Wednesday, September 23, 2009

When it Really is the Immigration Lawyer's Fault

Over the course of the past two decades of legal practice, I've observed a trend which, frankly, reflects poorly on my profession as an immigration attorney.  First, as a consular officer in Mexico, I was astounded almost daily at both the regularity of fundamental legal mistakes made by counsel for visa applicants and by their consistently adverserial responses when called on said mistakes.  (As the old saying goes, you can attract a lot more flies with honey than with vinegar, but attorney case inquiries directed at the consulate were, a majority of the time, pretty hostile.)


It was not surprising, then, during the early years of private practice in Miami (1991-1993), to find that a significant portion of my clients were coming to me after they had already hired another immigration attorney, "notario", or other individual...who had failed in his or her mission.  By the time I'd settled into Miami Beach and my practice was very busy, I decided to informally track the number of new clients who had already hired another immigration attorney for the same matter, and things had not worked out.  By 2000, that figure was about 40%...4 out of 10 new clients were coming to our firm after having lost their money with a prior attorney or "notario" who failed to obtain the approval for which they had paid.


Back then, symptoms of these inefficiencies were most visable through the dual demons: unlicensed practice of law and the even more insidious abuse of appellate processes. The former, of course, was and continues to be targeted by the Florida Bar. The latter worked (and still works) like this:



-the attorney takes on a case which is either patently unapprovable or, more often than not, outside the scope of his or her expertise.


-with a cavalier "I can't guarantee ANYTHING" (and we can't) attitude, the case gets filed and promptly denied SO...


-the client is told to fork over thousands more for an appeal which, while almost certainly doomed, will take months or even years to work its way through the system.


Obviously, it is impossible for attorneys to only accept "easy" cases; but an ethical obligation exists to explain to the client the true risks of a particular filing so said client can make an educated decision.  Like the old Sym's ad used to say, "an educated consumer is our best customer"...and best client.


So where are we today on this issue?  Don't even ask.  I've kept track of this since returning to South Florida in the spring of this year and found that 80% -8 out of 10 - inquiries I've gotten have been previously either defrauded or incompetently represented.


Tomorrow I'm going to discuss how this incompetence is currently viewed and handled by ICE and USCIS, and why the federal government needs to take fresh look at the issue of immigration attorney/notario incompetence.



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