The Blog Formerly Known As Practical Paralegalism
- Know your way around the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website at http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis. In one place you can find forms, current fee schedules, regulations, updates on policy changes and procedures, and a whole host of other indispensable information. If your attorney is agreeable, you might want to set up your own account on the Case Status Online automated service, so that you too will be able to track cases in the system and inform clients quickly about any status changes.
- Be familiar with the Department of States website at http://travel.state.gov/. Learn to read, understand, and be able to explain the Visa Bulletin.
- If your firm handles PERM applications, cultivate your contacts at the local Employment Security Office. You will find your life a lot easier if you build a strong working relationship with the individuals responsible to handling your job postings and responding to your prevailing wage requests. Goodwill can make all the difference.
- Make sure you have, and maintain, a rigorous tickler system for visa expirations, appeal deadlines, responses to Requests for Information or Notices of Intent to Deny and the like. Once deadlines are missed, there is no going back and clients’ livelihoods, and sometimes even lives, can depend on the success of their cases.
- Learn how to conduct background checks on corporations and individuals. Corporate clients will appreciate not being asked to provide documents such as annual reports and corporate filings that can be easily downloaded. Visit the company’s website, and bookmark your Secretary of State’s corporation division. Individual clients don’t always remember, or feel comfortable disclosing, details of criminal records, but it is vital that the attorney have accurate information. The small cost of accessing online criminal record databases is money well spent.
- Review all the supporting documents provided by clients for completeness and compliance with USCIS or DOS requirements. Familiarize yourself with the documents from countries you encounter frequently and ask follow-up questions about that odd-looking divorce from a country that has no legal divorce, or that church-issued marriage certificate from Mexico (hint: in Mexico a church wedding alone is not valid, there has to be a civil ceremony as well). A useful reference can be found at: http://travel.state.gov/visa/frvi/reciprocity/reciprocity_3272.html
- If your firm has a copy of Kurzban’s Immigration Sourcebook, browse it as often as you can. It is the number one text on immigration law, and your work will be more interesting and productive if you familiarize yourself with it.
- Take the time to learn your clients’ names. In other words, know the naming conventions for Hispanic clients, Indian clients, and any other nationality you encounter. It means a lot, and is basic courtesy, to use your clients’ names correctly. Don’t be afraid to ask the client to teach you the correct pronunciation. An interesting article can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_name.
- Be aware of, and open to, cultural differences. More than in any other area of law, your firm’s clients will have different religious views, different views on the role of women and different experiences with government bureaucracies. You will have to leave your cultural preconceptions at home. This doesn’t mean you are required to put up with outright chauvinism, but talk with your attorney about appropriate responses.
- Last, but not least, enjoy the chance to meet such a diverse clientele.
Helen L. Parsonage is an attorney at Elliot Pishko Morgan P.A. in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She practices in the areas of immigration, employment and criminal law. She is a former paralegal with extensive experience working on immigration cases. Her public LinkedIn profile may be viewed at http://www.linkedin.com/in/helenparsonage.