The advantages of hiring an immigration lawyer

by Tim McDonald and Anne O'Donoghue

Immigration lawyers benefit their clients and the public interest by helping to reunite families, delivering economic benefits through skilled and business migration, and protecting those in danger through humanitarian programs.

As a profession, immigration law is moving toward more rigorous professional standards, greater specialisation, and stronger oversight. The changing nature of the profession has prompted a group of immigration lawyers, including,Glenn Ferguson, Deputy President of the Queensland Law Society and Immigration Solutions Principal Solicitor Anne O'Donoghue, to form the Immigration Lawyers Association of Australasia [ ILAA ]

The ultimate result of changes within the profession, and the establishment of a professional association, will be better delivery of service to clients.

Professionalism

Like all lawyers, immigration lawyers must meet minimum levels of professionalism, and must attend continuing legal education (CLE) classes. Specialist immigration lawyers may also undertake specialist accreditation,through specialist accreditation programmes, which have been established by the Law Society of NSW and the Law Institute of Victoria. These programmes have been running for some years and have proved very successful in raising the level of professionalism.

This is in addition to meeting the requirements set forth by the Migration Agents Registration Authority (MARA) for continuing professional development (CPD), although there have been moves recently to allow immigration lawyers cross credit CPD and CLE courses.

Immigration lawyers must adhere to the ethical and professional standards, under the State regulated Legal Profession Acts,which regulate legal practice in Australia, in addition to the provisions set out in MARA's code of conduct

This dual regulatory structure ,although onerous at times, ensures that the standard of professionalism among immigration lawyers is very high, allowing them to deliver high quality services to clients in an often-confusing area of the legal system.

It is hoped that the establishment of the ILAA will add to the opportunities that immigration lawyers have for professional development within their field, whilst also encouraging a new area of practice for young lawyers.

Increasing specialisation

Immigration law is a massive and horrendously complicated area of the legal system. At present, there are more than 500 articles in Australia's Migration Act, and a huge number of cases annually.

Against this backdrop, it has become increasingly difficult for any single lawyer to practice across all areas of migration law.

As a result, immigration law firms are becoming increasingly specialised, appointing legal staff to deal with various areas of immigration law, such as business migration, skilled migration, family migration and refugee law, for example.

Moreover, it is becoming increasingly common for lawyers in general practice to refer immigration cases,to a specialist immigration practice, where for example, an existing client of the firm has an immigration problem. The firm may not be able to handle the case, but also wishes to service the client's needs. Using a specialist practice as a consultant solves the problem and creates a good networking environment.

Taken together, this preferred method of practice is helping to ensure that migration consumers are getting the specialist attention they need to navigate through Australia's migration system.

Strong oversight

Unlike migration agents, who are regulated solely by the MARA, lawyers must be registered with their relevant state legal authorities and must also have professional indemnity insurance.

This rigorous oversight regime ensures that lawyers adhere to high standards of service, and that there is also a strong functioning mechanism for redressing complaints, should they arise.

The result of this strong oversight, coupled with high professional standards and increasingly specialisation, is that immigration lawyers are delivering the quality services that their clients need.


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