Given that we're lawyers, you probably think you know the answer to this "self-serving" question. But some advocacy groups are already saying that if the application form the government provides is short and simple, attorney representation is not needed.
No one knows what the form or application process will be for Deferred Action (the program to provide certain people brought here as young children the ability to stay and work in the United States). The form has not been released.
But it is likely to be a fairly short form. The current employment authorization application (Form I-765) is a one-page form.
It is not the length of the form that creates the need for an attorney. Despite what some people think, we're not paid by the word. It is the need to understand the risks of applying and any alternatives available to a particular person. It is also the choice of documents being presented and how to present them. And attorneys have ethical duties and guidelines and can be disciplined (their license suspended or revoked) if they do not follow those guidelines.
As one of my friends, Chuck Kuck remarked, "If you would not go into a police station and turn yourself in for a crime you committed without an attorney, you should not file for Deferred Action without an attorney - it is the same thing." Although it may be the best alternative for many people, applying for Deferred Action does have risks and you need to understand those before you "turn yourself in".
Depending on the guidelines that are published, Deferred Action may not be the best choice for everyone. Sometimes (rarely, but sometimes) other alternatives may be available that have not been explored if you have never spoken to an attorney about your situation. For other people, prior crimes or other behavior may make you ineligible and applying could lead to that start of deportation.
Proving eligibility is another thing that is often harder than it might seem. The government will decide what documentation is acceptable, but if you don't have those documents, attorneys often can help you figure out alternatives or ways to get them. Also the documents presented should be chosen to minimize risks to other family members who are not eligible for Deferred Action.
Finally, if you choose not to go to an attorney but instead go to a "notario" or other non-attorney "helper", realize that these people cannot be regulated easily. Some programs - especially those with BIA accreditation - provide competent and affordable assistance and know when to call an attorney to help.
Other people are not competent. If they make a mistake, you might be able to sue them for damages (if they have money to pay you), but they have no oversight or license to be revoked. Lawyers are often hired to clean up the mess after someone not authorized to practice law has done it wrong. We are frustrated because sometimes we can't fix it - but we could have done it right in the beginning.
Do you need a lawyer? No one can answer that question but you. It is your choice, but please choose carefully.