One of the toughest things for me, as a lawyer, is to have a consultation with someone who has been a victim of fraud, either by a notary without authorization to practice immigration law, or by a lawyer without adequate experience, an unethical lawyer, or a careless lawyer. It is extremely sad to talk to someone who has spent thousands of dollars paying someone who did not know what he or she was doing; or worse yet, someone who, even though he or she knew it was wrong, handled a case incorrectly solely for the money.
The practice of immigration law is very complex; Within the field of immigration there are lawyers who specialize in asylum law, defense against deportation, family immigration law, and immigration through business, among many others. It is extremely difficult for a lawyer with little experience to practice all these areas and practice them well.
My wish is that every person who needs assistance help finds adequate and competent help. For this reason, I have written the following tips on how to avoid being a victim of fraud.
FRAUD BY “NOTARIOS”
Notaries in the US are not lawyers and it is unlikely that they are authorized to practice immigration law. In many Latin American countries, only lawyers can be notaries. Notaries in Latin America have a university degree in law and pass rigorous exams for which they must study for months. In our countries, a notary is someone who has all the authority and training to exercise law.
In the US, that is not the case. The United States has a system of laws, inherited from Great Britain, that is based on jurisprudence. Most Latin American countries have a legal system inherited from Spain, based more on what is known as civil law which emphasizes the role of a notary a lot more. These two systems are very different. You can learn more about their distinctions here. For purposes of this article, suffice it to say that, in the US, notaries do not have the same authority as in Latin America.
In the USA, the requirements vary a little between states, but, in general, a person only has to fill out an application and take a simple exam to obtain his or her seal of notary. The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), states that the only persons authorized to practice law are: attorneys with valid credentials issued by the state bar association where they took their bar exam, representatives accredited by the board of immigration appeals (BIA), law students supervised by credentialed attorneys, accredited government officials, and respectable individuals.
“Respectable individuals” is a term used for people who have received permission to appear before the immigration authorities in an individual case, who is not receiving payment directly, and who has a pre-existing relationship with the person who needs representation. If you have paid a notary to take a case for you, this person is not a “respectable individual” within the definition of the law. And it is very unlikely that that person is only helping you and no one else (the law requires that this “respectable person” is taking a single, individual case), and finally, it is also very unlikely that the government gave that notary authorization to represent you.
THE DIFFERENCE AN ATTORNEY MAKES
To be able to represent you, a competent immigration lawyer has to have:
- Passed through a minimum of 7 years of university and post-university education
- Obtained a favorable score in the Law School Admission Exam (LSAT)
- Studied for months to take the bar exam (a grueling exam consisting of a minimum of two days, eight hours each day) and passed it in order to obtain his or her license
- Passed a character fitness assessment as well as professional responsibility examination.
- Be a member of the state bar in the state where he or she took the bar exam
- Met the annual requirements of courses in law, professionalism, and ethics.
In addition, a properly licensed attorney must be responsible for any complaint filed against them before the state bar and may end up facing the loss of their license and additional liability if found guilty of engaging in unethical behavior.
In conclusion, entrusting your case to a person who has not attended any type of training and who lacks the supervision that all lawyers have is unwise and can irreparably damage your case. You may be thinking, however, that despite all the studying, training, and oversight, there are attorneys who still manage to hurt their clients. We will address this subject in our next article, “How to Avoid Being the Victim of Fraud by an Attorney.”