There are no free consultations at Trinidad Law Office, LLC. The purpose of any free consultation, in the opinion of Ms. Trinidad, is to give the prospective client the illusion that he or she can get something without having to pay for it. “Free consultations” really do not exist because there is always an invisible price tag. Either that attorney will not spend enough time with you at the free consultation to be able to understand your case in sufficient detail, or else that attorney will recoup the missed fee from you elsewhere.
The time spent in consultation will generally be charged at Ms. Trinidad’s regular hourly fee ($200/hour). In order to make the consultation meaningful and productive for both the client and the attorney, Trinidad Law Office, LLC has developed a process by which initial screening and certain investigative steps are taken BEFORE the client and Elizabeth M. Trinidad ever sit down together for the actual attorney consultation. There are flat fees for every step of certain background investigations that are conducted up front.
Why does Trinidad Law Office, LLC perform some background investigation(s) up front? Many prospective clients would prefer to just have a consultation without doing the investigation. But seeing a lawyer is kind of like seeing a doctor! You may have some pain and you may feel you already what the diagnosis should be. You just want the doctor to confirm your own diagnosis and just write you the prescription that you want… But good doctors will not just talk to you but send you for blood work, take your blood pressure, collect a urine sample, send you for a CT scan, etc. Only after such tests have been run and “invisible” data has been collected will the doctor sit down to give you an actual diagnosis or explain why your tests are inconclusive. Doctors do not promise that medical tests will come out a certain way. Similarly, good immigration lawyers cannot promise that the results of a background investigation will help the client. When I meet with my clients, I want to take into account all of the “data points” that the immigration decision-makers (USCIS, ICE, CBP, Immigration Judges, etc.) will be looking at in connection with a prospective client. VERY IMPORTANT:
As an attorney, I believe in telling you what you need to know — not just opening my mouth to say whatever it is you would like to hear.
A lawyer cannot give you good advice without good and objective information. Therefore, is not a good use of your money (or my time) for us to sit down together and have a consultation before a background investigation that reveals your history to date has been completed. Only then is advice well-founded and meaningful.
Do not get me wrong: of course it is wonderful for me to sit down with my prospective clients, get to know them, take an oral history from them, as well as look at whatever paperwork they may already have in their possession. On the other hand, this is not exactly the most effective way to learn all that I need to know about your case! I cannot give good legal advice based only on what a client is telling me, no matter how well-informed the client. Why not? Because the government does not make decisions based only on what we tell them! Instead, they look first at databases and all public records that are “out there” for them to review. Okay, so let’s now talk about the preliminary steps before our consultation:
- Initial Screening:
- When a prospective client contacts the office, this gets the ball rolling. Trinidad Law Office, LLC will spend time collecting initial basic information as well as obtaining initial basic documents from you. At that step, the prospective client will generally be speaking with Ms. Trinidad’s legal assistants, not with the attorney herself. My legal assistants work under my direct attorney supervision but I will gladly come out to briefly meet and greet you. Copies will be made of certain documents; we do not keep originals! There is a flat fee for the initial screening, making copies of initial documents, and opening a file. Opening a file does not mean that your case has been accepted by me. It does not even mean that you have a case. What it does mean is that I am willing to work with you to see what your general situation is and what factors need to be looked into. (We can’t spend time for free on this.)
- FBI Fingerprinting:
- Twice a month, by appointment only, we will fingerprint prospective clients. We charge separate flat fee for this. Why? Because time and resources are involved. We utilize the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain information from the FBI about what information, if any is contained in the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) as as well as in certain state police databases, about the client’s fingerprints. We do not provide the client’s address, but rather, we use our own office address so as to make the FOIA request. Most immigration arrests are contained on the FBI rap sheet, as well as certain types of criminal arrests. Immigration authorities always run a client’s fingerprints. They make decisions on what is reflected on the FBI rap sheet, among other information. Accordingly, you cannot receive sound legal advice without your lawyer first looking at the same thing that the government will be looking at when taking action in favor of, or against, a client. Think about it: immigration officials do not make any decisions based only on what the immigrant tells them – they consult their sources first, all types of internal databases and public records.
