Step-by-Step Guide to Finding, Hiring, and Working With Immigration Attorneys
U.S. laws on immigration are complex. An immigration attorney can help you navigate them smoothly and ensure that your legal status in the country is valid and appropriate. Finding the best immigration attorney for your needs is an important task, and it can take some time and research. Follow these steps to locate, hire, and work with an immigration attorney in your area.
1. Ask for recommendations
The best way to start your search is to ask friends and family if they know of an immigration lawyer they would recommend. Use your social media channels to get the word out that you’re looking. For example, if you are an international student who needs paperwork done to stay in the country, other international students may be a great source of information. Ask your school’s international office to see if there is anyone they work with.
2. Look for professional referrals
Once you’ve scoped out personal recommendations, look up your region’s local bar association. It’s worth a call to see if they can refer you to someone. Even your local Chamber of Commerce or business directory may keep a list of immigration attorneys, especially if you live in a larger city or in an area with a large population of foreign nationals. A good indication of quality is if the recommended lawyer participates in the American Bar Association’s certification program
, which requires participants to adhere to certain standards.
3. Consider low-cost legal help
If you find yourself needing an immigration attorney but you have limited funds, you may still be able to find help by looking for low-cost clinics. Most larger urban areas feature legal help that is pro bono or allows you to pay on a sliding scale. Find out more by Googling your city’s name and “legal aid” or “legal clinic.” Again, your local bar association may be able to help.
4. Interview prospective lawyers
Once you have a few potential names, make a few phone calls to set up interviews. Many lawyers will agree to a no-cost initial meeting while you determine if you want to work together. When interviewing, pay attention to your potential lawyer’s ability to communicate clearly and concisely, as well as whether you feel that you could trust this person and feel comfortable with them. Ask about rates and billing, and be wary of any lawyers who are not open and clear in their answers. Your lawyer should also be able to give you a sense of how much time they will need to handle your case, so you have an idea of what the total costs will be.
5. Negotiate a fee
The lawyer you are considering may be able to work with you on costs. They may charge a one-time flat fee for the work, or may bill you by the hour. Some lawyers may be willing to accept a payment plan or take on a reduced role that costs less. Lawyers with small firms or who work independently are usually more open to a sliding scale or even a bartering arrangement if you are unable to afford their services. Either way, it can’t hurt to ask if you are concerned about finances.
6. Sign a contract or engagement letter
Once you have found someone you think you can work with, there will be some paperwork in the form of a retainer or contract that states the expectations of both parties. Read this document carefully before signing it. There may be some money due upfront, but that will be stipulated in the document. Once you sign, your lawyer is obligated to do the work stated within the period of time outlined in the document.
The Cost of Immigration Attorneys
Immigration lawyers may charge by the hour or by the project, depending on what you agree on when you hire them. Although many lawyers offer a free initial meeting, others charge anywhere from $100 to $400 for this first consultation. Whether they do or don’t charge for that first meeting is not a sign of the lawyer’s quality. If your immigration attorney charges by the hour, expect to pay between $100 and $300 per hour, unless they have agreed to use a sliding scale for their rates. Higher-level senior lawyers with large law firms may charge more than independent or small-firm lawyers. If your attorney is charging you on a per-project basis, the cost will vary depending on its complexity and on where you are located in the country, with costs being higher in urban areas and on the East and West coasts. A green card application, for example, may range from $800 up to several thousand dollars. An H-1B visa will be $2,500 to $3,000, while a fiance visa may cost around $2,600.