What is Your Success Rate? Why this isn't the question to ask when searching for an immigration lawyer

June 2018

I’m often asked by prospective clients what my ‘success rate’ is for a particular type of application. I presume that unless it is close to 100%, they are not interested in hiring me.

However, I don’t think this is the right question to ask. If my success rate was 100%, that would mean I never took on files that had the potential to be rejected.  What kind of advocate would I be if I was unwilling to take on the hard cases?

Take humanitarian and compassionate applications. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada grants first stage approval of these applications at a rate of 56%.  Decision making is highly discretionary. An application one officer might approve could be rejected by another. 

Refugee claims would be another example. The success rate for claims from Nigerians was 61.9% for ‘legacy claims’ and 49.5% for ‘new system claims’ in 2017.  I did an audit of my own cases and found my success rate for Nigerian claims is 50%.  Does not winning every case mean I’m not a good lawyer, even though my success rate matches the overall rates?  Also consider that I may have been unlucky to be before a decision maker with a notoriously low acceptance rate.  The study cited above notes:

In 2017, some Refugee Protection Division (RPD) decision-makers granted refugee status in most of the cases they heard, including J. Bousfield (97.9%), L. Cole (95.2) and R. Kotovych (94.3%). Others granted refugee protection much less frequently, including C. Wittenberg (19.2%), T. Maziarz (21.4%) and B. Lloyd (22.0%).

Don’t even get me started with Express Entry applications, where technical issues continue to wreak havoc. I had a client’s application rejected because of failure to provide his university diploma.  We had provided his diploma; the upload link for his educational documentation simply vanished after the application was submitted.  I filed a Case Specific Inquiry requesting a review of his application.  When that was denied, I escalated the matter further to Case Review.  Since my complaints were falling on deaf ears, we simply submitted a new application.  He and his family recently arrived in Canada.  I did all the additional work at no extra charge to the client.  But I can’t boast of a 100% success rate for Express Entry. 

So, if not basing your decision on success rate, how should you choose your immigration lawyer?

First of all, you need to know whether you are hiring a lawyer, a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant, or an unregistered ‘ghost’ consultant.  Hiring the latter could see you barred from Canada for 5 years.   Both registered consultants and Canadian lawyers are permitted to provide immigration law advice.  Consultants have six months of training.  On the other hand, lawyers have a minimum of five years of university training, are required to complete extensive licensing exams, and article for nine months with a senior practitioner before being permitted to practice.  I know both good consultants and bad lawyers.  However, training does make a difference.

When hiring a lawyer, consider their areas of practice. Immigration law is constantly being updated.  It would be very challenging for a lawyer practicing family law, real estate law, criminal law and civil litigation to stay on top of recent developments in immigration law.  Rather than asking about the lawyer’s success rate, better questions to ask are what percentage of their practice consists of immigration law, and what are the number of applications like yours they have submitted recently.

Ask who will do the work on your matter. Will a lawyer oversee the work which will be done primarily by a paralegal or law clerk?  Firms who practice in this manner may be able to offer you a reduced rate.  But you will not get the personal attention that you would from a lawyer who will take full responsibility for your matter.  I recently received an inquiry from a potential client that described her experiences dealing with a large firm:

Last year, immigration services did not approve my study permit, so I am applying one more time. The previous lawyers did a really bad job with my case.  They passed my case twice to different lawyers, and the person who was in communication with me was the assistant and not the lawyer.

Our office does have a (totally wonderful) legal administrative assistant. Her contact with clients is restricted to billing issues, and occasionally some data entry questions.  All legal work done in our firm is done by lawyers.

Run away from any individual who guarantees you your application will be successful. Decisions are made by IRCC, not your representative.  Anyone guaranteeing you success is just after your money.

Free assessments are not a legal consultation. You may have enough Express Entry points, but your DUI is going to prevent you from immigrating unless your criminal inadmissibility is dealt with.  Representatives offering free consultations are really just trying to sell you their services.  We find that many clients are comfortable completing the application on their own after getting some preliminary advice in a consultation appointment.  It is money well spent.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone in my office after things had gone badly.  If they’d had legal advice from the beginning to steer them on the right path, they might not have had their application denied, or worse, had a family member permanently excluded from being eligible for sponsorship. 

When you hire a lawyer, you are not just ‘buying the time’ they spend on your matter. They have developed their expertise by going to legal conferences, reading about legislative and policy developments, consulting with colleagues on difficult matters, and learning to use new technologies to better manage client communication and documents.  Ask whether your lawyer belongs to a professional association such as the Canadian Bar Association.  Find out when they last attended a legal conference specifically devoted to immigration law.  Enquire about whether they have published any papers or been consulted by the media.

As for our firm, we’d be happy to answer your questions as you make your decision. Now you know which questions will be more helpful over others. Whether it’s for a consultation or for representation for your immigration application, we appreciate that hiring representation is a major investment which requires careful thought. Looking forward to hearing from you!