Ask an Immigration Lawyer: Help, my attorney is MIA

My case is in court and I lost any communication with my attorney. I am very concerned. What can I do?

It is your attorney’s obligation to prepare your case for court. This includes not only filing papers, but also meeting with you to explain what will happen, what questions your attorney will ask you, and what the government attorney (procuror/fiscal) is likely to ask. The obligation extends whether or not you have a written contract with your lawyer.

It is very important for your attorney to understand your story– the story that will be presented to the judge through questions to you and your answers. It is not enough for the secretary or even the paralegal to do the client preparation. The attorney should be reviewing the material with you and making changes, as necessary.

Client preparation should begin by putting the client’s story into writing, having the client read it, and making corrections or additions. A thorough attorney will have lots of questions to ask the client about his/her story; this process often results in discovering and adding new details that did not occur to the client or that (s)he did not know were important. The final version of the story becomes the sworn statement (declaration) that is filled with the court.

The declaration prepares not only the client, but also gives the judge a good introduction to and a helpful foundation of the case, and a picture of the direction in which the case is likely to go. This advance information guides the judge in evaluating the case.

In my office I often spend 3 or more hours with the client to properly develop the case–the client’s story. Then before the trial, which in Los Angeles is 1 year or longer after filing of the applications with the court, I meet with the client and witnesses 3 times to go over the testimony. The client declaration is then used by both me and the client to refresh our recollection about the various details of the case.

I do not, as a habit, make a list of questions that I will ask the client. Rather, I use the declaration to create a conversation through questions based ont the declaration. This is important because it makes the client aware that testimony is more like a conversation than memorization.

An attempt to memorize can result in bad mistakes, but telling one’s story flows naturally. After all, the truth is the easiest to remember.

It is also important for an attorney to ask the client whether (s)he has any questions about his case and to describe what will happen in court. For example, the client should know not to answer a question that is confusing or that (s)he does not understand, and not to fear saying “I do not understand the question,” or “Could you please repeat the question?” This is true even when the question comes from the judge.

So, if you have not heard from your attorney, you should call and ask for an appointment. If no appointment is given or the attorney is not there when you arrive, send a letter or a fax asking to reschedule.

If you have not prepared your declaration, or you have not reviewed it with your attorney, insist that it be done. It will be helpful to both of you. An organized and detailed presentation of your case is a must.  There is no substitution for preparation.


CAVEAT: The above is not a complete legal analysis, does not constitute legal advice, nor should it be construed as such. For a case specific analysis, consult an experienced immigration attorney for a private and extensive review of the facts of your case.


  • Aggie R. Hoffman

    Aggie R. Hoffman is a Certified Specialist in Immigration and Nationality Law, licensed by the State Bar of California and certified by the Bd.. of Legal Specialization. Ms. Hoffman has over 25 years of experience in a variety aspects of immigration law, from employment based (investors and PERM) to family immigration. Her victories include cases in Immigration Court, Board of Immigration Appeals, and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, focusing on reopening proceedings based on ineffective counsel. For more information, see .

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