An Insiders View on what to look for when instructing an Immigration adviser
Legal services are no different to anything else in life:
If things seem too good to be true….they generally are.
Here are a few important guidelines to help you down the right path:
1. Business details
A few simple things here- check the address:
Is there a proper address?
is it a commercial address in a Business Centre or someone running an office from a spare room?
Is there a landline number or a mobile?
A commercial address and a landline number are good signs
2. VAT Registration
Gives a good idea of how much work an organisation has performed. VAT registration is compulsory for businesses based in the UK that have had a turnover of at least £85000
No VAT registration means that an organisation has not declared a turnover in excess of this amount because it operates as a one off threshold.
It gives an indication of the volume of work a company or organisation has performed
3. Professional Memberships
Immigration advisers tend to be either in Law firms operated by Solicitors and regulated by the SRA or OISC registered advisers. Check who your adviser is registered with by checking either the SRA website or OISC website
Is the adviser a Solicitor? This means they have studied for many years and passed professional qualifications. It is one of the oldest and trusted professions in the UK.
IAAS Accreditation? To give advice under a legal aid contract, advisers have to be IAAS accredited. This scheme is run by The Law Society.
OISC Accreditation- allows a non Solicitor to give private advice but does not qualify a person to give legal aid advice for which IAAS accreditation is needed.
Why is this important? Its really important if things go wrong- it offers you the consumer some protection- with Insurance being part of qualifying for membership and also someone who has a Regulator you can complain too if there is an issue.
4. Quality Marks
A Quality Mark is a good thing because it means that the organisation is independently audited and that can give you the consumer every confidence that standards are high.
There are 2 types of Quality Mark that you can look out for:
Lexcel- this is The Law Society Quality Mark that involves an audit every year against strict quality standards and
SQM- this is a quality mark that involves an audit every 3 years against strict standards and is specifically geared towards legal aid providers
5. Legal Aid provision
Legal aid nowadays is only routinely available for asylum and ancillary applications. In this context it is subject to means and a merits test. You may or may not be looking to qualify for legal aid but you should consider whether an organisation has a legal aid contract because it indicates that a firm has to comply with a whole host of legal aid specific criteria and also again, additional audits. Some of the biggest specialist firms in the UK have legal aid contracts. To be trusted with a government contract involves additional checks, control and to you the consumer added security because it means the organisation is trusted to provide value for money with the public purse!
Lawyers traditionally charge by the hour. Nowadays, most forward thinking organisations will offer a fixed fee.
A fixed fee, at its heart is based on…you guessed it…how much time will it take to do the work for you, in other words an estimate of hours. You can make the lawyers job easier by getting together all the relevant documents etc that you need, but think about the quote you are given. Most firms charge much the same price- it comes down to who do you think will represent your interests well!
If a price seems very cheap or expensive then ask yourself why that is and don’t be frightened to question price.
Some things cost more money but are worth it eg sending important documents recorded delivery rather than in second class post so they are tracked.
Generally, more experienced lawyers charge higher fees because you are paying for their expertise.
Remember though, its not just about price- its about quality of service and value for money. A cheap application that goes wrong can involve considerable heartache and extra cost. Above all else look to get a good balance between quality and value!
It is easy in this day and age to advertise on the internet offering a service in a location without a fully functioning office. Nothing wrong with that as long as its made clear- so make sure you find out what kind of service is being offered. Do you want to see a local lawyer- someone who lives and works where you live? Do you want an office with a reception that you can ring up and talk to someone or pop into?
So check to make sure you are getting a level of service in line with your expectations.
You want a lawyer that will do not just a good job but the best job for you but mega high success rate are not something you should be guided by! Some applications naturally have a much higher success rate than others which is no reflection on the quality of work done. Its also worth pointing out that many high quality lawyers with excellent success rates shy away from telling everyone else about it!