Taking some of the mystery out of an attorney consultation

Taking some of the mystery out of an attorney consultation

With the election of Donald Trump as president, and his statements about deporting millions of illegal aliens and getting tough on immigration, many people are scared, anxious, and worried about their future in America. They are mystified at the complex immigration laws, and may be totally unaware of their rights, possible immigration benefits, waivers, or relief available to them.

Now, more than ever, it is vital that people seek the advice and representation of attorneys. But some people have never consulted with an attorney, and are nervous about doing so. If you are among those people, I would like to take some of the mystery out of what goes on during a consultation. Naturally, I will speak about what happens at a consultation at my office, which may, or may not, be similar to consultations with other attorneys.

First, I am not judgmental in terms of a potential client’s immigration violations, or what he has done wrong, or is being accused of. I know most Filipinos simply want a better life for themselves and their family, and try to be law–abiding. But sometimes, in their desperation, they have not complied with the immigration law. I understand they have problems. That is the reason they came to me. Just as a doctor should not get angry at a patient because the patient is sick, an attorney should not get angry with a client because the client has a legal problem, or got himself in trouble. That’s what the attorney is there for: to help, guide, advise, and hopefully solve the client’s problem, if possible.

Second, in advance of the consultation, the client fills out an intake questionnaire which provides background information on their immigration history as well as details concerning their immigration problem or issue. This questionnaire (as well as what is discussed at the consultation) is confidential and privileged (like a confession to a priest), and we do not disclose or divulge their information to the government, even if the person does not retain us. Filling out the written consultation saves a lot of time, versus asking all those questions verbally at the consultation, when they may not have the information readily available, such as date of entry, priority date, or other details. By filling out the questionnaire in advance, they have plenty of time to find or obtain that information, and write it down on the questionnaire.

Third, I prefer that the client brings their immigration file or documents, especially the documents relating to their problem or issue. If someone wants to consult with me about a “denial,” they should have a copy of that denial. If they have been placed in deportation/removal, it is helpful that they bring along the notice to appear (NTA). Of course, if they do not have those documents, it is possible to later obtain their file from the government.

Fourth, I clarify with the client exactly what their problem or issue is, to make sure we are “on the same page” with respect to what the problem is, or what relief the client is seeking.

Fifth, I explain to the client the various options that may be available to them. If I believe there are no options based on the current state of the law or their situation, I will tell them, and the reasons why. I think it is important to explain these things to the client in plain English, rather than fancy legal terms. For me, it is important that when a client walks out of a consultation, they understand what the issues, problems, and possible solutions are, versus scratching their head, having no idea what is going on. I also encourage them to ask any questions, if I was unclear or if they did not fully understand something. Sometimes they may have heard rumors or gossip about laws or possible benefits. But sometimes the gossip is wrong, and I explain what the actual state of the law is and whether they are entitled.

Finally, if I believe there is something that can be done on their case (or they have pagasa), we discuss the cost of our services (or legal fees), such as down payment, monthly payments, etc., trying to work within their budget and the time frames of seeking the particular immigration benefit. I also make it clear that as an attorney, I cannot, and will not, “guarantee” results. By law, attorneys may not guarantee results. If I think the case is uphill, I will make sure the client understands that, as I do not want anyone to mistakenly believe that I have guaranteed success, especially if their case is extremely difficult.

A client should not be traumatized over the thought of seeking legal advice from an attorney, and my office makes every effort to make that experience as painless as possible. But if a person will be facing problems on their immigration situation once Trump becomes president, it is critical they seek the advice of an attorney through an initial consultation.

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