Practice Tips for the Newer Immigration Practitioner

By Tsui H. Yee, Esq.

So you have decided to pursue the practice of immigration law – an area that can be tremendously challenging yet immensely rewarding. As we all know, immigration law is notoriously complex, and for newer practitioners, it may seem a daunting and impenetrable legal field. Karen Kraushaar, a former INS Spokesperson, once said, “Immigration law is a mystery and a mastery of obfuscation, and the lawyers who can figure it out are worth their weight in gold.” Article, The Washington Post, April 24, 2001, “Maryland Family Ensnared in Immigration Maze – After Changes in Law, Couple Faces Deportation.”

Here are a few tips and pointers offered for the newer practitioner, based on personal experience:

1.  Knowing when to say “I don’t know”

We have all had this situation before– a prospective client comes to you for a consultation involving a convoluted fact pattern or complicated legal issue(s), and that client is looking to you for a resolution to his or her dilemma. Of course, it is great when we are able to provide an answer to our client and recommend a legal recourse or strategy. Inevitably, however, we will encounter situations involving a novel legal issue or question to which there may not be a clear-cut answer. Perhaps more than any other area of law (except maybe tax law), immigration is rife with “grey areas,” where oftentimes there is no definitive “yes” or “no” answer. While it may be tempting to provide your client with an answer or resolution after their consultation, it is much more advisable to tell the client three simple words: “I don’t know.”

When despite your best efforts, you are unable to provide your client with a clear-cut answer following a consultation, the best tactic is to simply inform the client that although you do not know the answer to their legal question or issue, you will get back to them after you have conducted further research or reflected on the matter. Most clients will appreciate the attorney for his or her candor and honesty.

I would venture to say that it is just as important – if not more – for attorneys recognize when they do not know the answer to a particular issue or question than to have subject matter expertise over the issue at hand. As attorneys, many of us are expected to always have an answer “at the ready.” Much of the time, this expectation is engendered by our clients, but if we are honest, a lot of the time it is self-imposed. (How many of us are “Type A” personalities?). Yet, rather than rushing to conclusion, a more considered approach would better serve the client’s interests without compromising the attorney’s credibility. After all, “True wisdom is knowing what you don’t know.” (Confucius, Sayings of Confucius).

2.  Learn as much immigration law as you can

Generally speaking, the more years you are in practice, the less time you will have to “learn” immigration law. This rings even truer for those immigration attorneys who are solo practitioners or who own a small firm practice, as they are not only responsible for practicing law but with marketing their practices; business development; and all the various duties associated with running a business. In my first years of practice as an associate, I spent many hours than poring over Kurzban’s; checking AILA InfoNet for the latest developments in immigration law; attending CLE’s; and the like. These days, such activities seem like a luxury. For those of us who handle matters involving complicated immigration issues often in the face of pressing time constraints, there is not always enough time to mull over legal issues.   Handling such matters requires quick absorption of facts and legal analysis; the ability to think on our feet; and rapid decision making skills. The further along we advance in our careers and practices, the less time we will have, in general, to devote to learning substantive law. Therefore, while they still have the time, newer practitioners should try and learn as much immigration law as possible, as this will undoubtedly help to build a solid foundation of legal knowledge that will be invaluable in handling increasingly more complex cases.

Even for attorneys who have a niche practice, i.e. narrow their practice to a particular area of immigration law, gaining some exposure to other areas that they do not routinely practice is nonetheless valuable. Having a working knowledge or familiarity with areas not practiced will complement and enhance an existing practice and benefit clients, by helping attorneys to identify potential issues and pitfalls more holistically; “think outside the box;” and come up with novel resolutions that they may not have otherwise realized.

3.  Don’t “Dabble” in Immigration Law

I always marvel at attorneys who claim to practice multiple areas of law, immigration being but one of several practices areas. For my part, I don’t see how an attorney can handle the occasional immigration matter without raising questions about their degree of competence. Given its complexity and the somber nature of what is at stake, immigration is a discipline that deserves to be practiced as a calling. One error or misstep, no matter how seemingly insignificant or trivial, can lead to disastrous and devastating results to a client and his or her employer, family members, etc. To dabble in this area of law is not only risky but irresponsible.

4.  Don’t “Take it Home With You”

Personally, this pointer has been the most challenging for me. As immigration lawyers, many of us work with clients who may be dealing with difficult and extremely stressful situations. Some may be presently detained by immigration and customs enforcement; struggling with marital problems, domestic violence, the threat of imminent deportation, etc.   There is no question that by choosing to practice in a field where we are representing a particularly vulnerable population, empathy is a requirement of the job.

