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‘I want to talk to my lawyer’

By Atty. Daniel Hanlon

“I want to talk to my lawyer.” This phrase has become familiar to most people through decades of legal-themed television shows and movies and reflects one of the most fundamental rights in the US legal system: The right to an attorney. While police and other law enforcement officials understand the Constitutional underpinnings of this right, it seems that there is a large segment of society that does not: lawyers themselves!

I consult with thousands of individuals, community groups and business owners each year to provide solutions to myriad immigration issues. In a high percentage of these cases, the client consulting with me has either visited or even retained another law firm already, but has not been able to get satisfactory answers to his questions as the case progresses. The reason in the vast majority of these cases is that the client cannot speak to his attorney!

When I inquire further into how it is that the client cannot simply get on the phone or turn on the computer and call or email their attorney, I get the same responses over and over. “They only let me talk to the paralegal,” “they want to charge me more if I came into the office,” and the worst, ” I have never even met the attorney!”

The prevalence of these types of complaints is shocking, because the clients hired an attorney to represent them, yet they allow themselves to be cowed away from inquiring and being educated regarding the status of their case by rude support staff, when they should be demanding to speak to their attorney. In a recent consultation, I asked one such client, “If you needed to see a doctor, would you settle for a diagnosis about your ailment from a nurse?” Of course, the client answered “absolutely not!” So why, then, do so many intelligent and hardworking clients put up with continued brush-offs from their attorney and the office support staff, instead of insisting on the quality representation they paid for? The answer is not so simple.

In many cases, the clients are not aware that they have the right to understand the strategy to be implemented in the case and that the attorney they hired owes them a reasoned explanation as to how he intends to go about helping them. Shockingly, this is due to the fact that the client was not allowed to speak to an attorney at their initial consultation and has been led to believe that he only needs to speak to a paralegal regarding the case. This is the worst type of “representation” one could possibly get. Clients do not have to settle for meeting with a “paralegal” or “assistant” to start work on their case.

Once a client has retained a law firm, he has a right to the benefit of whatever bargain he has struck with the attorney, which a right to speak to that attorney, meet with that attorney or email that attorney and obtain satisfactory answers regarding any factors impacting the case; as well as progress and developments. When the client signs the retainer agreement, he should be facing the attorney he has hired and the client is entitled to that attorney’s representation. If the client’s calls are unanswered or the client is only allowed to speak to the paralegal after hiring the attorney, the client should find a new attorney who will honor the retainer contract and actively represent the client; not hide behind a paralegal and ignore the client’s phone calls and emails.

If a client says “I want to talk to my attorney,” he has an absolute, inviolable right to speak to his attorney. Too often I hear stories from people who were denied access to their attorneys at other firms, only to be belittled and derided by the paralegals; when they finally get a chance to speak to the paralegal! When client hires an attorney, he is hiring a professional. A true professional will adhere to the rules of ethical conduct and basic human decency in carrying out his duties toward his clients.

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Daniel P. Hanlon has been practicing Immigration and Nationality Law exclusively since his admission to the California State Bar in 1993. Mr. Hanlon is the founder of Hanlon Law Group, a P.C. He has argued many important immigration appeals before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and successfully challenged INS rulings in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Mr. Hanlon’s experience spans several years, and covers a broad range of immigrant and nonimmigrant visa petitions, including those for working professionals, multi-national managers, treaty-traders, investors, athletes and entertainers. Mr. Hanlon also has vast experience in all family-based Petitions and in labor certification applications under both Department of Labor-supervised recruitment and Reduction in Recruitment methods. Over the past several years, Mr. Hanlon has tried thousands of cases in Immigration Court involving Requests for Asylum in the United States, Cancellation of Removal, and Waivers of Grounds of Removability. Mr. Hanlon graduated “With Distinction” from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in April 1988, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. In May 1993, Mr. Hanlon graduated from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, of which he sits on the Investors Committee. Mr. Hanlon has also appeared as a speaker before the Los Angeles County Bar Association, Immigration Section, on the 1996 immigration law amendments. Hanlon Law Group, P.C. is headquartered at 225 S. Lake Avenue, Suite 1100, Pasadena, CA 91101, tel: (626) 585-8005, fax: (626) 585-8595, website:  www.hanlonlawgroup.com, email: visas@hanlonlawgroup.com.

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