How to avoid becoming a victim of unscrupulous lawyers?

In my column This week's Consulta Migratoria® explains how to avoid falling victim to unscrupulous lawyers.

This is the column:

In every profession there are some bad apples. Unfortunately, there are also unscrupulous people in the legal field, including lawyers, although they are in the minority.

The problem is that a single unscrupulous lawyer can cause a lot of damage. I periodically hear about cases that infuriate me, because they shouldn't happen - like that of former immigration attorney Yehlen "Mary" Dorothea Brooks, who pleaded guilty to 15 counts of grand larceny for defrauding dozens of immigrants who paid thousands of dollars for services she did not provide. The woman had lost her license to practice law, but continued to serve clients illegally.

It is disgusting what former attorney Brooks did to her clients and I hope the full weight of the law comes down on her. I thank the California State Attorney's Office for investigating and prosecuting her, but they need to be more proactive in identifying and punishing people who are stalking immigrants to defraud them.

In the meantime, if you need an immigration attorney, it is very important to investigate their credentials and licensing before hiring them, to avoid becoming a victim of malpractice or fraud.

What to do before hiring a lawyer

  1. Ask to see the attorney's license authorizing you to practice law.
  2. Ask what state you are registered in.
  3. Verify that the license is current. You can do this by calling the bar association where you are admitted and which issued your license to practice law.
  4. Find out if the attorney has ever been disciplined, suspended or disbarred. You can do this by visiting the website of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). You can find more information about attorneys disciplined by the EOIR by clicking here. click here.
  5. Ask how much experience the attorney has and how successful he or she has been in resolving cases similar to yours.

What to do after hiring a lawyer

  1. Get a written legal services agreement that details the legal work that will be done on your case. Whatever the lawyer promises you should be put in writing. Remember, "what is written is written and words can be taken with the wind".
  2. Obtain a receipt for any payment you make.
  3. Give the lawyer copies of your immigration and identity documents and always keep the original documents.
  4. Obtain copies of all applications and evidence of support submitted to the federal government.

Cause of alarm

You've probably heard the saying on numerous occasions: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

I understand the need to believe in a solution to our problems, even if it is doubtful or risky. But we must be realistic and cautious.

Never hire a lawyer who promises guaranteed results or tells you that he or she knows people in the federal government who can get your papers processed quickly. Anyone who tells you that is lying.

Government decisions on immigration cases are sometimes unpredictable, and definitely not quick.

Avoid lawyers who suggest lying on your immigration paperwork, who do not explain why they are applying for an immigration benefit, or who ask you to sign blank documents.

Remember, when you sign these documents, you are swearing that you are telling the truth and that you understand the contents of the applications.

Signing blank documents or lying on immigration paperwork could have serious legal consequences for you and your case.