Unlicensed Practice of Law - Warning Signs

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As our article from earlier this week demonstrates, immigration and the unlicensed practice of law often go hand in hand. It is a crime to practice law without a license in the United States.  Unlicensed immigration practitioners not only take the money of innocent victims, but they also often put their victims’ immigration status in jeopardy by filing false, fraudulent, or frivolous immigration applications.  Even practitioners with good intentions can put their clients in harm’s way if they do not fully understand the intricacies of immigration law.           

Fortunately, immigration fraud doesn’t usually come without warning signs.  The following is a list of some common red flags that should, at the very least, have you asking more questions of your immigration professional:

  1. Lawyer is not listed on state bar website.  Almost every state (if not every state) has an online database that can be used to verify a lawyer’s license.  The Florida Bar website can be searched using the name or license number of the lawyer.  Before you work with an attorney, do your homework and verify his or her license.
  2. The business’s website does not list any licensed attorneys.  To practice immigration law, you must be a lawyer.  If a business does not list the names of its lawyers on its website, it probably doesn’t have any.
  3. “About Us” or “Contact Us” sections do not have information about the physical location or details about the organization.  Nowadays, there are a lot of businesses that operate solely online or from remote offices, but lack of identifying information about a law office should at least lead you to ask some more questions.
  4. The website provides little information about services offered, but accepts payment via credit card or PayPal.  With the exception of consultation fees, an attorney typically speaks with you about what specific services you need before taking payment for those services.
  5. Titles other than “attorney” or “lawyer” are used.  Titles like “Immigration Agent” or “Department Supervisor” are commonly used and should raise some eyebrows.  A lawyer will call herself a lawyer.  A non-lawyer will use some other name that sounds official.  Furthermore, the only immigration “agents” or “officers” are government officials who work for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
  6. The terms “INS” or “Immigration and Naturalization Service” are used.  INS is the old name for the immigration branch of the U.S. government.  In 2003, the INS was split into three departments—USCIS, CBP, and ICE—and the INS name went away. A licensed immigration attorney knows these correct names, and refers to the immigration service as such.