Choosing an immigration lawyer can be a difficult task. Once you have made the decision to get specialist help with your immigration application you will be faced with a dizzying choice of available lawyers. So how can you decide who is best suited to take on your case?
In this article we look at 10 questions you can ask to help choose the individual to give you the greatest chance of a successful application.
1. Is your immigration lawyer professionally regulated?
To be able to provide immigration law advice in the UK all advisers need to be either working for a firm of solicitors regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) or for non-solicitors be regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC).
It is a criminal offence for anyone to provide legal advice and assistance with making an immigration application without being regulated. This ensures that all advisers remain up to date with this complex and ever-changing area of law as well as having necessary procedures and insurance in place to cover those occasions when things go wrong.
2. Do they offer free initial advice?
Many companies offer free initial advice before charges commence to give clients the opportunity to be completely sure that there is a valid application which can be made and also to give both the client and adviser the chance to get to know each other. Some companies will charge you from the moment you talk to a lawyer.
It is important that you are aware of this difference in approach before you make an appointment with your immigration adviser to avoid surprise costs being asked from you in the future.
3. What have others said about them?
The internet has a wealth of information to help with choosing an immigration lawyer from Google reviews to client testimonials. In our experience it is always worthwhile taking some time to dig beneath the surface with these reviews to ensure they are up to date, accurate and reflect the services that you wish to purchase.
Personal recommendations from your personal network are also an excellent way of getting a true assessment of their experience of instructing a particular immigration lawyer.
4. Are their prices published?
Immigration advice can be expensive. With this in mind, it is important that you know how much you are going to pay and what work it covers. Solicitors are required to publish all of their prices for immigration law advice with the exception of asylum advice and corporate services.
In our experience, the more open and transparent lawyers are about pricing (including details as to whether the price includes VAT or not) the easier it is for clients to make an informed decision about whether they wish to proceed with an immigration application. It is not unusual for a lawyer to need to have an initial meeting with a prospective client before giving detailed costs information to enable them to be equipped with all the details about the complexity of the case.
Free initial advice sessions can generally be sufficient to enable lawyers to give an accurate price for their work without clients having to incur any costs. It pays to shop around before choosing an immigration lawyer.
5. Are their fees fixed/agreed?
There is a growing trend in the provision of legal services for lawyers to offer fixed or agreed fees rather than the more traditional model of charging by the hour. Fixed fees offer clients certainty over the amount they will have to pay to get assistance with their immigration application. You will also need to ask whether the fixed fee includes VAT and whether there are additional costs known as disbursements which need to be paid for in addition to the fixed fee.
6. Are they experienced in your particular type of application?
The term immigration law is a broad term and covers everything from helping large corporations comply with immigration rules, to helping families live together and assisting asylum seekers fleeing war. It is a complex area of law and for this reason you need to be certain that your lawyer has experience of dealing with your particular type of application.
Feel free to ask them how many cases of your type they have dealt with and what their success rates are like. The more information you have, the more informed you are when making a decision about who the right lawyer is for you.
7. Does the relationship feel right?
Even after an initial meeting it is not too late to change your mind when choosing an immigration lawyer to take on your case if you felt in anyway uncomfortable with them. You need to feel relaxed and confident that you are dealing with a professional and that you have a genuine connection with your lawyer to allow them to represent you to the best of their ability. Without this, it places additional pressures on what can already be a stressful environment. It is never too late to change your mind and find someone new.
8. Is your immigration lawyer accredited?
For solicitors there is an accreditation scheme with three different levels which is administered by the Law Society but this is only mandatory for those undertaking publicly funded (Legal Aid) work. Despite this, it is generally seen as good practice among many solicitors to gain Law Society Accreditation for all types of immigration law as it gives clients the assurance that there is regular assessment of their work.
Those regulated with the OISC need to be accredited by the OISC to be able to assist with immigration applications and there are a number of different levels against which they can be assessed.
9. Do they offer “unbundled” services?
Another big change in the provision of legal services in recent years has been the growth of “unbundled” legal services. Traditionally, if you instructed a lawyer to represent you in your case they would deal with all stages of the application.
Unbundled services allow clients to break down the service received into smaller bundles. By way of example, some clients want to complete an immigration application themselves but to have a lawyer check over the documentation before being submitted to look out for any obvious errors.
This is particularly appealing for those on limited budgets as prices can be kept low, but not all lawyers offer this way of working as they feel that it is difficult to give an objective opinion on the accuracy of documentation if they have not been involved in the application process.
10. Do they have a published complaints policy?
Hopefully your immigration application will proceed smoothly to a successful conclusion. Sometimes, however, things can go wrong and at this point it is important that you have a lawyer who can take all necessary steps to protect your interests and make recompense for your losses where this is appropriate.
A published complaints policy is generally seen as a good sign that lawyers have high quality systems in place as they are a requirement of externally assessed management systems such as Lexcel and the Specialist Quality Mark which set out a wide framework for delivering high quality client care.