Dangers of non-attorneys (yourself, family, & Notarios)

I am asked several times each month, why people should not do their own cases? Or have a family member prepare my case? Why not have a person or business that has prepared these petitions before? This is a topic that is very important and relevant.

I’d like to share some of the dangers of non-attorneys that I encounter on a regular basis.

  1. These individuals lack legal training. This means submission of statements and documents without appreciation of the effect it will have with the authorities. For example you share or say one thing in the records, only to be contradicted elsewhere, undermining the case. Officers view these requests and proofs as “less credible” or less persuasive. Officers can perceive omissions of items and evidence to be intentional lies, rather than innocent mistakes. Even worse is when immigration deems statements or submissions to be “admissions” or confessions to things you never intended or imagined, like “fraud” or illegal activity. Officers do not have to approve your requests or petitions and they are more likely to deny your request if they have doubts. They will have more doubts if they do not trust your information and submissions. Non-attorneys are more likely to submit petitions and records with more inconsistencies and poor preparation, leaving a poorer impression with immigration.

2. Lacking legality to “represent” clients. You legally cannot be represented at the interview or court proceeding, because this is restricted to only attorneys and “accredited representatives”. This does not include Notarios or non-attorneys. At the interview or proceeding, you risk doing and saying things of specific meanings in immigration and you can accidentally harm your case without knowing it, like admitting to fraud or improper activity under federal immigration law. You might tell the truth in a manner that suggests you do not qualify for the reliefs you are seeking, without understanding of the required legal elements. Officers, who have legal training, may ask specific and technical legal questions, which are not necessary or better navigated with an attorney, but without representation, you very well may agree or admit to all kinds of things without knowing or understanding.

3. It is more expensive in the long-term: People that avoid hiring attorneys by filing themselves, using a family member, a Notario, or someone who’s “done it before” are taking a large risk that a significant mistake will be made, either in the preparation and submission of documents, or at their interview or court appearance. This means a minimum of added delay, to possibly undermining one’s case without even knowing it. A “simple” marriage case can turn quickly into a referral to immigration court for removal or deportation proceedings. I get countless calls by people who filed by themselves, through family, or through a trusted non-attorney, and hear stories of their petition denied, leaving family members in distressing positions and living apart for no good reason. Many face “fraud” accusations after filing for asylum or non-immigrant visas. Many face a denial after a failure to properly respond to a Request for Further Evidence (RFE), which often have tight 30-day deadlines. Sometimes matters are lost to mailing to the wrong address. These cases could have been done the right way, the first time, but now they are as complex surgeries (to give a medical analogy), with hundreds of pages to review for specific errors. The case is now an expensive venture of checking another’s work, and planning the most appropriate response, after records increased in amount and complexity. These cases become more expensive by the thousands, and in time and stress.

4. Its also against the law, as Unlawful Practice of Law (UPL):

Immigration consultants are people who can help consumers fill out paperwork and translate and submit forms to government agencies. In California, immigration consultants cannot give anyone legal advice and cannot represent you in Immigration Court. Attorneys or accredited representatives must be registered with the Executive Office of Immigration Review before appearing in Immigration Court.
However, in some Latino communities, immigration consultants often advertise their services as notarios públicos. Consumers can be confused by this title because in some countries, notarios have training similar to lawyers and can perform legal services.
In California, however, notaries public are not lawyers. Notarios take advantage of this confusion to demand fees for services they are not legally allowed to offer, defrauding consumers of large amounts of money in the process. Immigration consultants are not allowed to use the term notario to advertise their services.

See: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Public/Free-Legal-Information/Unauthorized-Practice-of-Law/Avoiding-Fraud-by-Immigration-Consultants

5. Many non-attorneys or Notarios lack regulation, lack insurance, and leave no recovery if they damage you or your case. California Bar member attorneys are regulated by the California Bar which is a organization devoted to protecting consumers by competent and reputable attorneys. This same group ensures that individuals that violate the public trust are removed from the practice of law. Notarios, consultants, or non-attorneys have no such regulation or vetting process. Such individuals have no government regulation and lack the public reputations that attorneys strive to maintain. There is no assurance that these individuals will treat your case in a neutral and justified way. There is no safeguard also regarding your information and documents once you provide it to them. They are not bound by the attorney-client privilege nor do you benefit from legal client confidentiality. They have no requirement to stay informed about security and developments in technology and how to guard and maintain your data. In short, people are risking their case, their information, and their identity. And for family members that “have done it before”, you are exposing yourself to their innocent mistakes which will ruin your legal immigration and personal relationships, forever. Just image having to deal with this person at dinner time or family gatherings.