However, we should remind ourselves that we are immigration attorneys – not marriage counselors, social workers, or even our client’s friends. Without question, we have a duty to zealously advocate for our clients. At the same time, there is such a thing as “caring too much,” which can lead to burnout or “compassion fatigue.” According to the American Bar Association, compassion fatigue is the cumulative physical, emotional and psychological effect of exposure to traumatic stories or events when working in a helping capacity, combined with the strain and stress of everyday life. http://www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance/resources/compassion_fatigue.html

The ABA goes on to state that:

“Lawyers, like others in the helping professions, are at risk for experiencing compassion fatigue. Lawyers in certain practice areas, such as criminal, family or juvenile law may be especially susceptible to compassion fatigue, as they are regularly exposed to human-induced trauma, and are called on to empathetically listen to victims’ stories, read reports and descriptions of traumatic events, view crime or accident scenes, and view graphic evidence of traumatic victimization.  Those with high caseloads and those with a high capacity for empathy are also at risk for experiencing compassion fatigue.”

Moreover, several bar associations have started to recognize this phenomenon among attorneys:

“Recent research shows that a growing number of attorneys who work with victims of trauma are exhibiting a high rate of Compassion Fatigue symptoms. In fact, lawyers are four times more likely to suffer from depression than the general public. They also have a higher rate of suicideand substance abuse. Most attorneys, when asked, stated that their formal education lacked adequate training in dealing with trauma. Besides working directly with trauma victims, one of the main reasons attorney can develop compassion fatigue is because of the demanding case loads, and long hours that are typical to this profession.”

Compassion Fatigue – Because You CareSt. Petersburg Bar Association Magazine, February 2006

See also: http://www.texasbar.com/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Texas_Bar_Journal&Template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=11113

To avoid compassion fatigue, the ABA recommends “taking steps to sim­plify, do less, ask for help, and stop trying to be all things to all people, including your clients.”

 

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Client Screening for Fewer Headaches

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By: Stuart J. Reich, Esq.

You can’t assemble two immigration attorneys for any length of time before conversation turns to difficult, unresponsive, abusive, or simply non-paying clients. It’s a common trope in our profession, and a source of no small measure of professional dissatisfaction.

Initial screening before representation is essential to weeding out the potential clients who can harm your practice…or your sanity. There will always be issues in any relationship, business or personal, and even good initial screening can’t prevent every problem down the road. However, it can prevent a good number of them.

Here then are a few thoughts on ways to sort the good from bad potential clients – and on a few of the people you might meet along the way.

1. Consultation fees

There are many, many good arguments for charging for initial consultations: the value of the attorney’s time, the theory that clients won’t ultimately value the attorney’s time and efforts unless the attorney places a value on that time from the start, and plenty of others outside the scope of this post.

For our purposes, the best argument for charging a consultation fee is to screen for clients who can’t make their peace with the notion that they will actually need to pay for legal work. If a potential client balks at a relatively nominal consultation fee, they are unlikely to have the means or perhaps the willingness to pay the legal fees for a future matter.

2. Vetting potential clients from the initial call or e-mail contact

When scheduling an initial consultation, be sure you – or the administrative assistant/paralegal/etc. handling the call – think to ask for a brief statement about the nature of the client’s situation.

The potential client may be asking about a type of matter you simply don’t handle. At this point, a referral can be made from a list of colleagues handling various types of work (it’s always a good idea to keep such a list close at hand for the person dealing with these first inquiries). Neither your own time or the potential client’s is wasted, the potential client feels well-served by your office, and you’ve built up good will with colleagues for mutual referrals down the road.

Where the potential client is asking about a type of matter you would normally handle, you go in to a consultation knowing that the potential is there for a solid partnership. In addition, the potential client’s initial description may make you aware by of any special circumstances requiring a brush-up on certain areas of law in advance of the consultation. The person may be sufficiently aware of the importance of a child’s age to mention it. This may trigger a re-read of relevant CSPA guidance before you meet, allowing you to answer questions with confidence (and make a good impression!)

Beware, though, that you may yet be surprised at the consultation. What the potential client presents as the issue when asked may not turn out to be the actual issue. A potential client may simply say that the case is about their H-1B. In fact, the consultation will be about what their options might be after having been fired from their H-1B position a year ago, having now overstayed their I-94 by eight months. The potential client may state that their questions relate to a marriage-based green card matter, when in fact the issue is the Notice to Appear they just received having never filed a Petition to Remove Conditions with waiver after divorcing the original petitioning spouse.

