A comment posted at my blog on the USCIS warning about copycat government websites, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/aggie-r-hoffman/cis-warns-about-copycat-websites_b_976549.html wished that I had included information about protecting oneself from those who offer bogus legal services. I now take this opportunity to list the various steps one may take, whether against incompetent or unscrupulous attorneys. immigration consultants, or notaries.
At the Beginning of the Relationship:
Insist on a contract in witting that specifies the nature of the service to be provided. If it is a complex matter such as a hearing in Immigration Court, an appeal, or reversal of inadmissibility via an application for a waiver, request details regarding the law or legal theory on which the case will rely. For example, in a removal proceeding, will the requested relief be adjustment of status based on an approved visa petition? Will it be for political asylum, withholding of removal or protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT)? Perhaps the hearing is more complex and will require cancellation of removal based on "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" to a U.S. citizen, parent, spouse or child, or to the same degree of relative who has a green card.
Second, ask for a letter explaining how your case will be presented and why the attorney, consultant or notary believes you qualify for relief. Request a list of documents and information you will need to provide in support of your case; ask for receipts for all payments made and keep all letters or communications received from your legal representative. Also make sure you have copies of all documents filed on your behalf. All this will be important if later you need to take legal action against the consultant or attorney.
Reporting the Defective Representation or Fraud:
If it turns out that the attorney either misrepresented what he did, or did not render effective representation, you have several available remedies:
(1) If the attorney carries malpractice insurance, you can file suit against him. Because of the insurance, another attorney may take the case on a contingency basis. This means that like in cases of personal injury (auto accidents), you will not have to pay attorney fees for filing the case, because the attorney fee can be deducted from any insurance recovery. Similarly, in the case of a consultant, file a claim against the bond he is required to post as a condition for his limited license.
(2) Report the details of your loss to the licensing authority. Each state licensing and disciplining authority may vary. In California where I am located, you can turn to the State Bar of California. If your legal representative has threatened you with deportation for a complaint you may want to file, he should definitely also be reported to the prosecuting agency because in all likelihood the threat has now raised his conduct to the level of a crime. The punishment for such action may include suspension or disbarment from the practice of law or imprisonment, or both. Additional civil penalties may include the refund of your money, treble damages, and if fraud is proven, a separate sum of punitive damages.
(3) Report the fraud to either the District Attorney in your city or the Attorney General of your state. For Los Angeles County the relevant contacts may be found at http://da.co.la.ca.us/immigration.htm. The various California agencies are consolidated at http://ag.ca.gov/consumers/general/immigration_consultants.php which page, as you scroll down, provides information in Armenian, Chinese, Hmong, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese. A listing can be found for other states, by counties, here: http://doju.tripod.com/
If you have been deceived or suffered injury, take advantage of the law that was enacted for your benefit. Not only will you be helping yourself, but your actions will assist law enforcement to punish and put the offender out of business.
Content concerning legal matters is for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon in making legal decisions or assessing your legal risks. Always consult a licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction before taking any course of action that may affect your legal rights.