Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 2, 2012

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Immigration lawyers and immigration law firms often play a key role in helping immigrants remain in the United States. Many immigration procedures can be expensive, tedious, and lengthy. To get through, you need an attorney that will be diligent, affordable, and prepared to work with you until your immigration issue is resolved. Because immigration law is constantly evolving and routinely overlaps with other areas of law, it is extremely important to find an immigration attorney who is qualified and experienced to handle your requests.

Where to Start

Your state bar is a good starting place to learn about any potential attorneys that you might hire. As with the selection of any attorney, many state bar websites will inform you of whether the attorney has been previously disciplined for failing to adequately represent a client. Some bar association websites also require attorneys to list their general areas of practice. If the attorney you are looking to hire lists a hodge podge of practices areas, chances are that he/she hasn’t settled into an area of specialization yet. This means they will probably not have the knowledge base to deal with your issues. A good immigration attorney will focus and narrow their practice. Some state bars also have what are called practice area specializations. In Texas, for example, an attorney can only advertize that they are specialized in a particular area by obtaining board certification. To obtain this certification they have to demonstrate a certain number of years practicing immigration law and pass a test on immigration-related issues. To maintain their certification, they must attend extra hours of continuing education each year. The board certification site includes a directory of board certified immigration attorneys that you can search for by name or location.    

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Non-Digital Ways to Find Attorneys

If you have difficulty accessing web information, other sources can help you find and hire an experienced immigration attorney. Even though the phone book is a bit antique these days, it can still provide the many clues discussed above—like areas of specialization and years in practice. Word of mouth is also a good source. Asking friends or relatives who they used and what their experiences were can tell you a great deal about whom to hire. If there is a law school in your area, it will most likely employ at least one professor who teaches immigration law. They may not be able to make a direct referral, but they may be able to give you a list of attorneys or law firms who frequently practice immigration law in your area.

The Consultation

Once you create a list of potential attorneys, you will want to set up a consultation. This is a preliminary meeting; treat it like a job interview. Take all of your documentation and ask questions about your situation and how the attorney bills. If the attorney claims to be able to get your green card quickly, they are either exaggerating their abilities or they are not familiar with the process. Ask questions about how they bill and how much work the attorney delegates to non-lawyers. If they are using non-lawyers to do a majority of the work, then you should have concerns about your case being handled properly. You will also want to inquire if they are members of any organizations like a state bar sub-committee for immigration law issues. After you have interviewed a couple of attorneys, you will get a feel for which ones know what they are talking about and which ones are just making a sales pitch. 

It takes effort to find an experienced immigration attorney or law firm. But considering the importance of having your immigration issues resolved correctly, the long-term benefits far out-weight the short-term inconvenience.