In Ohio and elsewhere, immigrants face frequent challenges in navigating the legal process of applying for and maintaining temporary and permanent residency status in the United States.
Immigration law is complicated for anyone, and all the more so for immigrants struggling to learn a new language and to adapt to civic traditions different from those in their native countries. These challenges make immigrants easy prey for unscrupulous actors claiming to offer immigration-related legal services.
In this blog post, we discuss some of the warning signs and red flags immigrants should watch out for in choosing who to trust with legal tasks relating to their immigration status.
About “Unauthorized Practice of Law”
Every state in the United States, including Ohio, sets its own rules for who may practice law and give legal advice to clients. The rules almost always require lawyers to have attended law school, passed a bar exam, and applied for and received a license from the state’s attorney-licensing body. Anyone holding themselves out as a lawyer who has not followed these rules is engaged in “unauthorized practice of law,” which is illegal.
Examples of Unauthorized Practice of Law in Immigration Matters
The Ohio Supreme Court has jurisdiction for deciding when the unauthorized practice of law has occurred. Two cases posted on its website illustrate the risk to immigrants of falling victim to unauthorized practice of law.
In 2012, an immigrant from Sierra Leone sought help from a company in Columbus called Immigration Associates, L.L.C., which promised to help him with an application for citizenship in exchange for a fee. None of the owners of Immigration Associates were lawyers and their filings on the immigrant’s behalf were full of errors.
In 2014, the Ohio Supreme Court levied hefty fines against a woman who distributed business cards advertising herself to the Cincinnati Latino community as an immigration lawyer. The woman claimed to have high-level government contacts who could help her clients in immigration matters. In fact, she was not, and never had been, a lawyer.
Avoiding and Reporting Unauthorized Practice of Law
It’s not hard to imagine how immigrants ended up trusting the false lawyers above. An organization claiming to represent the rights of immigrants, or a lawyer who speaks the immigrant community’s language and advertises directly to them, can seem completely legitimate to unsuspecting clients.
To avoid falling victim to unauthorized practice of law, immigrants in need of legal help can call the local “bar association” in their nearest city or town for help locating a qualified immigration attorney.
To check if someone is licensed to practice law in Ohio, they can also look up the lawyer by name at this website maintained by the Ohio Supreme Court. Every lawyer authorized to practice law in Ohio is listed on that site. If the person claiming to be able to help you file immigration documents does not appear there, that means that person is not an Ohio lawyer.
Finally, anyone who suspects they have fallen victim to the unauthorized practice of law in an immigration matter should file a grievance here. Instructions for how to file a grievance are provided in English, Spanish, Russian, Somali, French, Arabic, and Chinese.
Experienced Ohio Immigration Lawyers
If you need legal services relating to an immigration matter, it is critical to find a qualified, licensed attorney to help you.
At Dworken & Bernstein, we proudly represent Northeastern Ohio immigrants and businesses in a wide range of immigration law matters.
All of our lawyers are licensed to practice law in Ohio and provide sophisticated, accurate, and up-to-date advice about navigating immigration issues. Contact us today for help with your immigration law questions.
The information presented in this post is not legal advice and does not form a lawyer/client relationship. Laws and circumstances can differ and change.
Please contact us for a personal review of your situation