It can be a big waste of time for both you and the immigration lawyer if you are not prepared for your first meeting. Being unprepared may also end up costing you money because it will take longer for the lawyer you hire to get up to speed on your legal matter.
- First of all, the lawyer will want to know who you are and how you can be contacted. The lawyer may also ask for a personal and business background. Therefore, you need to write down all this information in a logical matter and have it available for the lawyer.
- Sometimes, a lawyer tries to speed up the information-gathering process by sending you a questionnaire to fill out filled out before your meeting. If this happens, be sure to fill out the questionnaire and send it in to the lawyer’s office before the meeting. Also send along copies of any available documents that may be requested in the questionnaire.
- Before you get too far into a meeting or conversation, the lawyer should want to know about possible conflicts of interest. Immigration lawyers often have inherent conflicts of interest, particularly in business immigration matters where they are assisting an employer and employee at the same time. Most of the time this is not a problem. But pay attention if the interests are different, such as when an employer and employee start to have problems getting along.
- Written documentation is important. Even if a lawyer doesn’t ask for documentation beforehand, it’s still a good idea to bring a copy of all documents relevant to your situation to the meeting. Spend some time thinking about what you may have on hand. Try to organize the documents in a logical manner before you meet with the lawyer.
- Prepare a list of questions to take with you to your first meeting. You have to feel comfortable with your lawyer. Remember that your lawyer is working for you. You want someone who is skilled, but you also have to get along with your lawyer. In theory, no question is too silly to ask. Keep in mind, though, that you don’t want to scare a lawyer out of representing you. General questions to ask would include: How many matters of a similar nature has the lawyer handled? How much of his or her work is done in this area? What paperwork is involved and how long will it take to finalize? How would the lawyer go about handling your situation? What is the process? How long will it take to bring the matter to a conclusion? How would the lawyer charge for his or her services?
- Most immigration lawyers work on a flat fee basis, though in many matters, hourly billing or contingency billing may be done. If a lawyer prices way outside of the market ,either on the high or the low side, this should be a source of concern. The lawyer may not have any idea how much work is really involved in the case. Or the lawyer may simply be attempting to charge too much.
- A lawyer who quotes a price too low may also be able to price that way because the work is being pushed down to the level of a legal assistant or very junior associate. There are great lawyers who charge more and lawyers who operate extremely efficiently who can charge less. So comparison shopping may serve you well.
- More and more lawyers are also offering to “unbundle” their legal services and are offering “a la carte” legal work. This means that instead of handling a case from beginning to end, a lawyer will prepare only parts of the case or simply provide the client with the lawyer’s expertise. So perhaps you want to submit your green card application yourself, but would like to consult with a lawyer and have a lawyer review your application. A lawyer who unbundles services might work with you to provide just the amount of expertise you absolutely need and can afford. The practice is still controversial in some segments of the legal community, but organizations like the American Bar Association are openly embracing the concept.
- If you still cannot afford to hire an immigration lawyer due to costs, there are sometimes still options that will allow you to utilize the services of an immigration lawyer. Many lawyers work with pro bono legal organizations in their communities and accept a limited number of no- or reduced-fee cases. Keep in mind that you will typically be screened by one of these community organizations to determine that your case is the type of case that is appropriate for a referral to a pro bono lawyer. You will usually be screened as well to determine whether you truly are too poor to pay.
- Would the lawyer handle the case personally or would it be passed on to some other lawyer in the firm? One of the ways immigration practices are attempting to keep costs down is to hire paralegals and legal assistants to do much of the work that immigration lawyers used to do on their own. In some markets, this may be the only way to keep costs low enough for people to afford to hire a lawyer. But you should know what you’re paying for. Some of the most expensive immigration firms still staff with extremely high ratios of paralegals- sometimes as high as ten paralegals per lawyer. A more modest ratio of one to two paralegals per lawyer may mean that the firm is not too overloaded with work and it may mean that the lawyer you thought you were hiring actually knows what is happening on your case and has the time to speak with you about your case.
Treat your first meeting as a business consultation. Dress well and be prompt. Be polite and courteous. You will want to impress the lawyer, just as he or she will be trying to impress you.