You might be wondering if you need a lawyer to guide you through your case of if you’d be fine going it alone. It’s a totally reasonable question. Lawyers’ services cost money, and you should evaluate if it makes sense for you to spend that money before you do so.
Do I Have to Hire a Lawyer to File My Case?
The simple answer is no. You can file any immigration case without a lawyer.
Should I Hire an Immigration Lawyer?
This is an entirely different question than the previous one. You do not have to hire a lawyer, but in many cases you should hire a lawyer. You can fill out the forms, look on the USCIS website for instructions and the address where you need to send your application. Most people can do this. However, most cases are not as simple as just filling out the forms. They involve many more considerations, such as:
- If my case is denied, will I be put into removal (deportation) proceedings?
- If I make a mistake in my case, how much money will I lose in fees and other costs?
- If I miss a deadline, what will the consequence be for my immigration status and my ability to stay in the U.S.?
- If I send my case to the wrong address, what will I lose? Just time and a little money, or something more serious like my eligibility to apply?
- Am I really eligible for this application? Sometimes you appear to be eligible, but when a lawyer looks more closely at the case, he will tell you that you need a waiver, or that you are not eligible at all.
At the very least, I think it is always wise to have a consultation with a lawyer to answer some of the questions above and make sure that you are in fact eligible and that filing is not going to put you in any danger of deportation.
At the consultation, you can find out how complex your case is. In some simple cases you may be able to represent yourself. If this is the case, I will tell you so. In more complex cases, like those with a waiver, it is best to have a lawyer.
In the end, in many cases, you could go either way—handle it on your own or hire a lawyer. In these cases, I will advise you of the advantages of having an attorney (with the obvious disadvantage being that it will cost you money).
Many times, I will recommend that you hire an attorney. This is because I truly think it is in your best interest. A colleague of mine put it this way – women went through childbirth for thousands of years without any medical help, but if you or your wife were pregnant, would you really want to go it alone? A lawyer can alert you to pitfalls you haven’t identified and give you the best way to avoid them. They can also share strategies that have proven effective in the past, and know of routes to solve problems your case runs into. A lawyer can help you prepare your case right the first time saving you the cost of re-doing it later or, worse, helping you solve a problem you unknowingly created for yourself. Fixing a case that has been done incorrectly can be two or three times as expensive as doing it right the first time. So consult with a lawyer, or preferably two, then evaluate if the case is simple enough for you to do on your own, or if it’s worth it to hire an attorney and know it’s being handled by someone with experience.
A note on Notarios/Paralegals/Assistants…
When considering whether or not to hire a lawyer, may people think non-lawyer assistants are a good compromise. That couldn’t be further from the truth. A non-lawyer who is helping you fill out forms and giving you advice is breaking the law and putting your life in the U.S. at risk. Can you trust a criminal with your family’s future? At best, these non-lawyers are well-meaning but lack the necessary training to identify problems in your case. At worst, they are scammers who are not regulated by the government, and often disappear with your money overnight after they have ruined your immigration future.
Yes, lawyers can cost thousands of dollars, but if you’re going to invest any money at all in getting help with your case, a lawyer is the only advisable option. (There are free lawyers and reputable non-profits that provide representation for free or at a reduced cost). Hiring a non-lawyer – whether it is a notario, a paralegal or any other assistant – is playing with fire, and chances are you will get burned.
Your immigration case is one of the most important things you’ll do in your life and your family is depending on you to resolve your immigration status so you can stay in the United States to care for them and be there for them. Don’t risk your family’s happiness just to save money. Give yourself and your family the best shot at a happy shared future.