to be kept informed of developments and have your calls and emails returned in a timely manner.On the other hand, there is still such a thing as excess and calling your lawyer everyday to find out what’s happening on your case is not necessarily fair either. Ask if the office has a return telephone call or email policy. If not, be wary!
Disciplinary Actions – Has the lawyer ever been disciplined by the state’s Board of Professional Responsibility? There are people who advise and assist in preparing immigration documents that are not lawyers. Such advice and actions may constitute unauthorized practice of law. To be sure, contact the state bar and verify that the lawyer you’re considering is licensed and it good standing.
Engagement Letters – Does the lawyer use an engagement letter or fee agreement? If not, why not? These documents spell out the terms of the representation and are the mark of a professional. If you are asked to hire a lawyer on the basis of a handshake – run!
References – A strong reference can often be the best indicator of a good lawyer. However, be mindful that if you ask for a reference from the lawyer, he has to obtain prior consent from the client before any information is given to you. Client confidences is serious business for the good lawyer and it should not be confused with unwillingness to give a reference.
Fees – This is one of the super important considerations. The lawyer’s price structure is of paramount importance to you. The temptation is often to seek the least expensive lawyer as possible. While your bank account may appreciate this strategy, it could prove to be short-sighted if this is the main factor in choosing a lawyer. Remember, sometimes you do get what you pay for. Ask how the lawyer charges fees. Is it hourly? What are the rates? Or, is the matter handled on a flat fee basis? Some routine cases such as H1-B or K visas are perfect for a flat fee. The flat fee works to both you and the lawyer’s advantage. For the lawyer, he is keenly interested in working as efficiently as possible. For the client, you do not have to hold your breath to see what the legal bill will be. Flat fees allow the client to budget for and expect  a fixed legal cost. No mater how much time is spent on the project. Maybe the lawyer charges a combination of both. If the case turns out more complicated that anticipated, a mix of flat fee and hourly work can be arranged.
Don’t forget when we talk about “fees”, we are talking about the money going to the lawyer. There are always “costs” involved. These costs can include money paid to the United States in the form of application or processing fees and office costs such as photocopying costs, postage costs, etc. When you are meeting with the lawyer, it is important to talk about “fees” and “costs”.
Finally, the lawyer will ask for a retainer. This represents a down payment in order for the lawyer to begin the work. Retainers are almost universally required and should be expected.
Personality Compatibility – This factor is one of the most important of all. Simply put, your experience with your immigration lawyer is more than just the result of the lawyer’s experience and competency. A lawyer’s “bedside manner” can mean a lot at the end of the day as to how the overall experience goes. Your biggest challenge in finding the right immigration lawyer is finding a lawyer who really cares about your case.
That’s it for Part 2. I hope the information I’ve provided has given you a better grasp of what it takes to find the right immigration lawyer in Grand Rapids. In Part 3, I’ll be wrapping up the series and write about the ini
tial consultation and fee, what to do if you simply can’t afford an immigration attorney, and what to do if something goes wrong.
As always, if you have an immigration issue and you think you might need a lawyer to help you out, I would be honored if you would consider me to meet with you and map out a strategy. My office can be reached at 616-233-9300.
Thank you for reading and please share this with your friends.
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