It goes without saying that there are a lot of attorneys (immigration or not) out there who aren’t very good nor very honest. It also goes without saying that there are lot of people who pretend to be attorneys, but aren’t in fact. The unauthorized practice of law is a growing and problematic field — especially in the immigration arena.
(On a side note, “civilians” always ask me what the difference between an attorney and a lawyer is — none really in the US, it’s kinda like the difference between physician and doctor, semantics really. In the UK and other places, there is a stark difference between solicitors (lawyers who interact with clients and do transactional work) and barristers (the wig wearers who are allowed into courts and actually do trials).)
And when I say attorney, I mean someone who graduated from law school, passed the bar, and is licensed to practice in that jurisdiction. Some masquerade as attorneys (like this guy who used someone else’s bar number and fooled a firm into thinking he was an attorney) or others tell you that they are just as good (notarios). California allows for non-lawyer immigration agencies that fill out applications, but they are strict about what they can do and can’t do (they can’t dispense legal advice nor represent clients in legal proceedings) and they have to post a bond with the state. Of course I’m biased, but there are problems with these agencies . . .
It pays to do a little bit of homework.
Here’s the site to actually verify if the local paralegal agency is licensed and has posted an Immigration Consultant Surety Bonds in California:
California Immigration Consultant/Business Bond Verification Site
And here’s the site for the California Bar to verify if the attorney you’re working with is really an attorney licensed to practice in the state of California (also a good way to see if there have been any disciplinary actions taken against them by the bar — a real minimal test). The information will list where they went to law school, undergraduate institute and the year they were admitted to the bar in California.
California Bar Attorney Information Search Site
Unfortunately, not all of the 50 states have fully automated web sites to verify the status of your (prospective) attorney. Some only allow limited searches rather than by name or have voluntary listings rather than compulsory ones. I’ve only included links to state websites that allow you to search by full name and have mandatory listing requirements.
However, I dug up some of the states for you to use:
New York Court System Attorney Look Up
Nevada State Bar Find A Lawyer
Texas State Bar Find A Lawyer (scroll down and look for a box)
Washington State Bar Lawyer Directory
I’ll add more as I get more information about them.