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Help me lawyer up!
June 1, 2012 6:09 AM   Subscribe

I've got a special-snowflake immigrations issue that leads me to believe I no longer know enough to handle the problem. I need to meet with an immigrations lawyer/consultant. But how do I choose? (Location filter: Montreal)

I've got an immigrations issue related to my girlfriend which we don't know how to handle, and while guidance would be great, what I really need is meta-guidance. I believe I need to speak to an immigrations lawyer/consultant, pronto. Thing is, I've never spoken to a lawyer before, nor received legal advice on anything. I live in Montreal.

- What's the difference between an immigrations lawyer and an immigrations consultant?

- How much is this likely to cost? Are these folks paid by hour of consultation; on retainer; some other way? (I'm certainly not rich.)

- Are legal clinics likely to be any help? I know of a few community legal clinics, but I suspect those are more about things like rent disputes.

- How can I filter for someone who is reputable and knowledgeable, particularly since immigrating to Quebec is different than elsewhere in Canada? I usually like to look for small firms; will that provide me worse service in terms of a law practice?

- How do I prepare for the appointment? Just my situation and a list of questions?

- If I ask for a consultation, is there an implication that I am going to use this professional for the rest of the process? I only ask because generally I'm pretty good at figuring out bureaucratic processes -- I just don't know which one I need right now.

- ... or am I overthinking this and just need to call names from the phone book?

If you're interested in the situation: girlfriend with US citizenship came as tourist, ended up with NAFTA permit job on a one-year contract which is coming to an end, and no longer wants to work in that field. Now we're common law but she's going to have no job. I'm a Canadian PR and while I have some savings, I can't afford to support her for what may amount to 18 months, so we need to get her a work permit. Since I'm PR, I can't really leave the country. I'm only a few months away from applying for citizenship, but apparently the waiting time on that is a full 19 months.

Anyway, thanks for any information you may have about lawyering up!
posted by cinoyter to Law & Government (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Was there a law firm involved in drawing up your girlfriend's TN paperwork? If so, start there. If they are unable to help due to conflict of interest then they will refer you to another firm.

It will cost you $$$. I would expect a first hour long consult to run $300. In my experience with (US) immigration attorneys, they will let you walk away after a paid consult with just their advice.

Keep in mind that legal fees are cheaper than having your girlfriend move back to the US, which is what she would have to do otherwise when her job is over.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:58 AM on June 1, 2012


PS - absolutely don't go to legal clinic, borrow money and work with a specialized immigration firm.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:00 AM on June 1, 2012


You can leave the country with permanent residency. You need to be in the country 2 years of 5 to keep it, and 3 of 4 to go for citizenship, but you can leave and return with no issues.

Look for a local firm. Don't go to a student law clinic. If you go for a consultation, you are not obliged to stay with that lawyer or that firm. I would try to see what firms other people who have immigrated to Quebec have used -- there are forums filled with those people.
posted by jeather at 7:07 AM on June 1, 2012


Do you know anyone who works for a university? They might be able to ask if they have a list of recommended lawyers to work with. You might also call immigration associations and see who they recommend. Also, I'm a Canadian PR, and was told by the immigration people it was fine to leave the country for the nine month research trip I'm on; I know other PRs who have also left the country to take up fellowships and so forth.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:56 AM on June 1, 2012


Just call a few immigration attorneys and see if you like any. If anyone you know has used an attorney they liked, ask that attorney to recommend some immigration attys. Also unlike other areas of law, immigration is usually flat fee.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 8:05 AM on June 1, 2012


What's the difference between an immigrations lawyer and an immigrations consultant?

IANYL, TINLA.

An immigration lawyer is a lawyer. Anyone -- and I mean anyone -- can be an immigration consultant.

There are immigration consultants who are good and know their stuff, and they're going to be cheaper than a lawyer. There are, however, people who call themselves consultants as a bit of a racket, and the potential for things Not Going Well For You definitely exists.

