Nadine C. Atkinson-Flowers is a Jamaican attorney working as an immigration professional
More than ever, immigration attorneys and their staff must be aware of the changes, sometimes at lightning speed in immigration law. The paralegal is a core member of this team to ensure that the clients' goals are realized with the attorney leading the charge.
These 12 tips offer some suggestions to help an immigration paralegal be most effective at helping the attorneys they are working for.
1. Be aware of changes in the law.
The attorney relies on the paralegal's assistance to ensure that the clients' objectives are met. The paralegal succeeds in this when any changes in law, policy or practice that take place are brought to the attorney's attention. The attorney is probably already aware of the changes, but it cannot hurt to give the information. In fact, even case specific and anecdotal information is useful, if only to be used in the examination of varying strategic methods of achieving client goals.
2. Look out for ad hoc immigration symposiums being hosted.
Increasingly, organized and ad hoc groups are offering one-off sessions on aspects of immigration law that are worth attending. At these sessions, there are often multiple perspectives about specific issues. All of these present unique opportunities to learn about trends, possible policy shifts and challenges in immigration.
3. Volunteer at citizenship days and other types of active immigration client based events.
Legal support staff like paralegals can volunteer with entities hosting events like citizenship day or criminal issues affecting immigration. These can actually offer exposure to broad experiences outside those the immigration paralegal and attorney may be used to in their daily environments. As such, they can prove to be very useful.
4. Ensure submissions are as complete as possible.
The days of many requests for evidence appear to be numbered. Previously, attorneys would direct paralegals on the types of supporting documentary evidence a client needs. Paralegals would ensure the documents are submitted, copied, collated and ready for the attorney's approval.
After these documents are submitted, it is possible to get a request that it is incomplete as a crucial document, there is more necessary to approve the benefit, or items are missing, and a time frame is given for submission of the additional information.
There appears to be a policy shift and now the pressure is on to ensure that all submissions are complete. Attorney oversight, paralegal error or client fault aside, there will be less leniency and so the paralegals must double and triple check the documents and bring omissions to the attorneys' attention so these can be quickly remedied.
5. Have checklists needed for various types of benefits.
The use of a checklist system is an invaluable aid for all paralegals to help attorneys serve every client. These can be as simple as a numbered list of immigration forms to be completed, the necessary documents needed to complete the application for benefits and any optional documents.
For particular clients, case-specific issues can be noted on their checklist. So for example, a client with outstanding legal issues may need to wait for resolution to have proof. Or, if there is a significant medical issue that needs to be highlighted, the evidence must be produced.
6. Keep a tickler system for crucial deadlines.
So for example, Requests for Evidence will give the time frame for a response. But check that the days have been counted correctly. Strive to finish whatever assignment you have for the matter long before the deadline and hand it off to the attorney. There are situations where the date had passed as the letter actually arrived long after the stated deadline. Be aware of all these nuances.
Watch to ensure that minor clients are not aging out. Where necessary note expiry dates of particular clients' visas, work permits and other benefits. Clients will thank the attorneys and by extension, the team, for the attention to their matter since it is their responsibility to be aware.
7. Check the government resources regularly.
Government general legal resources offer frequent updates on all aspects. Many impact immigration laws. Keeping abreast is very useful as the information can be critical to a case attorneys may have. Paralegals can subscribe to receive bulletins, updates and breaking legal news and filter this to attorneys.
8. Organize in-house trainings and share information with other staff.
Attorneys and legal staff working in other practice areas may be willing to help with immigration matters but may be unsure about what to do. Organize a short seminar with your immigration attorneys and give a crash course on how to help.
9. Constantly learn about immigration and other legal resources.
There are excellent online courses for immigration professional staff. These include webinars, podcasts and other types. There are also in person seminars and conferences that can be attended.
Joining organizations offer great networking opportunities which can be tapped for wide expertise if necessary in a case.
10. Never allow clients to trap you into giving them false hope or misleading timelines.
Since the paralegal acts on the attorney's instructions there will be much interface with clients for interviews, intake, the collection of information and so on. It is not unusual therefore for the client to ask for the paralegal's view on an issue or the projected length of a case. However, there is little to do except to advise that the attorney has to give such timelines or that it is impossible to tell as increasingly there appears to be delays.
11. Find the community social services, non-profit organizations and government resources offering many resources.
These include taxation, health, wellness, mental health, housing, job-resources, education and child-care. Advise the attorney about these so that the information can be made available to clients if necessary. An illustration helps.
A paralegal contacted a staff member at a social services organization having researched such organizations in the city. The issue was critical. An immigration benefit hung in the balance as a crucial document was missing. The client had no idea how to furnish it.
The staff member networked with persons in the field and eventually the document was procured. The paralegal handed it over to the attorney for use in the case. The client was overjoyed! The benefits of this will no doubt multiply as this client still sings the firm's praises and has referred several new clients. An experience like this provides a great testimonial for the firm.
12. Use only the latest immigration forms.
As soon as updates to immigration forms are announced or ready for in-house immigration software, ensure that the software is updated and that only new editions of forms are used.
There may be advisories that particular forms can be used up until a certain cut off date. Do not use the old forms beyond those dates. At best, the new forms may ask for more information. At worst, the submission may be rejected because of the use of an expired form.
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