shutterstock_288120626Immigration lawyers regularly see the damage “notarios” can inflict on innocent clients who don’t realize they are not dealing with a qualified lawyer or don’t understand why it’s important to use a lawyer competent in immigration law. Many of us have worked hard to educate the public on the dangers presented by those engaged in the Unauthorized Practice of Law and we have encouraged our law enforcement agencies to target the worst actors.

There are also many handling U.S. immigration matters overseas who are off the radar of U.S. authorities. They may be equally as unqualified as the notarios operating within the U.S. and the potential harm they cause is just as serious.

No matter how much we know about the law, and how much we know about immigration, the fact remains that with some exceptions, AILA members are experts in American immigration law. Notwithstanding our desire to help a longstanding client, or offer a few words of advice on a “simple” matter, American immigration lawyers should be extremely cautious about accepting outbound immigration matters.

It boils down to this: immigration lawyers should not take on matters they do not have the required knowledge and expertise to handle. The rules for engaging in the practice of law and what the term “practice of law” actually means can differ, of course, from country to country. But most U.S. immigration lawyers are not going to be able to develop the proficiency to properly serve a client for the “one off” case that may come across their desk.

Far better, then, to instead offer assistance as your client seeks a competent practitioner. But how? AILA is an obvious place to begin a search as there are dozens of members overseas working on outbound matters and is home to the Global Migration Section (GMS), the key resource for AILA attorneys looking for help on outbound matters. The Global Migration Section is a free AILA member benefit providing a forum and a means for AILA members to share ideas and information and to receive mentorship and education on global migration-related issues. The GMS also updates the International Lawyers List which can help you find licensed counsel in many countries around the world. If you’re going to be in New York for the upcoming AILA Conference on Advanced Business and Removal Issues, where yours truly will be on a panel talking about this precise issue, the GMS is offering consulate tours (India, Brazil, Canada, the UK, and Russia are confirmed) as well as a networking dinner on October 10. Asking questions of vetted practitioners in person could help immensely with your global migration-related questions.

The International Bar Association (IBA) is another place to look for referrals. The IBA’s immigration and nationality law committee’s membership roster has several hundred lawyers from countries across the globe. Their biennial global immigration conference in London is another place to find contacts (and to develop your U.S. bound referral network).

Where else could you look? There are global immigration lawyer networks like ABIL (The Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers) and Visalaw International as well as global law firms that may also have someone who can help your client. Some U.S.-based firms also have well-developed outbound practices with experienced practitioners even if they don’t have an office in the country you need. And then there are the established directories like Who’s Who in Corporate Immigration Law, Chambers and Partners and Martindale Hubbell that rank top practitioners in different countries.

Of course, a good practice is calling or emailing lawyers you respect to ask who they recommend. I’d bet most of those recommendations would match up with members of the International Lawyers List from the GMS.

In any case, it’s a good rule of thumb to follow the advice we give the public – don’t entrust your immigration status to someone not qualified to handle the work. And for AILA members, referring the matter to an excellent practitioner will only make you look better.

Written by Greg Siskind, Member, AILA Board of Governors

Interested in learning more about this subject? As part of AILA’s Advanced Business and Removal Issues Conference, Greg will be participating in a panel October 10th on Global Pitfalls for the U.S. Immigration Lawyer, along with experts Audrey L. Lustgarten, Lance Kaplan, Grace Shie, and Maia T. Spilman. Check out the conference program for more details including how to register for the conference.