I have a professional bias, of course. It's a highly specialized field, more complex than tax law, even, and a specialized immigration lawyer is probably a good idea.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:15 AM on June 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Document, document, document.
When you go to speak to the lawyer, bring as much documentation as you can. Be prepared to show the timeline for both you and your girlfriend - when you arrived, when you applied for PR status, when there was any change in your status, when you expect her visa to expire, everything else you think might be relevant. Your lawyer will be able to tell you what else you might need.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:19 AM on June 1, 2012


Thanks for all the advice so far. I appreciate it a lot!

To address/explain a few of the things people have said:

- No one was involved in her NAFTA paperwork but us. The employer didn't even know about the program; I guess I just know a lot of expats.

- I know I can leave the country as a permanent resident. But to do so would be really stupid since I only have a couple months until I can apply for citizenship, and we both want to be here long-term. Since it may take more than a year for her PR to come through (apparently the waiting time for Quebec Selected Workers applying to CIC through Buffalo is 14 months), leaving Canada would be a serious setback. But if it's what I've got to do, it's what I've got to do.

- Most of the immigration forums I've seen are run by law firms themselves, so there aren't many leads for other firms. I actually know someone who worked for one of the large firms in town, and they totally abuse their paralegals, so I don't want to send them my business...
posted by cinoyter at 8:34 AM on June 1, 2012


By the way, you may have meant the phrase casually, but there's no common law marriage in Quebec.
posted by zadcat at 12:49 PM on June 1, 2012


- What's the difference between an immigrations lawyer and an immigrations consultant?

An immigration lawyer has to have a law degree, pass the bar, and be licensed to practice by their provincial law society. Most immigration lawyers will have articled (done a year of practical work experience) under the supervision of experienced immigration lawyers before being called to the bar.

There are independent organisations for immigration consultants such as ICCRC and CSIC. These groups aim to regulate members and keep them accountable, but the requirements for joining are not terribly strict. I think for CSIC, you do a course, write a language test, write a substantive test, and that's pretty much it. I know someone who got his consultant certification and he is an absolute moron. I can't stress enough how bad, how enormous his knowledge deficit is. Yet he started up a solo consulting practice with a very professional looking website that I'm sure would entice a lot of people looking for immigration help.

- How much is this likely to cost? Are these folks paid by hour of consultation; on retainer; some other way? (I'm certainly not rich.)

Most immigration lawyers I know will charge either a flat fee or by the hour for the initial consultation, and quote you a flat fee for the work you're seeking to have done. Most lawyers will offer to waive the consultation fee if you decide to retain them (if not, ask). If you retain a lawyer, you will sign an agreement outlining the scope of work, and anything out of scope (extra) that the lawyer does for you will likely be charged by the hour. You'll likely be asked to pay part or all of the quoted fee into the firm's trust account, which the lawyer will apply bills to as the work progresses.

- Are legal clinics likely to be any help? I know of a few community legal clinics, but I suspect those are more about things like rent disputes.

As you suspect, I would avoid legal clinics for immigration law issues. Immigration law is highly specialized, and even many large, full-service law firms don't deal with it.

- How can I filter for someone who is reputable and knowledgeable, particularly since immigrating to Quebec is different than elsewhere in Canada? I usually like to look for small firms; will that provide me worse service in terms of a law practice?

I think most immigration practices tend toward the small side. Large firms that also cover immigration law are likely to focus mainly on business immigration. I don't think small firms will give you worse service than large firms. Their reception areas and boardrooms may not be so big and fancy, but then again, small firms are not covering that kind of overhead with your fees.

- How do I prepare for the appointment? Just my situation and a list of questions?

Both of you should bring identity and status documents. Make a list of important dates (entries and exits, and since you're concerned about citizenship, maybe fill in a copy of the citizenship application form showing how many days you've been in Canada and how many days you have left). Maybe your girlfriend's resume. When you set up the appointment with the lawyer, you can certainly ask what they want you to bring.

- If I ask for a consultation, is there an implication that I am going to use this professional for the rest of the process? I only ask because generally I'm pretty good at figuring out bureaucratic processes -- I just don't know which one I need right now.

No, there isn't. A consultation is understood to be just that.

- ... or am I overthinking this and just need to call names from the phone book?

That could work too, call around until you find a lawyer who you think you could work well with.
posted by keep it under cover at 2:52 PM on June 1, 2012


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