3. The “jump-the-gun” potential client

Many clients won’t see the need for an initial consultation and analysis. They’re sure they know exactly what they need (they’ve looked it up online, and received advice from someone in a forum who had “exactly the same” case!)

These clients will ask up front for a list of documents needed to file, and – if they actually do plan on hiring a lawyer and not simply using your list to prepare their own case – perhaps a fee quote. They don’t see the need for an attorney to evaluate their case to determine if they have any kind of case at all…or if they do, whether it’s the case they thought they had.

Normally, these individuals can be convinced by a simple explanation of the process: first we discuss your situation, then we give our opinion of your options and the best course of action moving forward, then we quote a fee for that recommendation, and if you decide to move forward we then provide materials to retain us and explain what needs to be done/what documents are required.

For those who can’t be persuaded, leaving things in their court works best. Explain that you can’t quote fees or tell you what’s needed because you don’t have enough information to determine what, if any, case can or should be pursued. If that person would like to schedule a consultation in the future, they should feel free to contact you.

If they later set up a consultation, fantastic. If not, you’ve avoided a client who won’t abide by your advice or follow the processes you’ve put in place to effectively run your office.

4. The no-show

This one is fairly straightforward: a potential client who fails to show up for a scheduled consultation without cancelling ahead of time is hardly on the road to being a client, and has demonstrated disrespect for the attorney’s time.

Still, emergencies happen and mistakes are made. One rescheduling for an apologetic client is generally warranted. But not two.

A pattern of failing to show up when scheduled tells you that this person won’t respect the attorney’s time, and won’t consider any responsibility during the case sufficiently important or urgent. Needed documents won’t be supplied. Bills won’t be paid.

5. The client who expects you to redeem the profession for all bad lawyers everywhere

A potential client with a case started – and bungled – by another attorney or notario may in fact be a wonderful client. There are incompetent attorneys (and non-attorneys) out there who may have charged a full (or outrageous) fee and either failed to help the client or made their situation dramatically worse. Even the best qualified and best intentioned attorneys occasionally make mistakes, perhaps losing the client’s confidence.

If you see a path to fixing the problem, and the client understands the value of your contribution and is willing to compensate you accordingly, you may end up with a gratifying representation and a grateful client happy to refer their friends.

However, the client needs to be ready to move away from the idea that they’ve already paid for a result, and that as an immigration attorney you owe them that result. You aren’t the professional (or semi-professional) who caused the initial problem and owes this client recompense. You are the professional who offers a solution, and deserves to be paid for your expertise and hard work in providing that solution.

6. Conclusion

Turning away a potential client is never a first choice; it’s neither how a practice stays afloat nor how we get satisfaction from this work. Newer practitioners in particular may be afraid to turn potential clients away when less busy (and less funded). But, this is often a false choice: the alternatives of “client” or “no client” are too simplistic. In reality, the choice will often be between “no client” and “non-paying drain on your time” or “no client” and “malpractice suit/bar complaint.”

A little effort and observation at the very front end of a case can spare quite a few headaches down the road.

Conundrum of travel during Cap-Gap

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By: Poonam Gupta, Esq.

You can finally relax because you filed all your H-1B petitions on time and have received at least receipt notices for the ones that made it through the lottery. You may also have the petitions back from the USCIS that did not make the lottery. In the midst of all this yearly craziness, do you get bombarded with requests for advice on travel? The popular theme seems to be a vacation outside the United States and especially as soon as the H-1B petition is filed. Sometimes even sooner but the tempo definitely picks up if the petition is picked in the lottery. My guess is, once the stress of making it through the lottery is over, the beneficiaries turn their focus again on regular activities and travel is a natural extension of that. Travel may not be an issue for some but if the beneficiary of an H-1B petition is a student in F-1 status, there is a word of caution – don’t travel if you don’t have to!

Impact of cap-gap provisions for students in F-1 status

The cap-gap provisions codified in 8 CFR §214.2(f)(5)(vi)(A) automatically extend the F-1 status of students with pending or approved H-1B petitions from the end of their authorized stay to the start of their H-1B period on October 1. However, if a student travels outside the United States at any time after the filing of the H-1B petition, he or she loses the cap-gap protection and may not be able to enter the United States in F-1 status. The prerequisites for the cap-gap provisions to apply include:

  1. A timely filed H-1B petition requesting a change of status; and
  2. Valid authorized F-1 duration of status for the student.

