Recently, I have found in my practice an increase in the number of the paid consultations I am doing for potential clients, many of whom have chosen to stay on as long-term clients.
With that being said, I find that paid consultations in general are often misunderstood both from prospective clients searching for a representative and also from many representatives seeking to avoid the tiring process.
Particularly with the new technology age, and perhaps due to the availability of online resources, individuals are choosing either to seek help from other applicants/friends or blindly filling out online surveys and assessments in hope of getting virtual advice. Others are trying to shop around for bits and pieces of free advice from different practitioners. Simultaneously, I also find more and more firms, particularly new practitioners, are trying to utilize “free consultations” or “digital solutions” to try and hook in new clients as a way to differentiate their services.
So wherein lies the value of a paid consultation?
Value 1 of a Consultation: Knowing Who You Are Dealing With
The first value of an immigration consultation is you get to know who, in fact, you are dealing with and determine whether they are reliable enough to serve as your representative.
Several things should trigger concern when you are reaching out to a potential lawyer. Is the request handled by the front/desk office professionally? Do you have means to directly communicate with the lawyer/consultant prior to the meeting? Does the firm itself have a good reputation?
I have heard several cases of individuals being duped into expensive immigration (and even illegal/fraudulent) processes simply because they did not run a quick Google search or try and contact a human voice first before signing a service contract. Online advertising, technological gadgets can do wonders in giving the false impression that a company or an individual is a reputable, honest representative. However, without seeing a client-specific email, hearing a voice, or seeing a face, you can never be to sure. Also, practitioners who are leaders in the industry tend to have some sort of pull factor- either through articles they have written, blogs, or from very positive word of mouth referrals.
One of the things I encourage all potential applicants to do is send their prospective representative/firm an email inquiry about their immigration situation. You can do this in a way that still protects your privacy (note: I have seen too often prospective client send their personal info to individuals they have never heard from let alone received an email from).
See how the representative responds to your inquiry. Does the representative/an assistant to the representative contact you? How professional is their email? If I were a client I would be very hesitant if a prospective representative were to email me back with a generic copy and paste letter without any efforts to try and appreciate or understand my unique situation.
A big plus (and something I personally strive for) is to get information from the prospective client before I meet them. I think that a representative/lawyer who offers to take a few minutes of their own time to review your information before they see you saves valuable consultation time better spent on addressing the real issues.
Also, if you find yourself abroad without the ability to phone ask if you can consult by Skype/WeChat. A series of emails back in forth can be time-consuming for both the potential client and the potential representative and may lead to more confusion then solutions for your immigration case.
Value 2 of the Consultation: Seeing if your Immigration Representative Know their Stuff and is Honest When They Need to Take Further Steps to Find Out.
You’ve seen the advertisements. “98% success rate,” “full-service followed by list of a million things,” “Best in Vancouver/Canada.” The self-congratulatory accolades are great but does the individual have baseline abilities in the area where you need legal advice?
A consultation can help you ask questions of the representative to gauge this answer.
For example, you can ask if they have handled this type of case before? You can ask them about requirements of certain programs and how they apply to your specific case?
Not all representatives will have this information memorized, but at the very least they should be able to speak intellectually about their experience in this area and know where they can find the answer.
If it is a question they don’t know, because it is a difficult legal question that requires research and some thought they should be clear in letting you know they do not know but they are willing to do research on it. It is also a positive thing if they need to, for example, take a few minutes to go find the answer in the legal text or consult a colleague with knowledge in that area. However, keep in mind you are not paying for an information dump you are paying to get specific strategies to move forward in your situation. An Encyclopedia Brown of immigration can only go so far without practical application in real-life situations.
Value 3 of the Consultation: Providing Advice and Direction that a Survey/Email Can’t Tell You
Be it IRCC’s Express Entry online point calculator or other quick surveys I have seen, none of these can thoroughly or accurately carve out immigration paths for you. They can only tell you where you stand on certain issues based on the information you are self-providing, which may or may not be accurate.
There are several issues with this. First, many times you are seeking advice from these sources with a specific question in mind. “Do I qualify under this program/provision?” Those specific inquiries tend to have very specific answers but may ignore the larger scope of the situation.
Case in point, I have had several consultations recently where the intended principal applicant contacted me about the possibility of a specific program or option. By running a fuller, more complete consultation I was able to advise them that their accompanying partner/spouse is more suitable for immigration. In another case, I developed several backup strategies for an applicant (now client) when initially they had their mind focused on one option. This way, should the first discretionary path not work, there are other possible options.
Emails are very good at establishing initial communication, but often times (as mentioned earlier), it is limiting in that the topics are usually of a narrow, focused discussion. Email chains can lead to real uncertainty and confusion. A full consultation, run logically from identifying initial legal issues/barriers to overall solutions can suss out a big picture as well as the specific details of a client’s particular legal issue. Often times the intersection of these two matters, the barrier and the bigger picture, is where appropriate solutions and recommendations are drawn.
Value 4 of the Consultation: Giving You Options Whether to Stay or Move On
Throughout a consultation, there can be several keys and triggers as to whether this is someone you want to work with long-term or someone you better avoid.
These could be simple tells. Are they taking notes of your conversation? Are they speaking in a kind/friendly tone? Responsible practitioners should be making some notes and looking up materials while you are talking to them while still maintaining positive communication and body language. Do they articulate clearly? Is this someone who has good command of the language of the application you are pursuing, are they providing logical advice that can be practically followed?
How is their management of the time of consultation? Are they constantly looking at their watch eager for you to leave? Are they keeping track of time if the consultation started late or runs short? Are they amenable to following up with you if you have a few brief questions after?
Finally, it is my opinion that a consultation can, at the end of the day, can truly save a client money/heartache.
Paying a fee now to learn you have no options is much better than blindly investing time and money on expensive, unworkable, options.
In fact, a decent chunk of the hoopla around the previous Federal Investor Immigration Programs and Provincial Entrepreneur Programs was not really built around those programs being the best option but rather the ease and simplicity in which it could be recommended and started with little-to-no consultation. Consequentially, many of these applicants, who probably had clearer. more stable, and importantly much cheaper, options to immigration left with refusals or terminated applications.
A consultation can also give you options to gain opinions from several practitioners first before choosing the best balance of affordable prices and excellent service. Choosing an immigration lawyer is much like choosing a restaurant you want to frequent regularly. You have been served a good meal at others, but is this a place you want to come to whenever you have an issue and can expect it will be taken care of.
Ultimately, you can also cook a meal yourself at home. A consultation may even reveal that you have a relatively straight forward application and can take care of it yourself – as you have all the ingredients. For many prospective clients, I even actively advise them that with their their advanced degrees, high level of English skills, and straightforwardness of their legal matter – a future consultation, rather than my full participation may be more cost-effective.
Conclusion: Paid Consultations are Worth It
With paid consultation, and I am sure my colleagues agree, we are not running them to make a bulk of our profits. We are doing them to ensure that the working relationship will be a good one and that before we proceed on path A, you are aware of the full challenges that we face and our role in collaboratively solving your immigration issues.
On that note, I look forward to seeing you, your family, and friends should you require an immigration consultation. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 604-681-9887.