Should I Fire My Immigration Lawyer?

If your immigration case is going awry, and it's clearly your lawyer's fault, here's what to do.

You have the right to fire your lawyer at any time. But do you really need to? Before you take this step, make sure that your frustration is about something that is truly the lawyer’s fault.

Was the Problem Really Caused by the Lawyer?

Immigration lawyers cannot work miracles, and sometimes it takes a miracle to get through the immigration maze. You will no doubt be frustrated at many points throughout the process, by long waits, requests to provide documents that seem to have no bearing on your case, the need to write a second set of checks to replace the first set that the U.S. government lost, and so on. Many clients blame their immigration lawyer for issues and delays that were actually caused by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the States Department, or the U.S. consulates abroad.

Other problems are caused by the way the immigration laws are written. For example, the limits on the numbers of visas given out per year in certain categories causes delays of several years in some cases. Worse yet, one month the government may announce that you are finally eligible for a visa, but the next month, the visa numbers may "retrogress," and you are back to waiting again. This is not an issue that any lawyer can solve for you.

How do you tell what the source of the problem is? First, ask your lawyer, and ask to see the documents from the government indicating the problem. You can also consult with another lawyer regarding whether your case has been mishandled. Before doing so, get a complete copy of your file from your first lawyer. You have a right to a copy at any time.

What to Do If Firing Your Lawyer Is the Best Course to Take

Of course, it may turn out that your lawyer was, after all, the source of the problem. If so, firing the lawyer and getting a new one may be the best thing you can do for your immigration case.

You will have to pay the fired lawyer for any work that was already done on your case. Look at the contract with your lawyer (if you signed one) to see how refunds are to be made.

If you originally paid a flat fee, as is common in immigration cases, the lawyer is permitted to keep enough of the fee to cover the work already done. How to calculate this can be a challenge, particularly if the contract failed to cover this point. The recommended method to calculate the refund amount is by percentage of the work done. For instance, a lawyer who has done half the work could keep half the fee.

Another possible method is to base the amount you still owe on hours spent, charged at the lawyer’s standard hourly rate, capped by the total flat fee amount. Ask for a complete list of the hours worked and how those hours were spent. Don’t be surprised if you don't get any money back, however. Flat fees are often artificially low, and a lawyer can easily show that your fee was used up on the work that was done.

Firing your lawyer will not affect the progress of your applications with USCIS, the consulate, or any other government agency handling your case. However, you should send a letter to the last USCIS or consular office you heard from, directing them to send all future correspondence directly to you or to your new lawyer. The new lawyer will, of course, take care of this, and file a new Form G-28 indicating his or her representation.

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