The travel ban seems to be built into the cap-gap provisions since it only applies to students in the United States and permits them to continue in their status till the start of their H-1B on October 1. If a student is ineligible for a change of status for any reason or if he or she leaves during cap-gap, there is no way to recapture and come back to the cap-gap situation. Hence, cap-gap only applies if the H-1B petition requests a change of status and not consular processing. The student should stay in the United States for the duration of the cap-gap. The second prerequisite for cap-gap is the valid authorized F-1 duration of status for the student, which includes:

  • the period during the academic course of study;
  • any authorized period of post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT); and
  • the 60-day departure preparation period, commonly referred to as the “grace period.”

Under the cap-gap provisions, a student’s status is automatically extended if they meet the two prerequisites. To obtain proof of continuing valid status, a student should go to their Designated School Official (DSO) with evidence of a timely filed H-1B petition indicating a request for change of status rather than for consular processing. Such evidence may include a copy of the petition and a mailing confirmation receipt. The DSO is required to issue a preliminary cap-gap I-20 showing an extension until June 1, upon proof of timely filing. If the student’s H-1B petition is selected for adjudication, the student should present to the DSO a copy of the H-1B receipt with a valid receipt number, indicating that the petition was filed and accepted. The DSO will then issue a new cap-gap I-20 indicating the continued extension of F-1 status until September 30. On October 1, the student’s status is automatically converted to H-1B from F-1.

If the H-1B petition filed for the benefit of the F-1 student is denied, rejected, or revoked during the automatic cap-gap extension of status, the student will have the standard 60-day grace period (from the date of the notification of the denial, rejection, or revocation of the petition) to depart from the United States.

Employment authorization

At the start of the cap-gap period students who are authorized for employment maintain that employment authorization for the cap-gap duration until the start of the H-1B on October 1. If a student does not have employment authorization at the outset of the cap gap, their F-1 status is extended but they do not have employment authorization during that period. Thus, students in the 60-day grace period also benefit from the cap-gap and maintain valid F-1 status without having to travel outside the U.S. before the start of their H-1B but do not have employment authorization during this time.

Students eligible for a cap-gap extension of post-completion OPT employment and F1-status may apply for a STEM OPT extension during the cap-gap extension period. A student may not file for STEM OPT extension, if the cap-gap extension period is terminated because the H-1B petition was rejected, denied, or revoked and the student is in the 60-day grace period.

Travel during cap-gap

Please be advised of USCIS guidance[1] on travel during cap-gap extension, which states:

A student granted a cap-gap extension who elects to travel outside the United States during the cap-gap extension period, will not be able to return in F-1 status. The student will need to apply for an H-1B visa at a consular post abroad prior to returning. As the H-1B petition is for an October 1 start date, the student should be prepared to adjust his or her travel plans, accordingly.

AILA pointed out the inconsistency of this guidance with the regulations, at its April 10, 2014 meeting with the USCIS[2] but at this time, USCIS stands by the above guidance. The pertinent question and answer from this meeting is:

Travel During the H-1B Cap-Gap Period

10. The Q and A on Post-Completion Optional Practical Training and F-1 Status for Eligible Students under the H-1B Cap-Gap Regulations found on the USCIS website states that a student granted a cap-gap extension who elects to travel outside the United States during the cap-gap extension period, will not be able to return in F-1 status. However, under the cap-gap regulations at 8 CFR §214.2(f)(5)(vi)(A), “the duration of status and any employment authorization … of an F-1 student who is the beneficiary of an H-1B petition and request for change of status shall be automatically extended until October 1 of the fiscal year for which such H-1B visa is being requested” and under 8 CFR §214.2 (f)(13)(ii), an F-1 student who has an unexpired post-completion OPT EAD who is otherwise admissible may return to the U.S. to resume employment after a temporary absence. If the student has a valid F-1 visa stamp, a properly endorsed I-20, and an EAD card that has been automatically extended in accordance with 8 CFR §214.2(f)(5)(vi)(A) , shouldn’t the student be able to travel and return to the U.S. to resume employment during the cap-gap period in accordance with 8 CFR 214.2(f)(13)(ii)?

Response: The ability to re-enter the United States involves other DHS entities, including Customs and Border Protection, as well as the Department of State. USCIS will reach out to these other government agencies to further explore your request. In the interim, USCIS must follow the current policy as stated in the H-1B Cap-Gap website.

Some specific travel scenarios

  1. International travel with a pending H-1B petition with a request for change of status

If a student travels abroad while the H-1B petition and request to change status are pending, the change of status portion of the petition is considered abandoned. USCIS could still approve the H-1B petition, but the student’s status does not automatically change to H-1B status on October 1. Instead, the student would have to leave the United States again and apply for an H-1B visa at a U.S. consulate.

