When filing to obtain a nonimmigrant visa, permanent residency (i.e., the green card), and/or U.S. citizenship, it is vital to understand that immigration is deceivingly simple and therefore, it is crucial to hire competent legal counsel.

Many believe filing to obtain an immigration benefit only entails the simple filing of an application; however, those steering through immigration process(es), soon realize it is quite complex and that there are many nuances between each unique case that require custom adaptations/strategies, regardless if the individual is filing in the U.S. or abroad, i.e., via the consular process. In just one case, an individual could deal with multiple government agencies and absent experienced legal counsel, he/she could experience rejection(s), unreasonable delays, Notices of Intent to Deny, Denials, the destruction of previous petitions filed and approved, being placed in Removal Proceedings, and or find himself/herself unable to return to the U.S. for prolonged periods of time, among other issues.

It is for this reason that it is vital you hire experienced and dedicated legal counsel. How will you know which legal counsel is right for you?

Here are five things to look for when hiring an immigration attorney, from an attorney at American Immigration Attorneys Miami who knows about both, immigrant visas and green cards, as well as about the many different kinds of non-immgrant visas available to people who wish to remain in the United States.

1. Honesty

Before diving in to ask the hard questions in determining if the legal counsel you are looking into hiring is honest, it is important to first ensure the firm is in fact an immigration law firm, lead by licensed in-house legal counsel. You would be surprised to discover how many “firms” and offices offering legal advice and services relating to immigration law, are engaged in the unauthorized practice of immigration law. That is, they do not have licensed professionals bound by laws and professional ethics that protect you, but rather, they have notaries, paralegals, or others advising clients what is the right course of action to take in their individual case and are preparing legal documentation. Unlike in many other countries, in the U.S., Notary Publics are not lawyers or attorneys licensed by a State Bar. Likewise, Paralegals are also not authorized to practice or legally advise clients without the close supervision of a licensed attorney.

To determine a firm/an attorney’s honesty, you should ask the hard questions — What are the chances of success in your case? How long is the wait to obtain an approval? When will you be authorized to work? Are there any guarantees?

An honest firm will answer these questions 1) warily when relating to any guarantees, and 2) while providing you facts that can generally be looked up in public records/resources. We recommend steering clear of firms/attorneys guaranteeing success, e.g., “I guarantee you will get your Permanent Residency Green Card!” Although good legal counsel can advise you if you have a good case and high changes of success, no attorney can ultimately guarantee you 100% your case will be approved as-a-matter-of-fact. This is because immigration cases are adjudicated by USCIS/DOS agents that have high discretionary power, that can make mistakes and or present unforeseen challenges to a case. Many answers given by legal counsel can also generally be backed by the US Customs and Immigration Service/the Department of Labor/the Department of State/etc. public records and or resources, and can therefore generally be looked-up.

Ultimately, you will want to look for legal counsel that is not hesitant to give you bad news / unfavorable news from the onset to help you manage your expectations and prevent serious disappointments.

2. Communication

You will want to find a firm that matches the communication and response time you feel confident and comfortable with. Ask the potential legal counsel you are looking to hire what is their best means of communication and what the firm/attorney’s response time generally is. Will you be communicating with the immigration attorney directly, and or with his/her support staff? It is a good idea to get this information before retaining a firm/attorney for the legal services they will render to ensure things go smoothly and that you feel confident your case will be handled with the attention and care you are seeking.

3. Reputation

When a firm / attorney comes highly recommended by a friend or a family member, it is easier to feel confident in a firm/attorney’s work and reputation. However, if a firm did not come recommended by someone you know, it is recommended you read reviews on the firm. How many reviews does this firm have, how many favorable and not favorable? What is the reasoning behind the negative reviews? How many years has the firm been in practice? The answers to all of these questions will factor into the firm/attorney’s reputation, which can speak volumes as to whether or not you will be in good hands.

4. Experience

It is particularly helpful to feel confident you have retained competent legal counsel when the firm/attorney has had experience, especially success, in similar cases to yours in the past. Ask the attorney assigned to your case the firm’s experience handling cases similar to yours, has he/she personally dealt with these cases? Experience, even if negative, is very valuable to attorneys in learning how to successfully overcome common issues in immigration law.

Another thing to keep in mind is that even if the attorney does not have experience handling your particular case, it is a very good sign if he/she admits this and informs you that he/she needs to conduct legal research before moving forward to ensure the best outcome in your case.

5. Professionalism

Professionalism is the aggregation of all the above factors in addition to an adherence to ethical rules and how the firm/attorney treats you in its interactions with you; you can determine an attorney’s professionalism in his/her honesty, efficient and respectful communication, good reputation, and experience and or willingness to obtain the knowledge necessary to take on uncharted territory. Skill, good judgment, and polite behavior is simply expected from a person who is trained to do a job well —especially licensed legal counsel.

Ultimately, taking these five things into consideration, it is important to hire immigration counsel you feel you can trust.