Do Immigration Lawyers Suck?

by Jason Dzubow on November 1, 2010

in Legal, Legal Relief

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According to the EOIR website’s List of Currently Disciplined Practitioners, almost 400 immigration attorneys (397 by my count) have been seriously disciplined since 2000.  What I mean by “seriously disciplined” is suspended or expelled from the practice of law.  The list does not include attorneys who have been subjected to lesser punishments, such as “reprimands” or “admonishments,” whatever those are.

Last I heard, there were around 10,000 attorney-members of AILA, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, but it is unclear how many other attorneys practice immigration law.  Assuming (and it is a big assumption) that AILA represents 50% of all immigration attorneys; there are about 20,000 immigration attorneys nationwide.  If 400 of them had been suspended, that means that about 2% of all immigration attorneys have been seriously disciplined. 

Even these guys would have a hard time getting suspended.

Depending on your point of view, maybe 2% is a lot, or maybe it is a little.  Call me a pessimist, but if I hire someone to assist me with one of the most important endeavors in my life, and there is a 2% chance that that person is a crook, I would feel a bit uneasy.  If 2% of pilots were incompetent, I doubt many people would fly.

But my guess is that the problems are worse than the numbers reveal.  For one thing, it’s not easy to get suspended or expelled from the practice of law.  I once filed a bar complaint against an attorney for lying to my client, stealing his money, and getting him ordered deported (the complaint was a required part of the process to get the case reopened).  We had all sorts of documentation proving this attorney’s incompetence and maliciousness.  The Bar Association found that she had violated the Rules of Professional Conduct, but declined to punish her because there were “special circumstances.”  Ironically, the “special circumstances” were that she had already been punished for destroying the cases of two other people.  So, in other words, she was saved from punishment by her own prior bad acts.  It’s ridiculous, but it helps illustrate how difficult it is to get suspended.  Nevertheless, 400 of my fellow immigration attorneys have managed to do so.

Another problem is that immigrants–particularly illegal immigrants–are unlikely to report bad attorneys.  Many immigrants do not speak English and are not familiar with their rights.  They do not know how to report attorneys.  Also, they might be afraid to report attorneys. 

For these reasons, my guess is that the 400 attorneys on the EOIR list represents only a fraction of the incompetent and/or dishonest immigration attorneys who are practicing law today. 

Of course, the vast majority of immigration attorneys are caring, competent, and honest.  Most (if not all) attorneys I know have worked long hours for little or no pay to help clients in need.  Immigration law is usually not the most lucrative field, and most attorneys practice in this area because we want to help people fleeing persecution or reuniting with family or making a better life.  I do think we have a responsibility to report bad conduct when we see it, and to encourage people who have been harmed to file complaints where appropriate.  Bar associations should also be more aggressive in enforcing the rules.  In this way, we can protect our clients and improve the profession. 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott May 29, 2013 at 1:03 pm

One of them have my friend picked up at work when my friend stop gave him money.God will not have mercy on these Crookes.They just use these poor people weakness so they can satisfy their flashy lifestile.

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Scott May 29, 2013 at 1:00 pm

One of them have my friend picked up at work when my friend stop gave him money.God will not have mercy on these Crookes.

Reply

Hebronn October 17, 2012 at 6:38 pm

The short answer to the Question is “YES”.

In the past few years, I had to deal with a handful of immigration Lawyers, for my self and people around me.
I am shocked to find that out of the six or so lawyers I have dealt with, I couldn’t find one that’s professional: treat his/her client with utmost respect, allot appropriate time to consult & work on the case. Most of these lawyers are interested in their clients till they make their initial down payments. After that, they don’t want to see them till the last week of their court appointment. Things are always done last minute. Even that, the clients who come to see their lawyers on a scheduled time have to sit for hours because they could see their lawyer, because the lawyer is busy trying to sell him/her self to a new client who showed up five minutes ago.

