If you’ve been through the immigration process, or have helped a loved one through it, then you undoubtedly understand how overwhelming all the forms can be when you first sit down and look at them. Even if you’ve decided that you will not hire an immigration attorney, you may find yourself doubting that decision, and wondering if you will need an attorney to manage the entire process. You may think that you have a very straightforward case and therefore won’t need an attorney.

There are literally hundreds of reasons that you will need an attorney throughout the process, though. If your situation is complicated at all, then you will need the experience that only a trained immigration attorney can provide. If while filling your own paperwork, you hit a bump partway through the process, an attorney can help get you straightened out. If you don’t feel entirely confident in your ability to file your own paperwork, then call an immigration attorney immediately. Having an attorney from the beginning is orders of magnitude better than hiring one partway through the process to help fix a problem.

If you do decide to hire an immigration attorney, then there are a few things you will need to look for. A qualified, experienced attorney will be worth more than their weight in gold, while on the other hand, an inexperienced attorney can actually cause more problems for your future. In that regard, here are 5 tips to help guarantee you get a good attorney:

  • Look for references. Ask everyone close to you if they have experience with any immigration attorneys. Even if they never were in direct contact with an immigration attorney themselves, many times they will know someone who went through the immigration process, or they will know an immigration attorney personally. Friends and family members are quick to put in a good word for a good attorney, and even quicker to share stories about a poor one. It’s important to remember any and all attorneys that are brought up.
  • Search the American Immigration Lawyers Association website. The AILA is a national association of attorneys and lawyers who currently practice and teach immigration law, so if you see a particular attorney listed on their site, you can be fairly certain that you’ll be dealing with someone that has a good understanding of immigration policies and laws. If you are only just beginning your attorney research, you can search for local immigration lawyers on the site. If you asked friends/family for references and got a few attorneys’ names, you can search the site to see if they’re current members. Please keep in mind, though, that being a member of AILA is not required to practice immigration law. It is merely one of the indicators that can potentially point you towards an experienced attorney.
  • Compile a short list and interview them. Many attorneys offer an initial consultation for free, so take advantage of that to interview your potential lawyers, and find one who best matches your needs. Ask them for their experience in your particular type of immigration. Since immigration law is an extremely broad category, it is very possible you may find an attorney who has only handled 1 or 2 of a particular type of case. See if you can even ask for client references, and then follow up with those clients to ask about the attorney’s work style.
  • Look at their fee schedules. Attorneys bill differently for the work they provide, and you should ALWAYS take that into account when you are deciding which one to go with. Some bill by the hour, or charge a flat fee, and there can even be additional fees such as postage, long distance charges, and courier fees. Ask about all of these, so you can have the most information possible to make your decision.
  • Check with the state bar. Once you’ve found an attorney that you feel comfortable with, there is one final step to take. Contact the state bar directly to make sure your potential attorney is licensed and currently in good standing.

These guidelines are not intended to guarantee your lawyer will be perfect, but once you’ve taken all these steps, you stand a great chance of getting an experienced attorney to help you smoothly through the immigration process.