A Paralegal’s Perspective on U.S. Immigration
In many immigration law offices across the country, you’ll find stacks of client files on bookshelves, desks and even the floor. Ms. Kerri Smith, an Immigration Paralegal at the Law Offices of Brelje and Associates P.C., on the other hand, has a surprisingly clean desk and office. You’ll find only two large case client files though it’s not a true representation of her actual caseload. Rather, Ms. Smith has harnessed the art of making client data digitally available at her fingertips, whenever (and wherever) she needs it.
A NEAR PAPERLESS CASE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
Ms. Smith manages most of her clients’ correspondence electronically, which has cut back a significant amount of paper use in the office. Rather than printing and reprinting client documents, or taking time finding physical files in the office, Ms. Smith pulls up the data using an electronic immigration case management system all at her desk. When clients call, she is able to pull up the data quickly and provide clients with immediate answers.
TIPS FOR PREPARING FOR A SUCCESSFUL H-1B SEASON
For law offices that prepare H-1B petitions, having a protocol in place before “H-1B season” opens in April is essential. If the economy is strong, all of the visas could be used up in a day or two. Delays in filing H-1B petitions could therefore render your employer-clients out of luck! After experiencing a number of H-1B seasons, Ms. Smith practices the following:
1) Always Be Proactive: I contact our clients in early January to find out what their anticipated needs will be for H-1B petitions that year. Working in a boutique immigration law firm, we don’t process thousands of H-1B cases but the vast amounts of our larger employer clients still have a sizable number of H-1B petitions. By finding out in advance, the same time each year what their hiring needs may be, I can adjust my future workload and make sure the office has the appropriate resources to manage the H-1B caseload.
2) Adjusting Workload: After I receive an accurate count of potential H-1Bs I may need to prepare, I review my existing non-H-1B caseload to figure out what I can complete in advance and where I can shift my cases. This analysis helps me to manage my workload more efficiently on a daily basis so that all cases receive the right amount of attention.
ONBOARDING NEW CLIENTS
When it comes to liaising with new clients who are unfamiliar with immigration processes, Ms. Smith provides a flowchart to help clients visualize the steps involved in a particular process. Knowing how much work is involved in each step provides clients with a clear understanding of the value they are getting from Brelje and Associates. Additionally, the ease of saving flowcharts electronically in an immigration case management software program makes this extra step simple to follow.
INTERFACING WITH FOREIGN NATIONALS
Having worked at the Law Offices of Brelje and Associates P.C. for well over seven years now, Ms. Smith has accompanied many foreign national clients through the greencard process and now the naturalization process. They’ve shared with her difficult times of being interrogated at entry points by Customs Officers and also the joys of becoming U.S. citizens. Many times, when she calls them to follow up on the naturalization process, they’re surprised that she’s still working at the same firm! Yet, she tells me, “I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else!” Thank you Ms. Smith for sharing your experience and tips with our readers! I hope our readers will write in and send me their stories too!