This blog post was adapted from our YouTube video on the Gorton Immigration Youtube Channel. You can watch the original video by clicking this link.
What are the best questions to ask an immigration lawyer during your consultation? This is part of our continuing series of consumer advice for people who need to hire an immigration lawyer. It is a large purchase is a significant financial investment, and you may never have had to hire a lawyer before. To set the scene: you are in need of an attorney and if you’re in a major metropolitan area like Boston, Massachusetts, you’ll notice that there’s more than one option in your neighborhood. So, you are going to set up a consultation with one, two, maybe even three different attorneys. And you’re trying to figure out: what am I going to say and how am I going to get the best information? That way, when your family makes a decision about the services that you need, you can know that you’re getting a good price, high quality, and good “bang for our buck.”
So, you sit down in the consultation. You’re in a conference room, the attorney comes in and starts flipping through some notes, asking some interview questions and you get the sense that the lawyer might be sort of running the show. The lawyer is in charge of the consultation and is directing the pace of the meeting. But the reality is that for you, it’s a consultation. But for the lawyer, it’s a job interview. You’re there to hire (or not) a person to do a service for you. If you approach this consultation with the mentality of making a hiring decision, you might get a lot more use out of your time.
One thing that I say when I start my consultations is that we want 100% of your questions to be answered during the course of that consultation. This creates a framework where the goal of the consultation for our office is not to get hired or not to get the money. Our goal is to give you the most value, which is, did you leave understanding what you are trying to understand?
One of the most interesting questions that you could ask would be: “What sets you apart?” And if you already have the name of the top three immigration lawyers in a five-mile radius of your metro area, this question will give you insight of how that lawyer views themselves and what that lawyer’s vision of their style and practice. For example, a lawyer might say that they’re the smartest, or that they’re the fastest, or that they’re the biggest and best, or that they’re the toughest and most aggressive, or any number of different answers. I would say, “At Gorton Law, we have a very strict quality control policy. We have a very good set of technological tools. The best tools in the industry to help us do our jobs. And we have policies around client communication that we’ve implemented that give you confidence that we’re going to avoid a lot of complaints that people normally have about attorneys—that they never answer their messages! At Gorton Law, you always have two points of contact with our office. You have an attorney responsible for your file, and you also have a non-attorney who’s also responsible for that file. There’s going to be someone in the office who has Microsoft Outlook running, who has the phone sitting by his or her side, and they’re ready to answer your inquiries.”
Some of the questions that you might want to ask would be: “How many years of experience do you have?” and then try to try to hear what they say. They may have a certain number of years as an attorney, and they might have a certain number of years as an immigration attorney. Also, don’t be afraid to ask, “Have you done this particular case before?” That may get some laughs or chuckles because they might say, “I’ve done this literally thousands of times,” or they might say, “I’ve never seen a fact pattern like this, but I’m going to check into it for you.”
I think is a great question to ask is: “Who is going to return my phone calls?” That’s a signal that you already know that like the lawyer may be too busy and the lawyer may say, “I am a solo attorney. I am the only person in this office. I am going to answer your phone calls. I’m going to sign your paperwork. I’m going to lick the envelope and put the stamp on it. And I’m going to drive the mail, the post office all on my own.” There’s going to be a certain price for that, and you can see if that’s going to be worth it to you. If you think that that’s a good thing, or if you think that’s a bad thing, you’ll have to make that choice on your own. (We are not a one-person show at Gorton Law, at least, not for many years! Click to read about our team.)
Another good question is: “how often do you touch your pending files?” You will have a different range of answers from different offices. At Gorton Law, we do our level best to touch every file every three months. Sometimes our schedule interferes with our goal to do that. But our aspiration is that you hear from us once every three months, even if what we’re communicating is that there’s no update on your case and you should continue to be patient. For a lot of clients, getting that message at a routine interval makes all the difference in the world from a lawyer who just says, “you will hear from me when you get an update.” Both of these are perfectly valid answers, and they’re going to come at two different prices to the customer. It’s more expensive for a lawyer to do one of those things. It’s cheaper for the lawyer to just say, you won’t hear from me until the case has some news on it.
After you’ve sat through the consultation, you’ve gotten a sense of whether or not this person is trying to give you a lecture about the immigration law, or if they’re giving you an interview about your family history, or if this is all just a sales pitch. And you’ve talked about the money. So a great question is: “What happens if I pay in full?” Maybe the lawyer will say, “10% off”, or maybe the lawyer will say, “my price is, my price, and I’m not here to haggle or negotiate.” (At Gorton Law, as of October 2022, we give 10% discount to clients who pay in full.)
If you have questions about payment plans or payment terms, don’t be shy. Ask about it in the consultation when you’re with the lawyer, because the lawyer is ultimately the decision maker in terms of pricing.
My favorite question to ask is: “Are you confident to a legal certainty in this case?” That’s very lawyerly language, but it’s a better version of the question “what are my chances?” No lawyer will ever want to break things down into a percentage of likelihood. But, the attorney could say, “From the information that you’ve provided me and knowing what I know in this moment, I’ll say that to a legal certainty, there is no reason I’m aware of that you should not get a green card.” This changes the framing from “what are my chances” to “how confident are you in your own advice?”
There are less helpful questions to avoid as well, like “What law school did you go to?” I (Attorney Gorton) went to a highly-ranked, nationally-known school here in Boston. And I didn’t learn a thing about immigration law there! A persons’ alma mater is not a guarantee or a qualification that you will receive good service as an immigration consumer. None of our five-star Google reviews have ever mentioned how glad the customer was that I went to a nationally-ranked school.
Similarly, “Are there any guarantees?” is a question to avoid. Sometimes you will find a law firm that advertises ‘case approval or your money back.’ Do you think that law firm is helping people who really need the help, which is people with unsure cases? Or do you think that law firm is sitting back and “cherry picking” their cases? That doesn’t sound fair to me. I think that the lawyers should be helping the people who have the close calls.
Finally, every lawyer hates any question that starts with “But my friend . . .” We get it. We know that your neighbor’s sister’s best friend’s nephew had their case approved in three months, and they got the green card hand-delivered with an Edible Arrangements from the President. Unfortunately, every lawyer has heard that story, and we don’t have all of the information about the friend’s case. So, if you have any questions about your friend’s case, you have to let your friend talk to the lawyer. If you have questions about your situation, you should be trying to make sure that you’re getting in and out of that consultation with the lawyer and having 100% of your questions during that meeting.