There are a lot of good attorneys in the immigration bar, but there are many who should be avoided at all costs. At Sheridan Green Law PLLC, we file a lot of complaints with the state bar against other immigration attorneys, and we hear the same heartbreaking stories from clients over and over again. Moreover, the consequences of getting a bad apple in immigration law can negatively alter the course of your life or even place you or your loved ones in serious danger.
Based on our experiences, we have come up with a list of warning signs. If you see any of these signs, beware. If you see multiple, or all of these red flags, run.
1. The attorney never tells you what is going on. Good attorneys keep their clients up-to-date on new developments in the case, both good and bad. If your attorney does not talk to you, or if he or she becomes suddenly non-communicative, be on the alert. It is possible that something has gone wrong (and you have limited time to file an appeal) or that the attorney has not done your work and does not want to admit it.
2. You keep getting shuffled around. At firms with multiple attorneys, a certain amount of shuffling is to be expected. It may keep down costs to delegate certain tasks to less experienced attorneys or even paralegals. But if you find yourself having to explain the same basic facts of your case over and over again to different attorneys, this is a red flag. It can mean either that the law firm has bad internal communication procedures (why hasn’t one person written down your story in a format that all the others have access to?) or that the firm has a lot of attorney turnover. If lawyers don’t stay long, there may be problems at the firm you are not seeing, and this may lead to mistakes being made in your case.
3. You cannot get a refund for work that has not been done. All attorneys are required to keep unearned client funds in a trust account separate from the operating account of the law firm. If you ask for a refund (and the firm genuinely has not yet done the work you hired them to do) and they are not willing to give it to you, there is a possibility they are mixing client funds with firm funds. This is common and is one of the number one causes of attorney discipline by the state bar. The worry for the client is that if the economic fortunes of the firm go downhill, your money may disappear. This can be particularly devastating if you then need to file a quick appeal or a motion to reopen and you can’t afford a new lawyer.
4. Paralegals are dismissive or lie about having filed documents they have not filed. Corporate culture trickles down. Paralegals tend to adopt the attitudes of the attorneys they work for. And while the attorneys may have enough sense not to be condescending to your face, if the paralegals are disrespectful, it may be because the attorneys act that way in private. Attorneys who don’t care about you as a person and your particular matter generally don’t do quality work.
5. The attorney has disciplinary history. Before you even hire an attorney, check him or her out on the state bar website. All attorneys are listed and if you know their name, you can find them and see if they have been in trouble with the bar before. If they have, run. As attorneys who file a lot of complaints, we can tell you the sad truth that lawyers have to screw up a lot before they get in trouble. So if a lawyer has been suspended or reprimanded, they probably committed a lot of other malpractice that the bar did not know about or act on. Evidence of disciplinary history is like the tip of the iceberg: 90% of bad behavior lies below the surface.