  1. International travel for a student still in school and after H-1B petition approved

After the change of status is approved but before it takes effect on October 1, a student should be able to travel abroad and reenter, as long as the student’s course of study is not finished and the student is coming back to resume the studies. The student will need a valid passport with a valid F-1 visa stamp and a Form I-20 endorsed for travel. If the student does not have a valid F-1 visa in the passport then it may be advisable not to travel unless traveling to get an H-1B visa stamp as it may be difficult to demonstrate the requisite nonimmigrant intent for an F-1 visa.

  1. Reenter the U.S. on a new F-1 visa before October 1 with approved H-1B petition

A student should expect potential issues when applying for a new F-1 visa abroad and also at the port of entry because a student with an approved H-1B petition has questionable nonimmigrant intent, i.e., intent to return to the student’s home country. Having a non-U.S. residence that the student does not intend to abandon is a requirement for F-1 status. An approved H-1B petition alerts the consular and border officials of the student’s professional job in the United States – a possible indication of strong ties to the United States. If the consular or border officer questions the nonimmigrant intent, the visa or entry could be denied or delayed. The student may have to wait overseas until he or she can apply for an H-1B visa to enter and start the H-1B employment. The H-1B visa does not require nonimmigrant intent. If possible, the student should avoid travel till he or she can apply for the H-1B visa.

  1. International travel, if no OPT and H-1B approved

As per USCIS guidance quoted above, the student cannot return to the United States in F-1 status if he or she travels abroad at the end of the academic program. If the H-1B petition was filed before the F-1 status expired, the student can remain in the United States during the cap-gap period between the end of the F-1 period of stay (including 60-day grace period) and October 1. But an F-1 student who travels abroad during the grace period or the cap-gap cannot be readmitted to the United States in F-1 status. If the student must leave the United States, he or she will have to apply for an H-1B visa to return, and will not be able to work until October 1.

Applying for H-1B visa abroad

Department of State permits an individual to generally apply for an H-1B visa up to 90 days before the H-1B petition start date. If the start date is October 1, then an individual would be able to apply for his or her H-1B visa no earlier than July 3. However, some consulates may permit applications up to 120 days ahead of the H-1B start date of October 1. Please check with the consulate for specific instructions on when they will accept the H-1B visa application. Contact information for U.S. embassies and consulates is available at http://usembassy.gov.

Start of the H-1B

Once the individual has received an H-1B visa, he or she may enter the United States up to ten days before the H-1B petition start date. For instance, if the start date is October 1, an individual may enter as early as September 21. The extra ten days permits the individual to get settled in the United States, but does not permit the individual to perform any H-1B work during this time. An individual may not start the H-1B employment until the actual petition start date.

Individuals in other status

The cap-gap provisions only apply to F-1 students and not to exchange visitors in J-1 status or their dependents in J-2 status or individuals in any other nonimmigrant status. Individuals in the United States in a status other than F-1 are only allowed to stay for their authorized stay even if an H-1B petition has been filed for them and is subsequently approved. For individuals in J status that is the duration of the exchange program plus a grace period of 30 days.

If the J period of stay and grace period end before September 30, 2014, the exchange visitor must depart the United States and apply for an H-1B visa abroad. Such an individual is not eligible for a change of status to H-1B because there of the gap between the end of the period of authorized stay and the day the H-1B petition takes effect. However, if the J period of stay (including grace period) remains valid through the start date of the approved H-1B petition and the H-1B petition requests a change of status to H-1B, the exchange visitor may remain in the United States in J-1 status before the change of status takes effect.

Similarly for an individual in TN status, if the TN status will be valid on September 30 and he or she has an approved H-1B petition requesting a change of status effective October 1 then his or her status will automatically convert to H-1B on October 1.

Conclusion

The USCIS guidance is contrary to the regulations and wrong but it is the prevailing guidance. In light of the USCIS guidance, the potential pitfalls in obtaining a new visa and difficulties in re-entering on F-1 status, unless absolutely necessary, it is advisable for students to stay within the United States for the duration of the cap-gap and leave either after the H-1B has taken effect or just before so that they can travel to get an H-1B visa and then reenter on that visa.

 

[1] http://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/h-1b-specialty-occupations-and-fashion-models/extension-post-completion-optional-practical-training-opt-and-f-1-status-eligible-students-under-h-1b-cap-gap-regulations [Last visited on June 15, 2014].

