FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
When selecting an immigration attorney, it is important to ask about experience, success rates, and memberships of the individual attorney who will be handling your case. An attorney who practices immigration law exclusively will have the most up-to-date information to give you the best chance of success in your immigration case. An attorney who dabbles in immigration and also practices in other areas such as personal injury, family law, criminal law, and only offers immigration services on the side likely will not have the needed level of expertise. Do NOT go to a notario or other unlicensed legal services provider.
It is a good idea to have a written agreement with your immigration attorney. The document is sometimes called a retainer agreement, engagement agreement, or engagement letter. In the State of California, any legal services provided for a fee exceeding $1,000 must be in a writing signed by the attorney and the client. The agreement will spell out which services the immigration attorney will perform, how much the legal fee will be, how it is to be paid, and other important terms and conditions of the relationship between you and your attorney. Make sure you keep a signed copy of this document for your records.
Just like in any other case, legal fees vary depending upon the attorney’s experience, the complexity of the matter, and the amount of time and effort the attorney estimates will be necessary to complete the proposed legal services. Most immigration attorneys accept a flat legal fee. For example, an attorney might charge $1,500 plus costs for a marriage-based immigration case. These costs would include filing fees, translations, medical exams, or any other costs not paid directly to the immigration attorney. Some attorneys will accept installment payments or even arrange for an hourly billing rate if that is more appropriate.
Since the handling and adjudication of your case will be undertaken by U.S. government agencies, and out of the control of the immigration attorney, there is no way to guarantee the processing time or even the result. It would be unethical for any attorney to make such a guarantee. The attorney will have experience in other cases and should have information about the average processing time for your type of case. This data will be informational only and act as a guide, but not a guarantee, as to how and when your case will be completed.
There is no legal requirement to have an immigration attorney. However, the immigration laws are complex and the consequences of even a minor mistake in preparing and filing immigration benefit applications are severe. An immigration attorney can help to make sure your case stays on track and he or she can represent you and help you navigate the bureaucracy that otherwise might delay your case.
When you meet with an immigration attorney, you should bring with you all of your immigration documents, including your passport, birth certificate, C.V. or resume, and any other immigration receipts, notices, or copies of applications that have been submitted. It is also helpful to prepare a written list of questions to ask the attorney so that you do not forget anything during your consultation. At the end of the meeting, make sure it is clear whether you have retained the attorney to represent you. Simply meeting with an attorney and asking questions does not normally result in an attorney-client relationship.
Most immigration attorneys will attend any personal interviews you have with USCIS. It is also important to meet with the attorney well before the interview to prepare and to make sure that you have all of the required documents to bring with you. Do not expect your immigration attorney to go with you for fingerprint appointments, paying immigration fees, or making infopass inquiries unless you arrange for that service in advance.
Immigration attorneys, like all other attorneys, have an ethical duty to avoid conflicts of interest. Even if everything is fine between you and your spouse or you and your employer when you retain the attorney, the engagement agreement may contain language requiring that you retain separate attorneys in the event a conflict arises in the future. Keep in mind that the attorney owes a duty to each client, so do not tell the attorney anything you want to keep confidential from your spouse or employer.
Subject to the dual-client representation comment above, once you establish an attorney-client relationship, all communications with your attorney will be kept confidential, subject to a few narrow exceptions that do not apply in most immigration cases.
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Fredrick W. Voigtmann
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Our staff is fluent in Mandarin, Tagalog, and Spanish. We have two offices in Los Angeles and work with service providers in Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei.