A first important point to make is that lawyers are professionals, not business-people. Professionals have sworn to serve the public and should not be oriented towards making money for themselves. Business-people are usually quite “up front” about their desire to make money are not necessarily oriented towards serving the public. Furthermore, lawyers are regulated by a professional body.
We frequently hear a misconception that immigration lawyers merely fill out forms. In fact, immigration law is extraordinarily complex, not unlike tax law. Immigration law and policy also change quite rapidly. What can seem like a fairly simple situation can in fact be quite nuanced. An experienced immigration lawyer can ask the right questions and provide insight into all aspects of a client’s predicament and then provide advice as to all available options.
Many people believe that they can save money by filing their application on their own only to later learn that they filed their application at the wrong place or with incomplete materials. This can lead to delays which cost the applicants time and sometimes money (e.g., in lost Canadian wages). A good immigration lawyer can ensure that a case is filed in a complete way at the right place and can sometimes assist in speeding the case along by avoiding returned applications and ensuring that all required documentation is submitted in its proper format.
I frequently tell clients that the Immigration Department is not their friend. Many clients assume that the Immigration Department is there to help them and that any deficiencies in their application can be fairly easily rectified. Unfortunately, this is absolutely not true. Many officers see themselves as ‘gatekeepers’ and are only too willing to refuse a case for relatively minor errors. This can result in very serious consequences. Also, advice given by Immigration Department officials (for instance, call center agents) can be misleading or inaccurate. Many of these agents have only a high school education and certainly not a law school degree and yet they are expected to field questions on every aspect of citizenship, immigration and refugee law. These agents cannot be expected to know every nuance of this complex area of law and cannot be expected to provide the best strategic advice.
In terms of selecting particular lawyers, be aware that a lawyer who has practiced for many years may not have practiced immigration law for their entire career and therefore may not be the most experienced immigration lawyer. Mentorship is also important. What is their reputation? Was the lawyer mentored by senior immigration lawyers for many years? What are the lawyer’s educational credentials? Did they go to a top law school?
Also, is the lawyer “guaranteeing” success? If so, steer clear. Nothing in immigration law is guaranteed. No lawyer with integrity will ever guarantee that a visa or permit will be issued because at the end of the day, it is not the lawyer who issues the visa or permit but an immigration official.
Price is often a factor for clients. An experienced lawyer will obviously cost a little more. But immigration law is one area where “you get what you pay for” is not always true. Unfortunately, there are many non-lawyer consultants and while many charge less given they have not invested in the same level of education and training, there are those who exploit their own communities by charging extremely exorbitant fees much higher than lawyers.