When you schedule a consultation with an immigration attorney, you expect to hear whether the attorney can help resolve your matter, and if so, how he or she will do it, how long it will take, and what the legal fee will be. Below are some very important questions that you may not think to ask during your consultation, but should.
1. How much of your practice is dedicated to immigration?
Immigration & Nationality Law is widely recognized as one of the most complex areas of federal law. A capable immigration practitioner must be familiar with tens of thousands of pages of regulations and statutory language, policy memoranda, and developments in case law. There are important developments in Immigration & Nationality Law on a daily basis. The more time an attorney dedicates to the practice and study of immigration law, the better equipped he or she is to handle your case. The most highly-regarded attorneys in the immigration field generally practice exclusively in the area of Immigration & Nationality Law. An attorney who “dabbles” in immigration is not likely to have the same level of knowledge and expertise as someone who practices immigration law exclusively.
2. How long have you been practicing immigration law?
When you inquire about an attorney’s experience, it is as important to know how long they have been practicing in the area of immigration law as it is to know how long they have been a licensed attorney. Has the attorney handled hundreds of cases or only a handful? It is also important to the attorney about the extent of his or her experience with specific agencies and types of cases and to consider how this experience might be applicable to your case.
3. How much will my case cost?
A clear understanding of the fees involved in your case benefits both you and your attorney. Some attorneys bill on an hourly basis, while others offer flat fees on certain types of matters. If your attorney bills on an hourly basis, have the attorney estimate how many hours he or she expects to spend on your case, and whether there is a cap, or an upper limit, to the hourly fee. In an hourly billing scenario, it will also be prudent to learn the hourly rates of any attorneys or paralegals that may be working on your case. Whether the attorney bills on an hourly or on a flat fee basis, ask when the fee will be due, and consider whether you will be able to make the payments as scheduled.
When discussing attorney’s fees, be sure to ask whether the fees include additional costs (for items like copies, express mail, or travel). Most attorneys will not include USCIS filing fees in their legal fee. For planning purposes, you should also ask the attorney how much you should set aside for filing fees and when you will be expected to pay them.
4. What can I expect in return for my money?
As surprising as this may sound, different attorneys will do different amounts of work for the same type of case. Have the attorney explain in detail what he or she will do for the fee. Will the attorney help you sort through and organize your documentary evidence? Will he or she review and comment on your affidavits or psychological reports, if applicable? Will he or she prepare you for your interview and/or hearing? If your case is called for interview, will there be an extra fee?
Also be sure to ask about what you can expect to pay if there are unexpected contingencies in your case, such as the government asking you to come back for another hearing/interview, requesting additional evidence, or issuing a Notice of Intent to Deny your case.
5. What is your communication policy?
Effective communication with your attorney is among the most important factors affecting your case. Inquire about the attorney’s office hours, the attorney’s preferred method of communication (telephone or email), whether an appointment is necessary to see the attorney, as well how you should submit documents for the preparation of your case (generally, by mail, email or fax).