Only once the facts of a case have been adequately marshaled can an attorney properly consult a client regarding the probable outcome of a case.
The basic rule of effective communication is listening. As an attorney, the ability to listen is the only way to truly understand your client’s goals and means of attaining them. Astonishingly enough, thousands of clients go through life day-to-day without any idea as to the status of their legal case. The problem? The lawyer does not listen.
Most attorneys practicing Immigration Law offer free initial consultations to prospective clients. People taking advantage of such “free” consultations however often walk away with a “new case” but no idea as to what the attorney has agreed to do for them or how. In this climate of anti-immigrant lawmaking and increasingly complicated rules governing immigration and naturalization procedures, people seeking a benefit from the INS should make sure they understand exactly how their attorney will handle their cases. In the vast majority of consultations I conduct where the client has a case pending through another lawyer or “immigration paralegal,” the client has absolutely no understanding of the law, or the procedures that are to be undertaken to successfully obtain the immigration benefit sought. Many times, this is the reason the individual seeks a “second opinion.” Unfortunately, thousands of people leave their fate up to the vague reassurances of their attorney, without ever receiving proper consultation on the rules that apply to their cases, or how they can assist in presenting evidence favorable to their cases.
As in any legal analysis, the first step is to identify the issue or issues that may prevent or hinder a client from obtaining the benefit he seeks. Rarely are there no issues, such that “no problem” will arise in the case. Of course, in order to identify potential issues, an attorney must not only understand the law, but must take the time to sit down with the client to make sure the representative understands completely the facts of the client’s case. This includes figuring out where in the process a particular case has confronted or will confront a problem.
Only once the facts of a case have been adequately marshaled can an attorney properly consult a client regarding the probable outcome of a case. The lawyer or representative will not even be able to identify the correct rule of law without fully exploring the entire factual background. Even though Congress finished overhauling much of the Immigration Act in 1996, the rules are in a constant state of flux. INS has yet to promulgate regulations concerning the “3 and 10 year bars” as well as many other problem areas of the 1996 Act. Clients who do not understand which rules apply are running a great risk to their future.
Once an attorney has correctly identified the issues and rules, he must then apply the facts of the case to the rules. This is the only logical manner in which to reach a valid conclusion regarding the outcome of the case. Proper legal method requires that an attorney spend the time with the client to gain a complete understanding of the facts, and analyze the case.
In any case, there are always facts that are unclear or more than one rule which may apply. These circumstances leave room for creative legal argument, but also potential problems that the attorney must disclose to the client. Sometimes, the client may hear things that he does not want to hear, however, that client is better off knowing the truth. Relying on a representative’s so-called “reputation” or “experience” is an enormous mistake, as these are no substitute for legitimate understanding of today’s complex rules.
Listening seems like an easy thing to do. Unfortunately, there are those who only like to hear the sound of their own voice or are too lazy to pay attention to a client’s problems. In immigration law, families and futures are at stake. Wasting time with counsel who does not listen jeopardizes both.