Ways an Immigration Attorney Can Help Do-It-Yourself Clients.
There is a do-it-yourself (DIY) revolution sweeping the nation and the globe. This revolution is broad: from home coffee roasing to making your own cloth, from building your own furniture to drafting your own legal documents. The DIY revolution now impacts my immigration law practice in a profound way.
I became aware of this DIY revolution after my son sent me photographs of a dining room set he designed and built from scratch for his Thanksgiving Day dinner guests. Although his mother is a master carpenter from the old world, he never spent any time learning her trade. This was all him. He may have inherited some raw talent, but the drive and determination came from the DIY movement, which he taps into by religiously reading DIY magazines and websites. What made it clear a revolution was in progress was a casual conversation with a colleague whose daughter was producing and dying her own cloth and then sewing her own clothes from that cloth. Her mother noted it was part of a huge DIY movement among college-age kids. I then told her about my son and together we marveled at how the pendulum has swung from the industrial revolution back toward independent living.
So how is the DIY revolution affecting the practice of law? There was a time not too long ago when the real value lawyers offered was demystifying arcane legal procedures and language (while at the same time perpetuating the mystery by continuing to speak and write in jargon). We lawyers had a monopoly on the courts and the language of the courts. We were the shamans of the law and clients looked to us to navigate what would be an otherwise impossible tangle of Latin mixed in with volumes of statutes, regulations and case law that could only be accessed in law libraries by trained researchers. The movement for lawyers to use plain English was really gaining momentum just as I graduated from law school, and we’ve never looked back. Combined with the information revolution, these developments pulled back the veil and lawyers have had to find new ways to add value for their clients.
I have noticed in the past few weeks that in what would normally be a very complicated statutory and regulatory morass known as immigration law, prospective clients are using information technology to find correct answers to their immigration questions–without the assistance of a lawyer. They call me and ask me fairly complicated immigration questions and then interrupt me to tell me they already know what I am telling them. I’m typically amazed since it took me years to figure out the intricacies of this area of the law–but of course I am forced to be a generalist, and my clients have the freedom to drill down deep on one specific subject. And typically, that one subject affects a loved one. They are highly motivated to find answers and they are using every tool available. They are, effectively, swept up in the DIY revolution. Lawyers have, it seems, become the equivalent of punctuation. We are the period at the end of a complex sentence that the clients themselves are drafting. They often just want us to confirm what they already know.
So how can lawyers make themselves relevant in this environment? One way is to focus on the role of counselor. Knowing the answer is only part of the challenge. Knowing what to do with that information is often a trickier prospect. It is here that lawyers can bring to bear our experience in dealing with matters we specialize in. After all, we have been in front of the judges and adjudicators. We have filed the applications, petitions, motions and lawsuits and we know through trial and error what works and what doesn’t (and it varies with the venue). We know the lay of the land in a way that only having traveled the legal landscape can expose. Providing answers will become less and less relevant for lawyers while at the same time providing prescient advice will become our staple. For lawyers to provide relevant legal advice to DIY clients, we must become oracles of legal procedure because we have seen things our clients have not. We are the trail guides on the information frontier. Information is now free, pre-interpreted and easily accessible. Lawyers can no longer charge for opening the doors to the secrets of the law itself.