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by Jason Dzubow

The Problem With Immigration Lawyers and How to Fix It, Part 2: Bar Associations

This is part two in a series of posts about the poor quality of immigration lawyers.  A recent survey of judges’ opinions found that 33% of immigrants had “inadequate” counsel and 14% had “grossly inadequate” counsel.  I previous wrote about how Immigration Judges could improve the situation by reporting incompetent and dishonest attorneys.  Indeed, according to Justice Department rules, IJs are required to report such attorneys.

Most bar complaints end up here (but at least they recycle).

Of course, reporting incompetent attorneys accomplishes little unless the disciplinary authorities–i.e., the state bar associations–actually impose sanctions where such punishment is appropriate.  Although a large number of practitioners have been disciplined, given the current state of affairs, the bar associations are not doing enough to protect immigrants.  Here are some thoughts on what bar associations could do to improve the situation:

- Bar associations should reach out to immigrant communities to help inform aliens about their right to competent counsel.  This means providing information–including information about how to report dishonest attorneys–to various immigrant advocacy groups and encouraging those groups to translate and disseminate the information.

- Given that immigrants are particularly vulnerable to unscrupulous lawyers, bar associations should pay close attention to complaints filed in immigration cases.  My sense is that the bar associations tend to protect lawyers, and that it is not easy to get disbarred (I hope I am not jinxing myself!).  Bar associations need to take complaints seriously and, in the case of vulnerable populations (minors, immigrants, etc.), need to thoroughly investigate allegations of bad conduct.

- Another issue is that certain bars–most notably New York and California–allow people with a foreign law degree to sit for the bar after they receive an LLM.  The requirements for admission to LLM programs are much less rigorous than for admission to JD programs, and thus graduates of these programs are not as familiar with the U.S. legal system as people who receive a JD degree at an accredited law school.  New York, at least, has taken some modest steps to improve this situation.

- A final–and more sweeping–idea is to create a separate immigration bar association and require membership in order to practice before all immigration agencies.  Volunteer immigration lawyers, who are knowledgeable about immigration law and who speak different languages, could serve on the disciplinary committee.  This way, aliens could file complaints directly to the immigration bar association, and those complaints would be reviewed by people familiar with the system and who (probably) speak the alien’s native language.  Also, an immigration bar association could require legal education and ethics training.

I don’t think we’ll see a mandatory immigration bar association any time soon, but I believe such an association would improve the quality of immigration attorneys.  For now, we will have to rely on state bar associations–however imperfect–to protect immigrants.

Originally posted on the Asylumist:

About The Author

Jason Dzubow's practice focuses on immigration law, asylum, and appellate litigation. Mr. Dzubow is admitted to practice law in the federal and state courts of Washington, DC and Maryland, the United States Courts of Appeals for the Third, Fourth, Eleventh, and DC Circuits, all Immigration Courts in the United States, and the Board of Immigration Appeals. He is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the Capital Area Immigrant Rights (CAIR) Coalition. In June 2009, CAIR Coalition honored Mr. Dzubow for his Outstanding Commitment to Defending the Rights and Dignity of Detained Immigrants.

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