Let’s start by being honest.
Most immigrant clients don’t know what they don’t know.
So how can a lawyer know what they don’t know?
Yet, the majority of folks who call my office want quick, instant advice.
I don’t work that way.
The Deportation Fear Treadmill
For most immigrants, the fear of deportation and family separation is like running a never-ending race on a treadmill.
Dependent on mass media reports and community gossip, their quests to live and work legally in the U.S. appears to be a incessant roller coaster ride, replete with emotional highs and lows.
As a result, many immigrants, tired of the game, are swift to pounce on the latest presidential sound bites, the hurried proclamations of change by activists, and cursory legal opinions of attorneys.
This haste is unmerited. Immigration change, if and when it happens, will not be a one-day Black Friday Special.
Immigration reform is not a race. More often than most folks suspect, the tortoise, not the hare, wins the green card.
Through the convoluted journey full of political, policy, and legal twists and turns, one element trumps all.
Why Quick Advice Is Risky Advice
I refuse to give quick, instant advice.
And immigrants should not want attorneys to act that way.
After all, such quick, instant advice is based on incomplete information.
Still, almost every day my office receives calls from individuals who refuse to offer more than 3 – 5 – 7 sentences of information and get upset over our refusal to give quick, instant advice in return.
Maybe 3 – 5 – 7 sentences will reveal all facts of consequence in some instances. But in most cases, a client, not versed in the law, cannot truly know if these are the only pertinent details in his case.
Hence, how can a lawyer know if a truncated summary covers all of the relevant issues in this case?
There’s a view held by many lawyers, in all fields of law, that clients have selective memory. They tell attorneys only what they want them to know.
As a deportation defense and immigration appeals lawyer, I do not believe this trait is universally true.
Nonetheless, it is sometimes accurate.
For lawyers dedicated to helping their clients, even once is too much.
The less we know, the riskier the consequences.
Our job is to try to be as comprehensive as possible before taking actions on behalf of our clients, except in cases of emergencies and super tight deadlines. Even then, caution is warranted.
Put it this way. If you do not know what you don’t know, a lawyer cannot know what you don’t know – so by providing quick, instant advice, a lawyer is providing advice grounded in some degree of factual and legal ignorance.
Such behavior, in my view as an attorney with over two decades of front line experience, is poor, poor lawyering.
Misery Loves Company, Part Two
In my practice, we encourage new callers to set up a full consultation.
That’s the best way to assess an individual’s immigration history, analyze current alternatives, and outline his or her potential future options, good and bad.
Frankly, I think all lawyers should demand the same before quoting fees or accepting cases.
Many immigrants never get this far. As soon as they hear that we require an in-depth interview before giving advice, they hang up.
They want quick, instant advice.
They want Black Friday solutions.
For others, the idea of consultation is not the problem. Instead, even though they acknowledge the need to discuss their problems in depth. once they learn we charge a fee for a ½ hour interview, an interview which often goes much, much longer, they promptly terminate the conversation.
More times than I care to recall, the hang-up commentaries, by both those who do not feel the need for a consultation and those who acknowledge the need but are unwilling to pay for it, are rude, insulting, and antagonistic.
Often, we’re scolded that other lawyers do not charge consultation fees.
Not too long ago, a newly hired part-time assistant began to explain my policy to a caller. The woman became irate and furious. She started yelling. She told my assistant that we were “ money grubbers” and labeled me as “a materialistic, heartless lawyer who doesn’t care about clients.”
We’ve never met or spoken.
The woman hung up even as she continued to hurl verbal venom, using choice language I prefer not to repeat here. My assistant became unraveled. By the time the call ended, she was in tears. She took the rest of the day off. I’m glad she decided not to quit.
This is not the first such incident in my career – and it likely will not be the last.
Such irrational actions have no place in the immigration reform movement. One ought not bite the hand of those who just might want to truly serve them.
Towards An Understanding Of Consultation Fees
I comprehend that most, if not all, undocumented immigrants undergo tremendous stress as they hide in America’s social shadows, hoping to avoid detection and apprehension.
Nevertheless, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. There is no double standard when it comes to social etiquette.
Last month, I discussed that when it comes to immigration, misery loves company.
I shared how out-of-control judges, condescending government lawyers, surly agency officers, and opportunistic pro-immigrant lawyers heighten the anguish faced by many immigrants.
Sadly, some immigrants, like the callers mentioned above, add salt to their own wounds.
In other words, immigrants, like immigration judges, officers, agents, and lawyers, are not infallible and sometimes they deepen their own despair and spread their own misery.
These words have not come easily.
I’ve spent a few weeks deciding whether to discuss these matters openly with readers of my blog.
But I’m a straight shooter.
The recurring disappointment with individuals who get upset when I am trying to abide by ethical standards that protects their best interests compels me to come out of the closet.
Immigration law offices like mine are not the enemy.
Rather, I think of myself as an advocate, ally, and friend of immigrants, as well as an immigration attorney.
Like several of my colleagues, I defend clients to the best of my abilities. It is not uncommon for us to go over and above the call of duty for those in dire straits.
Over the years, from the start of my career as a San Diego immigration attorney, I’ve read a lot of negative statements about lawyers. Undoubtably, some of these claims are deserved. But not all – and therein lies the rub.
The view that lawyers cannot be trusted and should be relied upon as a mere last resort is wrong. Some lawyers cannot be trusted. Nonetheless, when it comes to immigration law, attorneys should never be a last resort.
How else can immigrants ever hope to get off the treadmill of worry and anxiety?
There is only one route.
Planning requires knowledge.
Real knowledge, in the context of family unity and deportation defense, requires a real consultation.
It requires evaluating the impact of one’s immigration past, immigration present, and potential immigration futures. This cannot be achieved with quick, instant – and superficial – responses.
One more point.
Unlike most of my fellow bar members, I’m willing to admit lawyers have to pay for their own lunches. There is nothing evil with seeking an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s consultation.
In my perspective, charging consultation fees is in the best interests of all involved.
Besides, on a personal level, after learning one’s full predicament, I might decide to handle the case on a pro bono basis.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics