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Make Hay While the Sun Shines - 245(i) and Immigration Law Practice
by Sam Udani

The temporary revival of 245(i)1 offers attorneys significant opportunity and poses some problems that lawyers may be unaware of. This article gives practitioners some practical tips in managing their practices between now and April 30, 2001.

Firstly, attorneys should realize the magnitude of this opportunity. Some people tend to demonize immigration attorneys as "rich fat-cats," when the reality is far different. Most immigration attorneys I know work 50 to 60 hours a week, and take home a very modest amount.2 True, some business immigration lawyers have made millions, but these are the tiny minority. For many immigration practitioners their work is a labor of love. They fight hard for their clients, including many treated unjustly by our government or fleeing persecution from other governments overseas. The practice of immigration law is hard toil for modest reward. One can make a living in this field, but riches elude most attorneys. Essentially, immigration attorneys run what amounts to a small business. They are thus in the same boat as most small businesspersons in America, such as laundromat owners or pizza-shop owners. The financial rewards tend to be about the same - a modest reward for hard work.

Against this background, 245(i) offers many immigration attorneys the plausible prospect of making a bundle. To illustrate the size of the bundle, I offer a real-world example. A solo practitioner with a small practice had worked hard all his life and was nearing retirement age in late 1997. You will recall that prior to its recent temporary revival, 245(i) was last available on January 14, 1998. For almost a lifetime of hard work, all he had to show was a modest home in a modest suburb and a bank balance too small to retire on. Toward end-1997, he knew that 245(i) would shortly expire, and most of his business with it. About 45 days before the 245(i) deadline, he sent out a letter to each and every person on his mailing list of a few thousand immigrants who had contacted his office and who could be 245(i) beneficiaries. In the few weeks before January 14, 1998, he took in cases which netted his law practice over $1,000,000. After expenses of running the office, what he took home was, of course, less, but the money he earned in those few weeks is now his retirement nest egg. The purpose of this real-life illustration is to make the point that there is considerable financial opportunity for much of the immigration bar between now and April 30. Attorneys can take on one year's worth of cases in the next ten weeks. Therefore, it behooves lawyers to give serious attention to their plans for running their practices for the next ten weeks.

The law-office management practice-pointers for these next ten weeks can be broadly grouped into two time periods: (A) What should be done now? (B) What should be done in the last two weeks of April? Each of these is discussed below.

What should be done NOW?

  1. An obvious thing to do is to send out letters to everyone on your mailing list who might be a 245(i) beneficiary. Over the last two years, practically every immigration law practice has had potential clients who could not be helped in view of the law as it was then. Many of these individuals can be helped now because of 245(i). Now is the time to convert these folks from potential clients into actual clients. In your letters, you may want to say only that the revival of 245(i) raises the prospect that they may be able to get their green cards, and invite recipients for a consultation at your law office. Further details are best handled on the phone or in person. If you do not maintain such a mailing list yet, it is well worth it to take the time to compile a list from business cards, meeting notes, your rolodex, or any other place that you may have recorded the names and addresses of immigrants you have met but who did not retain you in the past.
  2. Another useful action might be to keep your office open longer hours and for at least a part of the weekend. This means not only increased over-time expenses for your staff, but explaining matters to your family, and your staff's doing the same with their families. It may also be worth thinking about time-off for you and members of your staff in May, as one way to make-up for extra work now.
  3. A not-so-obvious action item is to increase your staff with temporary help, to enable you to take on a larger caseload. For example, a temporary telephone operator can help reduce the load on your paralegal staff who could be filling forms instead. Or temporary paralegal help, even if unfamiliar with immigration, can do some basic tasks, such as helping immigrants fill intake forms. Even part-time temporary help can make a difference in how many cases your firm can file.

What should be done in the last two weeks of April?

  1. The most important thing is to realize that the last two weeks in April for your law office are going to be like the first two weeks of April for accountants! Therefore, one practical thing to do is to call up your accountant, and ask him/her for suggestions on how to handle a sudden surge in workload. Immigration work tends not to surge quite as dramatically as tax accounting work at tax time, so accountants may know things that immigration lawyers do not. If you were in practice in January 1998, now is the time to apply the lessons you learned then.
  2. Another thing to keep in mind is that the last two weeks in April are likely to prove financially rewarding but emotionally and personally very challenging. You may want to think about keeping a few sleeping bags in the office, and ensuring that every one has plenty of coffee. The procedures that your office has been habituated in will be severely stressed then. If you have any weaknesses in those procedures, you may pay the price in late April. However, you may not know now whether your office procedures have weaknesses. One way to approach this quandary is to have every one in your office, including yourself, take short breaks during the day in last few days in April. While this may slightly reduce the number of clients you can take in, it will help everyone keep their emotional cool in what will then likely be trying circumstances. Keeping a healthy equilibrium in those last days of April is the best way your firm can help your clients.
Across the country, desperate immigrants are falling prey to con artists because of the hope instilled in immigrants' hearts consequent to the temporary revival of 245(i). With every 245(i) client you take-in between now and April 30, you are not only enriching yourself, you are also saving an immigrant from the clutches of a con artist. Whether your practice is large or small, this is a great opportunity to make money and help people at the same time. 3

My aim for this article is to alert attorneys to the problem, and outline the scope of the opportunity. If this article sets you thinking, you will be preparing to grow your practice and simultaneously to assist your clients in the exciting weeks to come.


Footnotes:

1The omnibus federal spending bill enacted December 21, 2000, provides that beneficiaries of immigrant visa petitions or labor certification cases filed by April 30, 2001, can adjust under section 245(i) if they were physically present in the US on December 21, 2000.

2This will doubtless come as news to some detractors of immigration and to some clients of immigration attorneys.

3If you have a large practice, your ability to make a difference in immigrants' lives is now correspondingly large, and the points in this article apply with particular force to you.


About The Author

Sam Udani has written articles on labor certification for several law journals, and has lectured on labor certification to many bar associations across the country. He has assisted hundreds of attorneys on labor certification matters. He is a member of the ILW.COM team and invites attorneys seeking 245(i) clients to become ILW.COM members by clicking here: http://www.ilw.com/membership



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