[2] Question 10. USCIS Meeting with the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) April 10, 2014. AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 14050243. (Posted 5/2/14).

Waiting in Line for a Lawyer to Change Their Lives

Juvenile Docket Logo2

By Harry Shulman, Esq. 

I don’t know of any person in this world who likes a line.  Lines, lines, everywhere there is a line. Out in North Dakota you may not have to wait in line for a view of a windswept snow-covered plain in the winter, but here in NYC waiting in line can be a common experience. What gets me are the lines at the airport, especially traveling internationally: I wait to get my boarding pass from an agent, I wait to go through security, I line up at the gate, I solemnly proceed down the ramp, and finally, I wait while the passenger in front of me attempts to do her impression of an Olympic weightlifter struggling to get her 100 pound bag over her head. 

As immigration lawyers, many of us are familiar with the lines at 26 Federal Plaza, as we are rushing to get to an adjustment interview or a court hearing.  For those of us who volunteer for the AILA Juvenile Docket, every first Thursday of the month we line up to go to the ceremonial courtroom on the 12th floor of the building, where we meet with the children assigned to the juvenile docket that day. These dockets seem to attract the biggest lines: the waiting area is often crammed full of kids and their relatives, and of course the shadow line of those undocumented individuals who dare not enter 26 Federal Plaza, though their children must appear.

These are kids who have been caught crossing the border, served with a Notice to Appear and placed in ORR custody for a couple of weeks or months, until finally released to a TPS parent, an LPR sibling or most likely an undocumented uncle, aunt or family friend. What we do at the docket is introduce ourselves as volunteer attorneys who are there to help them, ask them questions about how, why and when they arrived, trying to determine whether they are eligible for any form of relief, and then take them before a judge as a friend of the court, hoping that the judge will see these children not just as A- numbers but as young people with hopes and dreams and pasts and futures. 

We are pretty good at conducting intakes with the kids and taking them in front of the judge to ask for more time to find them representation, but where we encounter our biggest line is the one the kids must wait in to find a volunteer AILA lawyer to take their case. This line is now over 300 kids long. We are trying our best to convince busy AILA lawyers to take on a pro bono juvenile case. Interestingly, there appears to be about 500+ AILA NY chapter members, so that if each member volunteered to take one case, then that line would disappear as quickly as the line for seeing the movie Ishtar after the reviews came out. 

We have kids lining up for lawyers in one direction, but we need lawyers lining up in the other direction to meet them head on, like at the end of the Stanley Cup when they all line up and shake hands.  The good news is that we don’t have much of a lawyer line, so you won’t have to wait to take a kid’s case. The bad news is that some kids have been waiting on line for such a long time that they are aging out of certain forms of relief critical to their case.  It’s like when they rush you through airport security when your flight is about to leave in 20 minutes.  For these kids, if they miss their metaphorical flight, that’s it.  They get put on a real flight back to the abuse, persecution, neglect, or extreme poverty they escaped from.

To wrap up, everybody hates a line, but to volunteer your time for pro bono work there is never a line, and better yet the satisfaction of using your legal skills to assist someone who desperately needs your help is the most rewarding, life-changing thing you don’t have to wait in line for.

We need your help to volunteer at the AILA Juvenile Docket held on the first Thursday of each month at 26 Federal Plaza, and even more importantly, to take one of our pro bono cases.  If you take a case you can receive CLE credit for your work, and this is a great way to maintain your practice and fulfill your CLE credits at the same time.  If you are new to the world of removal proceedings or juvenile representation, we are happy to provide you with support and mentoring to assist you. For more information, please contact:

Harry Shulman at harryshulman@me.com or

Kristi Dalling at kristi.dalling@gmail.com

 

Customer Service for Lawyers

By: Paul J. Perez, Esq.Image

Tools for Happy Customers and Top Immigration Lawyers

It’s not all about how good of an immigration lawyer you are; eventually it all comes down to how customers perceive their lawyer. There is great competition between lawyers and the aspect that really differentiates them from a customer’s point of view is the customer experience that they offer.

According to studies, customers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience. This is how lawyers can beat their competition. Nonetheless, it’s not only about making problems disappear; it’s also about the connection that the lawyer has with their customers. This is what Ruby Receptionists CEO Jill Nelson calls,“Practicing WOWism”.

Having a great customer service system

How can you ensure the happiness and loyalty of your customers? The easiest way to achieve this is by implementing a web-based customer support tool. At first it may not seem cost-effective to implement such a tool if you are an individual immigration lawyer or if you have a small firm. However, in the long run, you will win the loyalty of your customers and will reduce your marketing budget.

