I’m spurred by this recent article to share my thoughts on the unauthorized practice of law by immigration consultants, notarios, and web services who prepare and file immigration forms. My advice is – trust yourself or trust an immigration attorney only. Better yet, if you really want to file something yourself, at least meet with an immigration attorney for a consult beforehand. And tell your attorney the truth. We won’t judge you if you’ve been arrested for soliciting a prostitute. OK, maybe we will – secretly – but we won’t make you feel bad about it. And we will still do our best to zealously represent you and give the best advice possible. You’d also be surprised – we’re more affordable than you might think! My concern with the non-attorney services is that I have had clients come to me after they have been damaged by a notario or immigration consultant. Filing something improperly, too soon, or when something should not have been filed at all had caused them to be placed in removal proceedings, and/or caused their loved ones to be removed (deported). Sometimes, I am able to fix things, and sometimes, I’m not. The results can be devastating.
Recently, I taught a continuing legal education (CLE) course for attorneys, and one immigration consultant attended and asked for my materials. By taking that course, she represented that she was an attorney or at least working for a law office under the guidance of an attorney. On the one hand, I thought, “Well, at least she’ll have some training.” On the other, I knew in my gut that she should not represent people. She could not write properly (how could she formulate an argument on behalf of a client?), and the materials were way over her head. Most disturbing, however, was that she had the chutzpah to attend a training for lawyers and attempt to pass herself off as one. It showed an aggressiveness and lack of ethics.
I also provided a consultation for a woman who had paid $199 to a company on the web to file a visa petition on her behalf. I asked her whether anyone had gone over her immigration history and current and future immigration needs with her and she said “Yes, they asked me my name and the information for the form.” I questioned her further and realized that the company had only asked her the information for the form – they didn’t even bother to assess her situation! They probably can’t, anyway, since they are obviously not affiliated with an attorney (I hope). Towards the end of her consultation, I actually advised her not to have her husband file her visa petition on her behalf. With her particular case, it would actually be better for her to wait to file.
The problem of immigration consultants and notarios is so bad, an organization has been formed to assist and inform the immigrant community about the practice. Again, my advice is to retain an immigration attorney (check to make sure that he or she is a member in good standing of a state bar), or at the very least, to consult with one before filing something on your own. And why bother to pay $199 to a web service to fill out your form and mail it, if that’s all that they will do and you are not going to consult with a lawyer anyway? In that case, why bother? Do it yourself.