Just to cite some of these unprofessional & unethical conducts:
* A lawyer decided to reschedule court appointment in the last week, cause he forgot to check his calendar for months that he had another appointment scheduled for that day.
* This other lawyer made me wonder how he passed BAR exam and got admitted to practice immigration Law in USA. He barely speaks English, to the point that I was tempted to ask the judge if I can help clarify his comments even though I was in the public seating area.

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Jason Dzubow October 17, 2012 at 10:46 pm

I think the points you raise are all good – my personal feeling is that if you don’t feel comfortable with your lawyer, something is wrong. I would make two comments: (1) many immigration lawyers are forced to charge lower fees due to competition, and so we often have to take more work than we should just to remain in business. For this reason, things sometimes get done at the last minute; and (2) clients sometimes have unrealistic expectations about what the lawyer can do. Of course, it is the lawyers job to explain what he can and make sure the client understands. That said, I think there is a serious problem with the quality of the immigration bar. One possible way to protect yourself is to contact a local non-profit immigration organization and ask them to recommend a private attorney. They tend to know the better attorneys, so maybe they can help you find a lawyer who can help you.

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sean maloney February 19, 2012 at 5:03 am

I believe most immgration lawyers are corrupt,dishonest and agenda driven to the point of believing the ends justify the means. My ex wife HAS LIVED MORE OF THE AMERICAN DREAM through marriage fraud(counterfeit marriage and fake marriage—caught in both) THAN MOST ILLEGALS THAT HAVE DONE NOTHING MORE WRONG THAN PROCEDURAL OFFENSES(over stay visa then get married,come in undocumented, etc). MY EX NOW CLAIMING SHE IS AN ABUSED WOMEN BY EX NYPD OFFICER THAT MARRIED HER AFTER AN UNEXPECTED PREGNANCY –I married her after she was already orderd deported in NYC(not told to me before civil marriage), She is now living a better life off my pension than most Americans and “honest illegals” claiming the VAWA PETITION. I have lost all my rights/standing to my children because”I have allegedly displayed “anger” at being falsely acused of spousal/ child abuse and alienation—-I TOLD A PREIST IF YOUR INNOCENT AND YOUR ARE NOT SCREAMING/PROTESTING YOUR INNOCENTS I WOULD BELIEVE YOUR GUILTY OF SOMETHING. It is a normal emotion(God/Jesus displayed it in the bible) and irrelevant if you love your children. Immigration attorneys let the fraudulent spouse use children as a sword, shield, pawn in divorce and immigration court hearings and the children grow up seeing fraudulent behavior(eg. fake make believe journeys of life threatening abuse all to acuire the green card they couldn’t get becuase of THERE FRAUDULENT PAST BEFORE THE U.S. PARENT WAS EVEN MARRIED TO THEM.

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Parker Waggaman November 8, 2010 at 2:14 am

Dear Jason,

I read your posts on ilw.com and while I was a member of aila for years, I let it lapse. At any rate this one is something that I had noticed before – the shear numbers of people listed as “disciplined” by eoir versus the number of attorneys who practice immigration law. To be perfectly frank the time I counted was because a colleague of mine (or ours as the case may be) asked me if I would write in support of her when she was being investigated (investigate being not the first verb to spring to mind when considering what happened) by eoir. This was about the time that I let my membership in aila lapse. I’ve also been a member of Nat’l Assoc of Crim Def Lawyers. Aila, to my knowledge, did nothing to assist our colleague and, at the time, fellow member. NACDL takes a different view of its members.
I don’t think Immigration Lawyers suck, to answer the point of your article, but I do think that the system does. Immigration clients are vulnerable, but I have come across, in a few, what appears to be an almost innate ability to work (whether work within or merely work) the current system and it is a system that provides few safety valves. Unfortunately one of those valves is the government, the ultimate provider of the benefit sought, does have a rather low standard for revisiting an issue or giving a second chance, provided that second chance is premised on an applicant blaming prior counsel.
The denouement being that aila could advocate on behalf of its members a bit better and help all parties concerned by arguing for greater flexibility in the system.
And the flip side to whether immigration attorneys suck based on statistics – based on statistics, apparently government immigration attorneys never suck.

Parker Waggaman

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