There are many customer service software options online, but it might be difficult to choose the most suitable one. Consider opting for one of the three most popular tools:

ZenDesk.com

Why is ZenDesk different from the other tools? Its main purpose is to make the services of a business seem appealing to potential clients. The services offered include issue tracking, customer support, and helpdesk ticketing. In order to gain access to the ticketing portal, you will have to pay a monthly fee of $1. In case you would like to have access to the multilingual content of the Plus Plan, there is a $59 monthly charge. If you choose this plan, you will also benefit from phone, email, Twitter, Chat, and Facebook support.

In case you already have a CMS or CRM tool, you won’t have to worry about ZenDesk integrating with it because the integration is a smooth process. Some other services that ZenDesk comes with include forum support and email ticket integration. One of the best things about the tool is that you can have a 30-day free trial with its Plus Plan.

Desk.com

This is a service that works well for immigration lawyers since it has been especially created for small and medium business needs. The pricing plans are also tailored to fit the ever-changing needs of the law practices. The basic plans start at $3 per month while the Plus Plan costs $29/month. The best thing about the tool is that it comes with an intuitive user interface which helps the users learn to manage the tool fast and easy.

The Plus Plan promises high quality customer support in over 45 languages. Some other services include community support, API access, email support, email, widgets, phone support, and SSL hosting.

HappyFox.com

Similarly to the other services mentioned, HappyFox is meant to help you handle multilingual customers. This is a global helpdesk supporting 35 languages and offering a complete package of support. The offered services include email ticketing, self-service, helpdesk reporting, and automated helpdesk. You can get their basic plan for $9 per month, but if you prefer the Mighty Plan, it costs you $29/month.

Being an immigration lawyer doesn’t only mean handling the cases of customers; it also means connecting with your clients and offering them an experience that they can share with the world. The above mentioned customer service tools will help you offer the customers what they truly need from their lawyer.

Legal Ethics and Blogging

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By: Michelle A. Ross

The NY AILA Practice Management Committee is presenting its annual Continuing Legal Education program on Ethics next week on February 19th at New York Law School from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. To keep with this theme I thought I would post about a cutting edge ethical issue in the legal field, lawyers’ blogs or as the internet sometimes loves to call them “blawgs.”

A lawyer’s blog can be a powerful online presence which establishes that lawyer’s unique voice, builds the authority and credibility of the lawyer as a professional, provides valuable information to the public, and, yes, attracts potential clients.  The last point, is where the ethical issues seem to enter.

A January 14, 2014 Article in the New York Law Journal by Richard Rasyman and Peter Brown provides a nice summary of the ethical rules and recent cases concerning lawyers’ blogs from various jurisdictions including reference to New York developments such as New York State Bar Association Comm. on Professional Ethics, Op. 967 (N.Y. 2013). Found here. The committee found that a lawyer’s blog which focuses on work-life balance was not an advertisement and therefore was not subject to NY Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.1(k) which requires attorneys to retain copies of any contents of a website.

I am by no means the first to comment on this article, and I find myself agreeing with comments of others such as Kevin O’Keefe’s on “Real Lawyers Have Blogs”.  The Rasyman Brown article suggest that at the moment, ethics committees and state tribunals have been finding that much of the time blogs are not attorney advertising.  O’Keefe has compared good blogging to traditional networking because most blogs are musings on a current event or substantive topic without any solicitation beyond discussion of the topic. Great, ethical rules governing attorney advertising don’t apply!  Until they do apply of course.  In cases where tribunals have found an attorney’s blogging activity to be advertising the blogs read as promotional pages about the attorneys with information about their success in past cases and even a call to readers to contact them.  So at some point a blog can transform from an exercise of free speech to attorney advertising.

The question for practitioners operating under time constraints is, if I am going to dedicate precious time to blogging how is this going to help my practice grow?  If the goal is to network and generally promote a lawyer’s presence as a professional then I agree with many other commentators that this should not be considered attorney advertising.  For all practitioners this goal is a wonderful long term goal to have, but there is always that more pressing goal at hand- getting clients in the door.  It makes sense to me that before a lawyer creates a blog, she should make a conscious decision as to whether that blog is for the direct purpose of growing her client base or not. If it is, why not comply with the ethical rules governing attorney advertising from the very start?  It certainly wouldn’t hurt to keep records of posts, place the required disclaimers on her blog, and take all the other necessary steps to comply with advertising rules.  If that sounds like a burden then stay away from posts that sound like advertisement. So by all means jump in and join the discussion, but make the choice about how you want blog and why you want to blog before you make the leap

10 Helpful Practice Management Resources on AILA InfoNet

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By Judith Simms, Esq.

