Immigration Practice News

June 2013 (Vol. 4, No. 4)

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How Immigration Lawyers Can Avoid Bar Discipline by Brian Tannebaum N otice that the title didn't say "How Immigration Lawyers Can Avoid Bar Complaints." Avoiding them is near impossible for the immigration lawyer. If a client doesn't get a visa or worse, gets deported, they often want to, or have to, file a Bar Complaint. The only thing immigration lawyers can do is protect themselves from the complaint becoming more than just sour grapes that is summarily dismissed. I have seen many complaints against immigration lawyers. The typical complaint against an immigration lawyer involves a bad result. The problem comes in when the bad result is due to sloppy practice. The number one reason any lawyer receives a Bar Complaint is lack of communication. I know, you have a lot of clients. They call all the time, and they ask the same questions. You don't have the answers so you start avoiding their calls. They're late on their bill, so you don't call them back. You called them three times but got their voice mail, so you gave up trying to talk to them. "THE NUMBER ONE REASON ANY LAWYER RECEIVES A BAR COMPLAINT IS LACK OF COMMUNICATION." When the client complains to the Bar that you failed to communicate, the Bar will look at you and ask for proof. The lawyer will normally say "I spoke with that client 100 times." Instead of it coming down to your word against the client's, consider doing one or more of the following: • When the client calls, have the file available. Have a sheet in the front of the file that is only for tracking communication with the client. Write down "spoke with client," even if you're not keeping track of time. • Send more letters advising the client of upcoming interviews or court FOR MORE ON ETHICS: How to Walk the Ethical Line— Being Less Stressed Out (Podcast) Purchase > hearings. Even if the client is in good communication by phone, always follow up in writing. • Have a client intake sheet that states how the client wants to be contacted. It's not just mail or phone anymore. Many clients prefer email or even text. This not only helps you to better communicate with the client, but also provides back up for when the method of communication becomes an issue. Communication is not only about informing the immigration client about dates and case status, it's also about making sure the client understands the process and legal ramifications of any act or decision. This brings me to the second issue for Bar Complaints—the immigration client saying they didn't understand what you as the lawyer were doing or to what they had agreed to. Often times things are told to clients in court or in quick conversations. Most immigration clients are seen as "vulnerable" as they often don't understand not only the law of the United States, but our customs and procedures. Don't hesitate to send a follow up letter, and even title it as a "letter of understanding," meaning that you tell the client to send the letter back signed acknowledging that they've read it and understand the contents. The third way to avoid a Bar Complaint is to make sure you don't miss any deadlines. There are enough bells, dings, pop-up warnings, and other technological ways to make sure you know when things are due. Use them. The worst Bar Complaint you'll get will be postmarked from the client's country of deportation. Talk, write, keep track, and be compliant. Defend yourself as well as you defend your client. Brian Tannebaum is the Managing Partner of Tannebaum Weiss, P.L. in Miami, and represents lawyers statewide in Florida Bar Admission, Grievance Defense, Sanctions, and Contempt matters. 3

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