When you need legal advice and want to know if something can or cannot be done, just “talking to a lawyer” can never be enough. It is never enough to go see a lawyer and plead your case to that lawyer. Unless you happen to be an immigration lawyer yourself, you –as the client– can never given me an adequate description of what is going on with your case. Anything you tell me must be looked at and evaluated conjunction with objective evidence. Objective evidence are different types of records that the government looks at, whether the contents of a given record are correct or not. (Records are sometimes wrong and may need to be corrected; this is another good reason to conduct a background investigation up front!)
- OBIM FOIA Request:
- This is similar to the FBI fingerprint process, except your fingerprints get sent somewhere else. OBIM stands for Office of Biometric Information Management. OBIM records can similarly be requested under the Freedom of Information Act, just like your FBI rap sheet – hence the term “OBIM FOIA.” If I feel it is needed for your case, Trinidad Law Office, LLC will fingerprint you on a separate fingerprint card so we can request copies of photographs and border patrol encounter information that the Government obtained when you traveled internationally, or when you got apprehended at the border, or when you appeared for a USCIS biometrics appointment. Again, we do charge a flat fee for this because it involves work on our end, but this investigative step is also well worthwhile because this is another set of records the government may use in making future decisions about your case.
- FOIA Of The Alien File(s):
- If the prospective client has had an alien file (“A File”) created by the U.S. government –some clients even have multiple A files– then Trinidad Law Office, LLC will also make requests for the prospective clients to obtain a copy of the A File. This type of FOIA request can also only be done with the signed consent of the prospective client.
- Release Authorizations:
- Prospective clients, even those who merely wish to have a second opinion, will be asked to sign a release authorization so that their current or prior lawyer can talk to Ms. Trinidad. Before I take a case and/or before I provide a second opinion, it is important and interesting for me to find out what the other attorney has done so far, as well as to get a frank opinion from that other attorney. Clients should not be fearful of retaliation – any client is free to seek a second opinion (including the clients of Ms. Trinidad!). Preferably, this is done “out in the open” in a spirit of mutual communication and understanding.
- Court Dispositions & Police Reports:
- It will generally be necessary for me to have court certified dispositions for traffic and criminal matters to account for your past encounters with law enforcement. My experience shows that clients are generally unable to remember what happened where and when. It is also really hard for most of my clients to accomplish the task of gathering the correct types of court documents and police records on their own. Trinidad Law Office, LLC charges some money –-flat fees, usually– in order for my office to contact courts and/or police departments to obtain what will be needed for me to fully evaluate the prospective client’s immigration case. In this day and age, virtually nothing can get swept under a rug.
- Final Thoughts On The Background Investigation:
- Please bear in mind: flat fees charged for the different types of background investigation, even though they can easily add up, are not designed to “squeeze money” from prospective clients. Instead, gathering documentation is work – and Trinidad Law Office, LLC charges for work. That said, the information that is obtained will be useful for for the client regardless of whether or not the client hires Trinidad Law Office, LLC – and regardless of whether the client has a case. Indeed, it is often impossible to determine whether a prospective client has a case or not unless all requisite documentation has been obtained!
- Why I Love The Work I Do:
- Even after nearly two decades, I still love my job! I’ve met many truly amazing people & I enjoy the gift of meeting new people every day. Over the years, I have learned endlessly from my clients and their struggles. I greatly admire most of my clients and I strive to meet every client at eye level. As a lawyer, I do tell like it is. I don’t sugarcoat things too much and I greatly dislike giving people false hope. And yes, sometimes I do scold a little. But I always care. Working as an immigration attorney is a job that I have never gotten tired of although it can be very challenging. There are deadlines to meet and I represent people in difficult situations and it’s my daily duty to “do battle with the government” — I fight nicely, but firmly, to try and get them to see things my way. What can I say, I like a challenge! I love interacting with my immigrant clients and feel extremely satisfied when I am able to help them. I look forward to meeting you. THANKS! ~ Elizabeth Trinidad