Even the most experienced and talented lawyer can make a mistake. We’re just human, and as humans, we’re as fallible as they come. But if you’re a lawyer’s client, or even a doctor’s patient, the consequences of bad lawyering, or bad doctoring, can change your life…in the worst possible way. As the unwilling recipient of bad lawyering by an immigration attorney when I was younger, I am acutely aware of how bad lawyering affects the immigrant client. Let’s get into my top four!
When you hire an immigration lawyer, you should expect that the lawyer is aware of deadlines. In immigration law practice, there are all sorts of deadlines depending upon what type of case it is. There are filing deadlines in immigration court. There are response deadlines to requests for further evidence from the government. There are deadlines to file an appeal. There can be a deadline to file a petition or application in order to keep the applicant from falling out of status, and becoming at risk of removal/deportation. There can be a deadline to preserve the status of a child, and prevent the child from aging out thereby losing early access to an immigration benefit. These are just a few examples of how deadlines play an important role in immigration law. Missing deadlines can have a devastating effect on a person’s life. I was a direct victim of bad lawyering in this regard. I didn’t obtain my green card for nearly 15 years because of bad lawyering. My advice to you is this: Ask your lawyer about deadlines, and follow-up with them regularly to make sure the deadlines are being met, and if not, why not. Don’t concern yourself about feeling like your inquiries will irritate your attorney. I’m not suggesting you call or email your lawyer everyday, but reach out to your lawyer every few weeks to make sure any deadlines you have will be met. It’s just too serious to not be hands on about this. At the end of the day, if the lawyer misses the deadline, they’ll likely be sitting pretty while you or your family member(s) are sh*t out of luck. Don’t make the same mistake I did as a child; the fallout comes with a heavy price.
Increase Risk of Removal
When you consult with a lawyer, and the lawyer tells you they need to do some research before providing feedback, that’s a good thing. As lawyers, we don’t always have the answer to your problem at the tip of our tongue. It may have been a while since we had a case just like yours and we need to confirm what we think we know. Or, we may not have handled a case with the same facts as yours, and we need to research it. Either way, lawyers are trained to find solutions to problems, and we do that by reading, researching, advising and executing. I’m more concerned about the lawyer who thinks they know everything than the lawyer who says “I need to research this and get back to you.” Bad lawyering to me includes a lawyer with an ego larger than their skill set. Any good lawyer isn’t afraid to hit the books, confer with colleagues and mull the issue(s) over before advising a client.
Bad advice comes in all sorts of flavors. Examples include the filing of an application that should not have been filed, whether the lawyer knew it or not. Bad advice also includes providing clients with counsel based on incorrect knowledge of the law. Bad lawyering can get you in big trouble.
Muddy the Water
Part of my job as an immigration attorney is to present a petition, application or argument in a manner that makes it easier for the decision maker in the case to get to yes, whether the ultimate decision maker is an immigration officer, or a Judge. To be clear, that does not mean we omit facts. On the contrary, we are truthful and we present the facts in a clear, as easy to digest manner as possible. For example, when a petition packet is presented in a haphazard fashion without giving any thought to how the decision maker will adjudicate the case, the contents of the packet may confuse more than it informs the decision maker of the facts. Carelessness in filings can create lines of inquiry where none should exist, or cast doubt on the veracity of a claim just because something inaccurate was said or submitted in the application. Once something erroneous is said or submitted as evidence, it becomes part of the record which naturally makes it difficult to undo (even after retracting) as it may taint the rest of the factual evidence a decision maker will use to decide the case. Careful preparation and review is crucial before submitting anything as evidence.
During a consultation with a lawyer, and often even before a potential client steps into a lawyer’s office, one of the primary concerns is, “how much is all this going to cost me!” Understandably, none of us are blessed with a money tree in our back yards. Legal fees are climbing across the board and lawyers in the U.S. are expected to make a combined 288 billion dollars in 2018. Lawyers aren’t cheap, and you’re not wrong to want to know how much our services will cost you. But the last thing you want is to have to pay more than you need to. Bad lawyering can increase your cost. For example, mistakes in the original filing of a petition/application may result in the need for a refiling. Bad advice might have resulted in the initiation of removal proceedings, so that application you filed may have triggered your deportation proceedings – Now you’ll have to pay an immigration attorney to help you fight your case in court. There’s an almost infinite number of examples we could come up with for how your expenses can increase due to bad lawyering. Suffice it to say, you don’t want to experience any of them. Increased cost is sometimes inevitable, but if your lawyer knows what they are doing, they will advise you beforehand about any potential additional legal fees that may come about during their representation.
In my practice, I’m not afraid to tell people during my consultations that they should meet with multiple immigration attorneys and go with the lawyer they feel most comfortable with, even if the lawyer they end up hiring isn’t me. Hiring a lawyer is serious, serious, business, and it shouldn’t be done purely based on who is the cheapest or the closest to where you live.
Sunil C. Patel is an experienced immigration attorney and himself a first-generation immigrant. Formerly a managing attorney with a multinational immigration and corporate law firm, he now focuses his practice exclusively in immigration law at his own law firm, Sunil C. Patel Immigration Law, LLC. To schedule a consultation, please call (770) 756-6056 or visit www.sunpatlaw.com. You can also schedule an appointment by selecting an available time on his calendar.