Selecting an attorney is a very important decision that an immigrant will make.  Unlike Criminal Courts, Immigration Courts do not provide free legal assistance.  Whether you are detained or undetained, documented or undocumented, in or out of status, inspected or uninspected, you should do your homework before hiring an immigration attorney. Before you pay any legal fees or sign an engagement letter, you should research and interview an immigration attorney. Here are some suggested questions you should consider asking a prospective immigration attorney:

Are you a member in good standing with The Bar?
Members of a State Bar are in good standing if those persons licensed to practice law in a particular state have paid annual membership fees or dues for the current year and who are not retired, resigned, delinquent, inactive, or suspended members. For immigration law, an immigration attorney need only be a member of any state bar and not necessarily the local state bar.  Immigration law is a federal practice.

Do you have malpractice insurance?
The law does not require attorneys to have malpractice insurance.  There are different types of legal malpractice insurance.  The insurance company may defend the covered attorney against a victim’s claims.  Or the insurance company may pay the client if the attorney is found guilty of malpractice.

What if a lawyer does not have legal malpractice insurance? 
Then it is possible that victims of legal malpractice may not have legal or financial recourse against the lawyer who committed legal malpractice.

Are you a member of AILA?
The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) is the national association of more than 14,000 attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. AILA member attorneys represent U.S. families seeking permanent residence for close family members, as well as U.S. businesses seeking talent from the global marketplace. AILA members also represent foreign students, entertainers, athletes, and asylum seekers, often on a pro bono basis. Founded in 1946, AILA is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that provides continuing legal education, information, professional services, and expertise through its 39 chapters and over 50 national committees. (see

How long have you been practicing immigration law?
An experienced attorney can deal more effectively.  Some attorneys are better than others for many reasons.  But one of the main reasons is due to experience.  This is what separates the good from the great.  Ultimately, the client reaps the benefits from an experienced and skilled attorney.  This case involves your life and your money.  The outcome of your future rests in the hands of an attorney you choose.  Do not take this decision lightly.  No two cases are the same no matter how many friends you talk to or how much you Google your case.  There is no one size fit all in immigration law.

Do you only practice immigration law?
Some attorneys dabble in different areas of law.  “Jack of all trades, master of none” is a figure of speech used in reference to a person that is competent with many skills, but spends so much time learning each new skill that they cannot become an expert in any particular one (Wikipedia).  It is ok to ask an attorney about their educational and professional background and credentials if it is not available on their website or email signature.

Have you worked on similar immigration cases?
An attorney who has been successful working on a case that is similar to yours is a great start to an attorney client relationship.  Again, no two cases are alike.  However, having an experienced attorney working on your case can make a great deal of difference.

What is the immigration process?
First, client gives the facts (the good, bad, and ugly).  Second, attorney will provide a road map to a destination.  The attorney should begin with a starting point and finish at a successful ending.  The client and attorney should provide their expectations.  The attorney will decide if this is a typical or complicated case.  Make sure your expectations are reasonable.

What are my chances of  Success?
An attorney should not make any guarantees as to an outcome. Immigration attorneys should not guarantee a USCIS decision. This is impossible to predict.  Attorneys do not hold crystal balls.  If it sounds too good to be true, then it might be.  Follow your instincts.

What is my part in the immigration process?
The client should be a good team member.  The client is responsible for providing requested documents in a timely manner to the attorney.  Delays in providing any requested materials may delay your case and cause the attorney to run close to meeting a deadline.  Also, it is helpful when a client is truthful no matter the facts.

What are the processing times for my case?
The government provides processing times on their websites.  But these are not always accurate.  It depends upon the manpower of the government agency in order to meet these timelines.  It is very difficult to have a precise idea as to the processing times of an immigration case.  However, an experienced attorney can provide a rough estimate of what your case timeline may look like.  You also can check on your case status directly with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Who will be working on my case?
An attorney may hire support staff to assist with an immigration case.  Do not be afraid to ask about any paralegals, interns, investigators, researchers or even secretaries that will be assisting the attorney.  If translation is needed, ask attorney if they provide these services as well.

What is the best form of communication?
The attorney should ask the client when is the best time and what is the best method to communicate with them about their case.  Ask the turnaround time for returned phone calls or emails.  You want an attorney who does not ignore your communication but who provides prompt attention to you and your case.

How much?
Do not be afraid to ask an attorney how they earn their legal fee.  Also, ask what type of payments do they accept.  Some attorneys may even accept installments.

If you have more questions or would like to inquire about hiring an immigration attorney at The Thanyachareon Law Firm, please email us at

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