I have been on a bit of a campaign (that I am now sharing publicly by way of this blog post) to eliminate the using, asking, and advertising of “probability of success” and “guarantees.”
Unfortunately, I tag this to the commoditization of visas (worldwide) into a product to be obtained, rather than a legal service or system to be professionally navigated. Flip open any newspaper and you will likely see an immigration company advertising their 98% success rate or “guaranteeing the maintaining of permanent residence for someone who has never spent a day in Canada”, as one translator lamented to me today outside of CBSA.
I am very glad that IRCC is publicly attacking the idea of a guarantee and the practice of ghost consulting or the “disappearing advisor.”
— IRCC (@CitImmCanada) May 23, 2017
I think part of fighting this is educating potential clients into the type of questions to ask and to give insights into the type of responses one should expect. I wrote a post, that I received some positive feedback for in January of last year where I talked about the value of a consultation. I hope to work along similar lines here.
In this piece, I want to give both clients and their representatives some strategies to avoid asking and respond in asking that dreaded question – “what is my probability of success?…. can you guarantee success.”
From the Client Perspective
My first “cautionary” note is that anybody who guarantees success without seeing a single document or on the basis of a short email introduction is probably indicative of the fact you are going to be duped.
Regardless of my historical success on any type of application, as an immigration representative, I know that cases turn on facts. Facts, take time to establish and hours to put together. In order for any advisor to even indicate a confidence in your case, they need to know the inside outs of that area of the law and be able to provide tangible experiences suggesting they have helped a client in a similar situation or have the know-with-all to do the same.
Too often I see the question “please advise me on your fees and success rate” as a first question that client’s pose. I would suggest a few more effective questions can be (1) are you an authorized immigration representative and can I see your ICCRC/Law Society number? [if you have doubts, but do your research], (2) have you handled cases of this nature and provide some initial thoughts on my case, and (3) would we be able to set up a consultation to discuss your assistance on my matter. Having someone provide either a deceiving low rate or incredibly high fee quote with a made-up percentage really does a client little to no good.
On a second point, when it comes to success rate, I would be very cautious of any “company” that offers a “money-back guarantee” on immigrations applications. Many of these consultancies (who primarily do this) justify this by taking a heavy up-front retainer sum and then apply, knowing that when the decision is eventually made (several years later), they have had enough time to flip your money into additional funds to pad their pockets. Be very cautious – and ask questions such as (1) where do the funds go? – does the individual operate a trust account; (2) Can you bill me implements? – so they do not take all the money and bill it up front; or (3) Can you handle my file on an hourly basis? While it may appear that your engaging of a representative on an hourly basis does not give you any guarantees. it does provide a lot of accountability in terms of work performed. In the end of the day, when you engage a professional it should be for the efforts they input into the case, which in turn you hope will maximize your results. Consider time dedicate to your case as the value of your fees rather than the overall end result.
Finally, be careful of false advertising. Immigration is an area of law that is far too-easy to oversell. Clients are often at their most vulnerable and desperate when they come see you. They often have little knowledge of the rules and regulations other than what they have read on forums or heard from their neighbours.
There is nearly no regulation (especially in languages other than English and French). If you start reading advertisements that purport to sell you a job, or LMIA, or guarantee to take care of everything due to connections to immigration officials, it is probably time for the fraud radar to go off.
From the Advisor’s Perspective
So, how do I handle the question: can you guarantee success?
I usually start by giving the spiel I described above. Anybody who guarantees success without reviewing a client’s file thoroughly (review of ATIP, review of previous work/background, and the law) is probably doing a disservice.
I also note that my value add as a lawyer is to utilize my knowledge of the law and my understanding on concepts such as Officer discretion, administrative law, and my work reviving back-end refusals to give a client the advice they need on the front end. I am also a fan of immigration pathway planning where in the event success cannot be achieved on Plan A, we always have a Plan B. In the words of my best friend, Dav, “always enter, with an exit strategy.”
I am also very honest about how many years I have been doing immigration and my experiences in certain areas. I tell client’s where I know the law but may have limited practical experiences and that they can trust me to do it or I can refer them to a colleague who has expertise in their area. I highlight stories of success, as parables, but caution that every case depends on it’s merits and is subject to discretion and interpretation of law.
I also am very realistic about timeframes. Right now, with IRCC putting up bulk numbers (12 months) for all visa offices for family sponsorships and real uncertainty around paper-based processing (especially implied status applications), any randomly-generated number would be a stretch. I can only utilize examples where I can a sample that I can choose from. I always caution any estimates I give based on previous experiences as not necessarily being representative of any particular case.
Being Honest is Not Underselling
Particularly in today’s competitive environment, where there are literally thousands of practitioners who are able to do what you do to some degree of proficiency, it is important not to get into the business of overselling oneself. Ego-driven practices do not help a client, who often needs a practitioner who can bring the law and the experience to their level of understanding, and it certainly does not help the health of a practitioner, focused entirely on results as a validation of success. You talk to some of the best immigration lawyers (I won’t name names because I will inevitably forget many good ones), and you will notice they lose their fair share of very challenging cases. These losses, like scars, eventually strengthen the outer shell and deepen their knowledge of the law.
Just recently, I lost a Federal Court case that did not get Leave on. I put hours into drafting my memorandum of argument, hours more into the reply. I produced arguments for an area of law that has never been tested at a judicial level. The Federal Court decided not to hear it and to deny leave – likely following a strict interpretation of the law and the limitations of the reasonableness standard. While disappointing and not a “success”, I feel empowered by the time spent engaging and interpreting a provision of law and I am confident that the next case I can reframe in a more effective way. The client, though disappointed, appreciates my honesty and appreciates the fact that I will stick with them because we foresaw the possibility and will need to re-calibrate our options.
I think if we all re-think “success”, we will better serve our clients and be better “trusted” representatives to our clients.