As a solo immigration practitioner I am always looking for ways to be more efficient in my practice.  One of the many perks of being a member of AILA is having access to the vast resources of InfoNet that provide me with ideas for better practice management.  As a newer practitioner I welcome any article or podcast that helps me to do things quickly, correctly and without having to reinvent the wheel each time I do a routine task.

The following is my list of 10 helpful practice management resources divided by topic from AILA’s InfoNet.  This list is just a small portion of the vast resources on InfoNet.  You can find many additional resources by logging into AILA.org and clicking “Practice & Professionalism” on the left hand side and then clicking “Practice Management” on the sub-menu.

Building Your Practice

1)  AILA’s Marketplace Study:  AILA’s marketplace study was conducted a few years ago and contains quite a few gems that can help you to build your practice with data from the AILA membership.  Check out average hourly rates, staff salaries average of hourly rates, billing data and more that can help you make crucial decisions for your practice. AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 11083172 (posted Apr. 10, 2012) http://www.aila.org/content/default.aspx?docid=36823

2)   Article – Best Practices for Immigration Law Office Management: Managing the law office well can lead to a less stressful practice, and this article goes into some best practices for running your office as a profitable business. AILA Doc. No. 08091761 http://www.aila.org/content/default.aspx?docid=26531

3)   Newsletter – Immigration Practice News:  AILA’s Immigration Practice News Newsletter is a great way to keep up with practice tips from immigration practitioner’s around the nation.  A recent issue discussed Successful hiring tips and managing staff remotely.  They also regularly review immigration software and provide tips on filing new types of cases. http://www.aila.org/content/default.aspx?docid=30120

4)   Podcast – Building Referral Networks:  Building your practice is a marathon not a sprint.  This helpful podcast discusses building your practice through referral networks and how to go about building them with your clients and other lawyers.  http://agora.aila.org/Product/Detail/1783

5)   Article – Attracting, Retaining, and Promoting Legal Support Staff and Associates: Building a great practice involves recruiting a great staff and InfoNet has many resources regarding best hiring practices.  This article can help you to think through how best to add to your ranks. AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 10110465. (Posted 11/04/10) http://www.aila.org/content/default.aspx?docid=33545

Ethical Considerations

6) Practice Success Tip – Dual Representation Matters: Immigration practitioners face ethical issues often.  Dual representation is one issue that comes up time and time again in an immigration practice.  This practice success tip focuses on our obligations when these issues arise and recommends having a waiver prepared for clients to sign when two clients you are jointly representing may have opposing interests in the future. AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 13022849 (posted Feb. 28, 2013) http://www.aila.org/content/default.aspx?docid=43487

7)   Article – When You Go to Heaven, Will Your Practice Go to Hell?:  After you go through all the trials and tribulations of building a great practice you may want to ensure that the clients you serve are protected if something happens to you.  This article helps you to identify ways to start protecting your practice against the possibility of your early departure and has a list of helpful resources for further reading. AILA Doc. No. 10072260. http://www.aila.org/content/default.aspx?docid=32678

Dealing with Clients

8)  Practice Success Tip – Turn Price-Conscious Consults into Clients: Many of us have experienced the potential client who comes in for a consultation and then never comes back.  A recent practice success tip discusses how to have better outcomes with our price-conscious clientele.  AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 13103140 http://www.aila.org/content/default.aspx?bc=46308

9)  Article – Twenty-Five Tips to Develop Rewarding Client Relationships: The title is self-explanatory and developing rewarding client relationships can lead to less stress in dealing with clients and an increase in referrals after representation. AILA Doc. No. 07012210. http://www.aila.org/content/default.aspx?docid=21456

10) Article: The Best You Can Be: Practical Tips to Enhance Your Performance:  There are a few articles on InfoNet regarding dealing with the stress of running an immigration practice.  This comprehensive article tackles finding the right balance of professional and personal fulfillment by enhancing your performance and reducing stress.  AILA Doc. No. 10081265.
 http://www.aila.org/content/default.aspx?docid=32863

Bonus article:  There is a whole page dedicated to Fees, Fee Agreements and Engagement Letters, you can check it out here. http://www.aila.org/content/default.aspx?docid=20499

Hopefully this collection of resources on AILA’s InfoNet is helpful to running your practice.  Check back next month for our next post.