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Immigration Lawyers Help Dodge Deportation But Often Ill-Prepared

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

Attention immigration lawyers: Judges are watching you, and in about half of all cases, they don't like what they see.

A newly released survey of immigration judges in and around New York City finds immigration lawyers are often good at helping their clients avoid deportation. But about half of immigration attorneys are "inadequate" and often irresponsible, the judges say.

Immigrants facing deportation "are easy prey for ambulance-chasing-style lawyers who do not adhere to the highest standards of responsibility," federal appellate Judge Robert A. Katzmann, who spearheaded the study, told The New York Times.

The findings appear in this week's Cardozo Law Review, published by the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. The two-year study aimed to assess the quality of legal representation for immigrants facing deportation, The Times reports.

Notably, the survey found:

  • Immigrants' legal representation was "inadequate" in 33% of cases, and "grossly inadequate" in 14% of cases between mid-2010 and mid-2011, according to the judges surveyed. Immigration lawyers were often poorly prepared and made incoherent arguments in court, The Times reported.
  • 27% of immigrants faced deportation hearings without counsel between 2005 and 2010 in the five New York-area courts surveyed. That figure is even higher nationwide: 43% of immigration hearings take place without counsel each year, according to the Cardozo report.
  • 67% of immigrants with counsel had successful outcomes at their deportation hearings, compared to just 8% of immigrants without counsel.

The survey also allowed judges to rate the quality of immigration lawyers' representation. Pro-bono counsel and law-school clinics got the highest ratings -- 8.4 out of 10 -- while private attorneys scored lowest, 5.2 out of 10.

Among the biggest failures of immigration lawyers: a failure to investigate their cases, a failure to raise defenses, and a lack of familiarity with immigration law, the study found. FindLaw's Immigration Law practice area section can help connect you to resources to learn more about this complex area of law.

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