I’ve spent some time in this blog dissing immigration lawyers, so I thought it only fair to discuss some of things that immigration lawyers don’t like about their asylum-seeker clients. Of course, none of these bad habits applies to any of my clients (so please don’t fire me). With that important caveat, here are the seven habits of highly annoying clients:
7 – Negotiate the Price: Yes, I understand that many people come from countries where it is standard procedure to negotiate the price of something you buy. But we are not now in that place. In the U.S., negotiating the price is not the norm, and we lawyers really don’t like doing it. Most of us charge a very fair price, and some of us charge too little (I sometimes hear complaints about this from my wife and kid, who keep bugging me to buy them things like food and clothing – the nerve). While lawyers who specialize in asylum don’t expect to get rich, we don’t want to feel that we are being taken advantage of either. It’s difficult to do your best work when your client is not fairly compensating you for your time. On this point, lawyers also don’t like it when clients fail to pay or pay late. To do an asylum case correctly requires a lot of time and hard work. When a client pays too little or doesn’t pay at all, it becomes much more difficult to make the effort to help the client.
6 – Change Phone Numbers Without Telling the Lawyer: It’s understandable that clients who are new and relatively unsettled in the U.S. would move and would change their phone numbers. What’s frustrating is when they change their contact information but don’t tell their lawyer. I always ask my clients for an “emergency contact;” not so much for emergencies (We need to file your form I-730 – Stat!), but to have someone else to contact if my client disappears. Remember – if your lawyer can’t find you, she can’t help you with your case.
5 – Failure to Cooperate: I tend to give my clients a lot of homework. I want them to get their work and school records, police reports, letters from friends and family, etc., etc. Most clients do their best to get these documents, as they understand that it will greatly help their cases. But some clients just can’t be bothered. Not only does this make it more difficult to win the case, it makes it more difficult to represent the client with any enthusiasm–if you don’t care about your case, why should your attorney?
4 – Bringing Documents Late: I suppose this is a sub-category of “Failure to Cooperate,” but it deserves its own mention. Immigration Courts and the Asylum Offices have deadlines for submitting documents. If you give a document to your lawyer at the last minute, he may not have time to properly review that document–to ensure that it is consistent with the rest of your case, for example–before submitting it. Submitting an inconsistent document could jeopardize your case. Also, for a lawyer to organize and submit documents in a professional manner takes time. If we receive documents late, it is more difficult for us to do our jobs. Ultimately, of course, this is bad for the client.
3 – “No Shows” and “Dropping By:” You should be able to contact your lawyer when you need him. But you do not have a right to stop by any time you want without an appointment. Lawyers have busy schedules and multiple deadlines. The more we can organize our days, the better. When a client shows up without an appointment, it interrupts our schedules and potentially disrupts our day. If you want to see your lawyer, please call in advance and make an appointment. The flip side of this is when clients make an appointment and then don’t show up without calling. It’s common courtesy to call if you can’t attend an appointment, and it makes sense to treat your attorney–the person who is working on a case that might profoundly affect your life–with respect.
2 – Late to Court or Late to an Interview: Even worse than missing appointments with your lawyer is missing your appointment with the Immigration Judge or the Asylum Officer. This will potentially cause you to lose your case and be deported. It is also a problem for the lawyer, who often has to cover for you or appear at a second hearing (if you are lucky enough to be rescheduled and not simply denied).
1 – Don’t Keep Asking, “Is My Case Done Yet:” Once an asylum case is filed, lawyers can only do so much to make it go faster – and by “so much,” I mean basically nothing. Bugging your lawyer about whether there is a decision yet in your case is like asking him whether the Messiah is coming soon: We can pray for it, but that’s about all. So please be patient. If lawyers could issue green cards, we would work a lot less and make a lot more.
And there you have it. If you are a person seeking asylum and you have a lawyer, try to avoid these bad habits. Remember – a happy lawyer will do better work, and you will have a better chance to win your case. And, to all those clients who don’t have any bad habits, from all us lawyers – Thank you!