Are paid consultations better than free consultations? Yes (in my humble opinion). As one disgruntled person who came to us after getting burned with bad advice from another attorney told me, “free consultations are worthless!” Well, I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, but more often than not, you get what you pay for. Attorneys, especially immigration ones, are some of the busiest professionals on the planet. It is a simply a reality that people do not have time to honestly assess a person’s case for free. In fact, if the consultation is free, the attorney has more motivation to make something out of the case when there may not a case, simply because very few people have the luxury of listening and analyzing a person’s case without compensation. On the other hand, if an attorney is being paid for his/her time in evaluating the case, the lawyer is more likely to give you honest advice because he/she has already been paid for the analysis. It is not uncommon for one person going into a “free” consultation walking out having signed a retainer for $5000 for something that is not realistically going to work. On the other hand, if that same person were to go to an ethical attorney and pay $100 for a one hour consultation, that person might walk out $100 poorer but infinitely richer in terms of understanding his/her own legal situation and what can and cannot be done.
Other things to be considered also include time. Since most people will flock to free consultations, the attorney will have less time to carefully deliberate on your case because the waiting room will probably be filled with people just looking for free advice. On the other hand, lawyers who charge for their time will probably be better able to listen to your case and give you the frank advice that you need.
How should you prepare for the consultation? One thing that we find helpful is when prospective clients are able to bring any previous paperwork with them. This includes but is not limited to previous filings, requests for evidence, and denial notices. People should also bring their passports, I-94s, permanent resident cards, and naturalization certificates as well. We have had individuals who email the particulars of their case and questions ahead of time prior to the consultation, and I have found this practice to be helpful as well, as it allows me to identify and discuss the issues during the meeting without the client having to explain the background of the case. Conversely, for some complex employment matters, we sometimes email an intake to the prospective client to ascertain whether we handle the type of matter that they are inquiring about.
Another thing to understand about consultations is that an attorney will not necessarily be able to answer everything within the allotted time of the meeting. Certain issues-whether they are legal or factual-may need to be looked into or explored. Sometime, it involves legal research, and sometimes it involves the prospective client confirming or discovering certain facts before a legal opinion can be rendered. For example, how an individual entered the country is extremely important in terms of whether that person will be able to adjust his/her status. If the person does not know or recall the type of visa used, or whether any type of visa was used, the attorney may not be able to give a definitive answer. However, at the very least, the attorney will have spotted the issue for the client and will hopefully have explained the different consequences that arise out of each factual scenario.
Consultations are absolutely worth it, and absolutely necessary for anyone who is affected by immigration issues. Please do not make the mistake of consulting with your neighbor, your friend, your employer, or a notario. Immigration is extremely complex and fact sensitive. Only licensed professionals should be examining and exploring your situation.