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You do not have to hire a lawyer to prepare and file your immigration case.  The government and the courts will accept self-representation.  However, here are some reasons that people opt to hire a lawyer:

  1. Avoiding Costly mistakes: Many people could technically repair their own car, yet they choose to bring it to a mechanic to get fixed.  They do this because they realize that if they try to fix it themselves, they may end up making a costly mistake.  Also, some might say that all the time and energy spent.  The analogy for hiring a good lawyer is the same.  Lawyers are often hired by clients who tried to do their application themselves, and when it was returned, they decided that they wanted to do it “right” the second time around.  However, this second round may make it more difficult to file, and undoing costly mistakes done in the first round can end up costing the client more in legal fees than had they hired the lawyer from inception.
  2. The Time and Energy factor: Another reason people bring their car into the shop instead of fixing it themselves is that they can be busy doing other things while their car is being properly looked after.  The average time for a law firm to prepare a solid application is about 15 hours.  Now, this is time spent by lawyers and paralegals with training and experience.  If you are a layperson and want to do it on your own, you can safely double or triple that time estimate.  Some people correctly calculate that they can earn more by spending that time working than what they will pay to hire a lawyer.  In addition, if you have no training in filing these cases, then you will have to spend considerable time to research how to do it.  Reading the guides, calling the government for questions, looking up websites, etc.  All of this takes time and energy.  Often times we get hired when someone tried to do it on their own, and decided it was easier to hire a lawyer.
  3. Less Chance of being Rejected: While hiring a lawyer will not guarantee or increase your chances of success, a properly filed application has less chance of being returned by the Government, and thus greater chances of being approved in a timely manner.  Approximately 85% of cases filed with CIC are returned to the applicants because of errors in completion of the forms, or for failure to properly enclose the required documents.
  4. To avoid Immigration Fraud:  In certain countries abroad, people who call themselves immigration “consultants” will charge thousands of dollars (we have seen as high as $12,000 for one application) to fill out paperwork on your behalf.  Locally, even in Canada, applicants have come to us after being defrauded by local Canadian “consulants” who charged them a lot of money, but when they contacted them to find out how their case was doing after some time, the consultant had disappeared.  People need to be very careful when choosing their legal advisors.  The only people allowed by law to charge a fee to help you with your immigration case are:
    • lawyers and paralegals who are members in good standing of a Canadian provincial or territorial law society;
    • notaries who are members in good standing of the Chambre des notaires du Québec; and
    • Immigration consultants who are members in good standing of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council.

If you are filing a case in Quebec, make sure your Canadian representative is authorized by the Barreau du Quebec to file in that province. There is a special authorization granted by the province to non-Quebec lawyers.

Here are some tips for hiring your counsel:

  • Ask someone you trust to recommend someone;
  • If you search online, make sure to read the reviews of the firms you find;
  • Talk to several representatives before you decide which one to hire; check references and find out how long they have been in business;
  • See how you “feel” when you have the first talk with your advisor; what is your gut-feeling? Do they seem like they know what they are saying?
  • Trust a representative who prefers to meet with you or have a consultation before giving you legal advice.  This is usually a sign of professionalism;
  • Make sure you understand exactly what services they will provide, and how much they will charge you. Get this information in writing, and make sure you get a proper retainer agreement signed;
  • Make sure they are authorized by the Government of Canada.

Once of the first things that the Government does when receiving a case is to verify the authorization of the legal representative to act on your behalf.  CIC will not deal with unauthorized representatives who charge a fee.

What about immigration consultants?  A lot has been done to regulate this profession.  Many ask about the difference between a consultant and a lawyer.  There are many good consultants out there, but you need to make sure that they are certified and listed with the iccrc. Go to http://www.iccrc-crcic.ca/home.cfm.

Remember that lawyers usually have many years of education and that they are strictly accountable for their ethical and professional services.  Lawyers need to pass a bar exam, which almost always tests the lawyers on professional responsibility and ethics.  Having said that, make sure that your lawyer is in good standing as well by contacting the Bar of which they are a member.  Unfortunately, there are lawyers who are crooks as well.

TO PAY, OR NOT TO PAY: THAT IS THE QUESTION…

Charging for Consultations: This is the million dollar question.  Well, if a law firm charges for a consult, this should tell you that they have enough work and enough public confidence that they don’t need to give their advice or trade-secrets out to you for free.  Also, ask yourself whether you would go to a doctor for an exam if that doctor offered a free examination.  If you have no problem paying for a medical exam, then you should have no problem paying for a lawyer’s time.  Do not dismiss a lawyer simply because they charge a consultation fee; you will usually get much more information by paying a little, than by trying to get a lot of information by paying nothing.