March/April 2011

Issue link: http://ailahub.aila.org/i/26228

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Page 13 of 35

SPOTLIGHT by Andrew Johnson Starting an Immigration Law Firm Tis is a three-part series that will tackle the issues of: (1) how to start your own immigration law firm; (2) how to increase the organization and efficiency of a 3-year-old firm; and (3) how to increase productivity in a 7-year-old firm. Don’t Quit Your Day Job Before you open your immigration law practice, there is plenty of work to be done. Remember, on the day the shingle goes up, the firm still has no income, only expenses. Before opening for business, office space must be rented, staff hired, and a marketing strategy put in place. In addition, you should hire an accountant, form a business entity, set up bank accounts, obtain health and malpractice insurance, and fulfill all State Bar requirements related to the establishment of a law practice. Should You Enter into a Partnership? Tis is a good question because you will spend more time with your partner than with your spouse. Te premise that the partnership will be dissolved at some point should be written into the partnership agreement. Te partnership should be based on practicing law, and each partner must be comfortable with the other’s work ethic and habits before entering into an agreement. Before committing to a partnership, consider sharing expenses for a period of time to allow yourself the opportunity to evaluate whether a full partnership would be advantageous. Keep Your Costs Down Remember, when the phone is ringing off the hook and your waiting room is filled with clients, that is the time to rent the bigger office and hire more staff. Until then, you should keep major expenses 14 VOICE to a minimum. Payroll is the highest expenditure of any business, but the phone must be answered. If you are on a shoestring budget, you can hire someone to work from home. Tey can screen calls, take messages, set up appointments, and keep you updated via e-mail. When renting an office, it is important to negotiate reviewed twice before leaving the office. The art of delegation is sometimes viewed in a negative light. However, delegating certain tasks means that immigration applications are the shortest lease possible in order to allow for flexibility in case your firm grows more quickly than expected. Also, you can rent a small office space from a large law firm and use that firm’s conference room to meet with clients. Along with saving rent, you will be able to make contacts with the other lawyers and potentially increase referrals to your firm. Your office location should be in an area with a high concentration of your target clientele. However, if your practice entails daily appearances at immigration court, your office should be close to the court. If that is not possible, you should devise a system in which other attorneys cover some of your master calendar hearings. Build Immigration Court Efficiency Aſter opening your practice, you will need to attend many immigration court hearings and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) field office interviews to represent your client. From day one, you should speak with attorneys at the master calendar hearings and USCIS interviews about outsourcing. But there will be cases that you will need to take personally. However, there also are cases that should be outsourced to contract attorneys, such as continuance requests, documentation submission, etc. It is important to remember that as long as the contract attorney is well prepared for the case, you can still provide quality service to your clients. Moreover, some contract attorneys have years of experience and

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