- FLAT FEE ALL THE WAY. Anyone who has ever hired a family law attorney is going to be a vociferous advocate of flat fee pricing. Almost every single time, a flat fee arrangement is going to save you a tremendous amount of money over an hourly arrangement. In my office, we take the estimated number of hours for a typical case, divide it in half, and come up with the flat fee price. Attorneys like the flat fee arrangement because, although far less money, it is administratively much easier, the money is paid up front and therefore there are far fewer collection issues, and clients are generally much happier with a flat fee arrangement.
- CHEAP ? VALUE. Do not shop for the cheapest attorney; instead try to obtain the most value for the money. Avoid “visa mills” where a figurehead lawyer sells the service (by conducting the initial consultation with you) but in reality, the support staff, law students, paralegals, and new or inexperienced attorneys do most of the work. The ancillary to all of this is do not expect your attorney to personally handle all calls, payments, collection of documents or data entry. These types of tasks are more efficiently and economically handled by non-attorneys. If I have a client who insists I take every one of their calls and meetings even for non-substantive tasks, I have to charge a premium for such exclusive access.
- DON’T BE YOUR OWN WORST ENEMY. Once you find a good attorney who is going to provide good value for you, LET THEM DO THEIR JOB. Don’t micromanage them and do not constantly bombard them with stories you’ve gleaned from the Internet or friends. Now that you have made the decision to hire an attorney after much thought and research, trust your decision and let the attorney do his or her job and let them do it in the best way they know how. THE GOLDEN RULE: If you think you know more or as much as your immigration attorney, then don’t hire a lawyer.
- TRY TO GET A QUOTE OVER THE PHONE BY COMING UP WITH A 1-2 MINUTE ELEVATOR PITCH OF YOUR CASE. If you are legal, what is your status (e.g., B2 visa expires March 1, 2010)If you are illegal, did you sneak into the country or did you overstay a valid visa?When did you enter the U.S.What is your short term immigration goal?
What is your long term immigration goal?
Then just keep asking for a flat fee price range. Some attorneys will absolutely refuse to give you a flat fee price or range. If you encounter this, try asking what the hourly rate is and how many hours this kind of case typically takes. Make the calculation.
If you’ve been successful in getting a ball park range, now ask what other costs would be.
Government filing fees
Extra costs billed by the attorney such as copies, Fedex, investigatory, etc.
FINAL THOUGHT. Look for a reputable law firm (large or small), or a good solo practitioner who is intelligent, organized, a hard worker, and not doing this job just for the money. If you are going with a solo practitioner, ensure that attorney has backup resources and if it’s a large law firm, ensure you are getting what you pay for. In all cases, it’s always better to have a True Believer on your side. Remember, your attorney is going to be your advocate for many, many years to come. Cultivate a good relationship from the start. Good luck!