It is highly recommended that anyone facing removal proceedings or who has questions regarding their immigration status, should at a minimum consult with a competent lawyer. The facts in each case will vary a great deal and a lawyer will not be able to give you a clear sense of what legal remedies might be available to you until after she or he have spoken with you at length. Finding a lawyer is not easy and we are preparing what we hope are helpful tips to finding a lawyer.
Finding the Right Lawyer
One of the most difficult things in getting through the immigration process is to find the right lawyer for you. We recommend that you check a number of different sources before making your choice.
First immigration law is very specialized and unless you have a very simple case you will need someone who understands the process and the local immigration office.
You should not wait until you need a lawyer to make your selection. You should start that process when you are not in a desperate situation. We therefore recommend that you begin now before you have an encounter with the immigration authorities.
Most people find their lawyer by referral or “word of mouth.” While this may work for some, you should understand that picking a lawyer is a very personal decision and unless the referral comes from someone you know and trust extremely well it might not be the best for you. Remember, it is very important that you trust your attorney because you are going to be asked to provide him or her with some of the most important confidential information and what they do on your case could make the difference between whether you are able to eventually stay in the country.
You can also find a lawyer by consulting with lawyer referral services operated by the local association of lawyers or “bar associations.” In the Bay Area the San Francisco Bar Association operates a referral service. Other places which may be able to recommend a list of lawyers may be through some non-profit organizations such as the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, Centro Legal de La Raza or Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto. (This is not an exhaustive list.)
You will want a lawyer who is very candid and honest about your chances and how they are going to help you to meet your objectives.
1. Talk to or interview with more than one lawyer before making your decision.
2. Ask the lawyer to explain the process and how they will help you get through that process.
3. Ask them to explain to the best of their ability what they think your chances are and what problems they see in meeting your objectives. Here you need to understand that many times the law is not clear and the fact that a lawyer does not know if you will win or lose does not meant that they are not competent but that the law is unclear. For example your case could reach a different result depending on which immigration judge is assigned to your case. Therefore it is better for you to get an honest direct answer rather than just the answer that you might want to hear.
You should not expect a lawyer to guarantee a result. If they do, they are likely over-promising.
4. Just because the lawyer tells you that there is nothing that she or he can do does not mean that they are not competent, since what you want is an honest assessment. In most cases if it is possible you should seek a second opinion before deciding on a course of action.
5. You should feel comfortable asking questions and any good lawyer should be able to answer your questions to help you to understand not just what the process is but what your rights are.