There has been a good deal written on the need to put unlicensed "notarios" out of the business of giving "legal advice" which can be dangerous, if not fatal, to a client's immigration health. However, what if the incompetent advice comes from within an immigration law firm itself?
By raising this question, I am not in any way impugning the competence or professionalism of my fellow immigration lawyers. I am instead referring to the tendency in some immigration law offices to let paralegals answer what may seem to be "routine" legal questions or to handle cases without proper supervision. The temptation to do this is, understandably, even greater when a paralegal speaks the client's native language and the lawyer does not. But this is not an excuse.
Recently, I was consulted by someone whose prospective employer was interested in offering a classic H-1B position, one which, in my experience, has been routinely accepted by USCIS and Legacy INS as a specialty occupation for many years. The prospective client was also well qualified on the basis of education and work experience.
However, the client was thoroughly discouraged after having been told by one or more immigration law firm paralegals that she was utterly unqualified for H-1B approval. Apparently, she had never actually spoken with an attorney.
The paralegals with whom she had spoken, according to what she told me, had: a) misunderstood or overlooked what her actual field of competence was, b) misunderstood her educational qualifications, and c) not realized that the position that the employer was interested in offering her, and for which she was well qualified, was in fact a well-recognized specialty occupation.
Fortunately, I was able to dispel the person's misunderstanding and her H-1B preparation is now in progress, with an excellent prognosis, in my opinion. But, because of the previous advice she had received from law firm paralegals, she had almost given up on her chances of being approved for H-1B. Some immigration lawyers may consider themselves too busy to speak with everyone who calls or visits. But supervising conversations between clients or potential clients and law firm paralegals is vital.
Of course, almost all law firm immigration paralegals, though not licenced as attorneys, are sincere, hard-working professionals who are playing a vital role in helping immigrants. Without their crucially important services, we would all be worse off. But giving legal advice is not among their functions.