Immigration lawyers specialize in immigration law within their general practice. In the US, lawyers can practice across legal areas due to unified licenses, but some immigration lawyers have diversified skills. Beware of such versatile lawyers.
Immigration lawyers handle tasks like:
- Preparing visa, residency, status change, and citizenship petitions.
- Defending clients in deportation cases.
- Representing clients in US immigration courts.
- Securing immigration benefits for relatives of US citizens and residents (like foreign spouses).
- Assisting US employers in hiring foreign workers.
- Preparing applications for asylum and humanitarian immigration benefits.
Before law school, complete a four-year bachelor’s degree at an accredited college or university.
Although some US law schools might occasionally admit students without a bachelor’s degree, this is uncommon.
Aspiring immigration lawyers can major in any subject, as law schools accept diverse educational backgrounds.
After a bachelor’s, aspiring immigration lawyers take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and apply to one of 200 accredited US law schools.
Law schools don’t specialize in legal practice areas, but some offer postgraduate degrees focused on specific areas.
While enrolling in immigration-related law courses is beneficial, it’s not mandatory.
Many US law schools lack immigration law courses.
To earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, a law student needs three years of full-time study.
Admission to the Bar Association
Aspiring lawyers must pass a comprehensive state bar exam covering major law areas.
The bar exam often lacks immigration law questions.
Pass rates vary from 44% (California) to 79% (Missouri).
If unsuccessful, candidates can retry as most states hold the exam twice a year.
Candidates need to meet moral character and fitness evaluations to get licensed.
Those graduating in May usually get licensed by December, provided they pass the bar on the first attempt.
Once licensed, lawyers can practice in most law areas except patent law.
They must fulfill annual Continuing Legal Education (CLE) requirements to keep their license active.
From High School Graduate to Licensed Attorney
In total, aspiring immigration lawyers require around seven years of full-time study after high school for a Juris Doctor degree.
Passing the bar exam and fulfilling local bar association criteria take a few extra months.
Those passing the bar on the first attempt can become licensed attorneys approximately seven and a half years after high school graduation.
Professional Requirements for Immigration Lawyers
Most US law schools offer minimal immigration law courses.
State bar exams and review courses tend to overlook immigration law.
Consequently, immigration lawyer(s) rely heavily on practical experience due to limited published cases.
They often begin in junior positions at immigration law firms, progressing to higher roles or even opening their firms.
Immigration law is highly politically sensitive and changes rapidly.
The Trump administration, for instance, brought swift immigration law changes.
To choose an immigration lawyer, prioritize recent experience due to the field’s rapid evolution.
Specialty Certifications and Professional Recognition
Certain states provide specialized certification in specific legal areas, often necessitating extra study.
These certifications don’t confer elevated legal rights but assure clients of the attorney’s expertise.
Only four states offer immigration law certification; Ohio and Michigan aren’t among them.
Private entities like Martindale-Hubbell, Super Lawyers, and Avvo.com assess lawyers using client and peer reviews.
Some bestow awards only upon immigration lawyers with a minimum years of experience.
Immigration law is federal, not state law. A state law license lets you practice immigration law across the US without joining another state’s bar association.
If licensed in California and living in Kentucky, you can practice immigration law in Kentucky ethically and legally.
Practicing US Immigration Law Overseas
To practice abroad, as some immigration lawyers do, you might require a US law license from the overseas jurisdiction.
You usually need to show your US law license and a certain years of practice in your home country.