Immigration lawyer or Consultant? Which one to choose?

In our professional practice, we are often asked what is the difference between immigration lawyers and immigration consultants.

Two types of professionals are authorized to represent for fees, individuals before the Canadian immigration and citizenship authorities: 1. immigration lawyers, who are regulated by a provincial bar association (in Quebec, for example, the Barreau du Québec) and 2. immigration consultants, who are accredited by a private national organization, the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC). Immigration consultants, in order to practice in Quebec, must also be registered in the Quebec Register of Immigration Consultants.

The Canadian government considers these two types of professionals to be “authorized paid representatives”, which means they can accept fees for their services. Under Canadian law, anyone receiving a payment for immigration or citizenship assistance must be a licensed professional.

Why retain an immigration lawyer instead of a consultant, considering after all, immigration lawyers and consultants seem to offer the same “services” to assist individuals in their temporary and permanent immigration procedures?

The major difference between lawyers and consultants is that only lawyers can appear in court. The lawyer has the exclusive right to the use of “maître” a term reserved exclusively to those giving “counsel” and providing legal advices under the laws of Canada.

As a general rule, in the case of an appeal or an immigration hearing, whether it is in before the Federal Court, the Superior Court, the Immigration and Refugee Board or in front of the Administrative Tribunal of Quebec, only lawyers are competent to represent you because of their extensive legal background and vocational training.

This can make a major difference in your immigration process. Errors can sometimes occur in decisions made by Canadian immigration officers who enjoy a large discretionary authority. Hence, decisions can take multiple interpretations, especially when considering ongoing regular legislative changes.

Thus, being able to present and defend your case in a court of law becomes an indispensable asset.

1. LAW SCHOOL

The other difference between lawyers and consultants is that of their education. To become a lawyer, one must study law: three (3) years at a university, one year of training at the École du Barreau followed by a six (6) month professional internship. Each step is accompanied by several examinations and complex evaluation reports before obtaining the university degree and the right to use the title of “lawyer” and the right to practice under this title.

While it takes only between six (6) months to a year of college studies, without any prior requirements nor internships, to become an immigration consultant. In some colleges, the immigration consultant certificate can even be obtained online after six (6) months.

A better understanding of the law is essential for the success of your immigration project.

2. REGULATION OF IMMIGRATION PROFESSIONALS

Requiring a rigorous academic and practical experience, the legal profession is systematically controlled by the Barreau du Québec, the aim of which is to protect the general public and, in doing so, it regulates all lawyer. Professional skills and abilities are continuously monitored and evaluated to ensure better protection of the public.

According to the Barreau du Québec: « lawyers must respect the laws in general, just like everyone else! But they must also comply with rules and codes specific to the legal profession. It is for this reason that the Law Society regularly inspects its members and handles complaints from the public. »

Both lawyers and consultants must follow their Code of deontology (ethics) for lawyers and the Code of Professional Ethics for the consultants, which requires them not only to meet professional and personal standards when working with their clients, but also to undergo continuing education to be aware of the constant changes in Canadian immigration law.

With respect to consultants, although it is possible to make a complaint to the Immigration Consultants Regulatory Board, there is no system of professional inspections to monitor their work. The system of public protection and sanctions has certain weaknesses.

3. PROFESSIONNAL LIABILITY

Both lawyers and consultants are required to take a liability insurance to cover them for errors and omissions in their practice of the profession. Such insurance provides protection to the insured against economic losses arising from legal proceedings arising from professional misconduct.

WHO TO CHOOSE?

So, should you hire a lawyer or immigration consultant?

The first question to ask yourself is « For what immigration situation do I need a professional? »
Depending on your needs, the services of an immigration consultant may be sufficient. On the other hand, if you are uncertain about being eligible for an immigration program or a specific visa, if you feel that your case is far from being « simple », if you need legal advice to challenge an immigration or citizenship decision before a court or if you think you are entitled to legal aid for your situation, only a lawyer can help you.

HOW TO CHOOSE?

You must make sure that the professional you want to hire holds the appropriate license and that this license is valid.
To choose a professional, ask a friend or family member if he or she personally knows a one who works in immigration law. You can also check the referal services of the various provincial bar associations, the lawyer’s registration with a Law Society, consult his website and check his presence on social media.

Get in touch by phone with the professional’s office for an appointment. It is important to check the fees for the initial consultation.

Prepare yourself for this appointment:

  • Gather all your documents and prepare a list of questions to ask the professional who will meet with you.
  • What does the professional offer you with regards to your case? Bring a notebook to take notes.
  • How much will your procedure cost?
  • Ask the lawyer if you are eligible for legal aid. If not, ask the professional to tell you how much his work will cost you. He will give you an honest estimate.
  • Is it a fixed price? It is up to you to ask the professional to specify whether the price for his work includes the fees (professional work), the administration costs (provincial and federal), the taxes (if applicable) and the incidental expenses (translations, courier services, etc.).
  • What are the payment terms?

Once retained, the lawyer will keep you informed on the costs incurred during the course of the proceedings. A formal agreement signed by both will confirm your discussions on the work to be done and the amount for the fees.
During the initial consultation, if the professional does not seem trustworthy or if you are not completely satisfied with the advice given, you are not obligated to entrust him with your file.

You can call on someone else, without consequence. In our opinion, it is always better to find out about the experience of the person you want to work with. In the end, you want someone who is professional, experienced and who you trust for your immigration projects!

If you would like to know more about the firm and the services we offer, or if you would like to make an appointment with one of our lawyers, contact us.