1. Do not confuse a notary public or an immigration consultant with an immigration attorney.  The first two cannot give legal advice, nor can they call themselves “notarios” or “licenciados”.  In Latin America, a notario is an attorney, which undoubtedly causes confusion here in the US, as a notary is not licensed to practice law or to give legal advice.
  2. Always get a second opinion.  Chances are that there is someone who will specialize in an area that will help your case, or that person will charge less than the first attorney with whom you consulted.
  3. Check the California State Bar web site to see if the attorney in question has a record of discipline: http://www.calbar.ca.gov
  4. If you hire an attorney, you must be given a copy of a contract in your native language, which specifies the terms and the costs involved.  You should always get a receipt for any and all funds paid to your attorney.
  5. If you have an appointment with an Immigration Judge, you must attend that appointment.  If you do not, you will be ordered deported in your absence.
  6. Your file is your property.  An immigration attorney cannot hold your file for payment, and the attorney must return the file to you if you request it.  The attorney can only charge you for the cost of photocopying the file.
  7. If you have any criminal convictions, you must disclose all information relating to your criminal matters to your attorney.  Even a misdemeanor could have serious repercussions on your immigration matter, and being a Legal Permanent Resident does not insulate you from being deported if you have committed certain crimes.
  8. The US government does not charge to provide you with your file under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  Look for those attorneys who do not charge an arm and a leg for this service.
  9. The US government does not cover the cost of your attorney for your immigration court matter.  But the Department of Justice provides a list of low-cost and sometimes free (pro bono) attorneys at http://www.justice.gov/eoir/probono/freelglchtCA.pdf
  10. If someone is saying that you can get your immigration papers easily or based on the number of years you have lived in the US, it is probably a scam.  If you would like to report someone who has taken your money without really helping you with your immigration matter, you can contact either the Department of Consumer Affairs (for non-attorneys) or the California State Bar (for attorneys) at their respective web sites: http://dca.lacounty.gov/wps/portal/dca or http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Attorneys/LawyerRegulation.aspx