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Why Every Business Immigration Attorney Wants a Piece of the Start-Up Pie

For many immigration business practitioners, representing start-ups can be a very lucrative business strategy, potentially propelling your law practice into a higher profile firm if/when the start-up ramps up and begins growing at a fast pace. Earlier this year, Business Insider featured an article about the top 25 hottest locations for start-up companies. According to the article, eight of the top 25 cities were located in the U.S., ranked below.

1. Silicon Valley (San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Jose, Oakland),

2. New York City (NYC, Brooklyn),

6. Los Angeles,

13. Seattle,

15. Chicago,

18. Boston,

19. Austin, and

24. Washington D.C.

Location Location Location?

Does your practice have to be located where the start-ups are located? The old real estate adage “location, location, location” may not necessarily apply in the field of immigration law practice. Critical aspects for most start-up founders and companies who seek immigration counsel are 1) substantive legal knowledge and the ability to provide a range of options, 2) level of responsiveness, and 3) legal costs (though not always in that order). In the age of the internet, Skype, WebEx and other technologies that facilitate lightning speed face-to-face communications, you may only be limited by your level of expertise. This is precisely where the adoption of animmigration case management software may give you an edge over other law practices. By adopting technologies that reflect the innovation of today’s start-ups, and effectively optimizing that technology, you can more closely align your values to your clients’ values.

Most Commonly Asked Start-Up Questions?

In the Bay Area (California), the start-up pulse is palpable. Every corner you turn is a start-up founder or wannabe, incubators and investors. This excitement no doubt has spilled onto the internet. Many start-up founders/companies have similar questions when it comes to immigration issues:

A) How can a start-up founder establish the company in the U.S. while on another (work-authorized) non-immigrant visa?

B) How can a start-up overcome “Ability to Pay” issues?

C) How will a start-up founders’ criminal background affect future immigration issues?

D) How can a start-up founder obtain a greencard in the future and how long would it take?

E) How much money is needed to qualify as a “substantial” amount for a treaty investment visa?

F) What is Congress doing about the Start-Up Visa Act? Will it ever get passed?

These questions are not so far out. They require practitioners to research H, L, E-2, E-3, TN, PERM in more detail with a slant towards the start-up’s perspective. Most importantly, practitioners who are actively catering to start-up communities should definitely be monitoring congressional advancements related to the Start-Up Visa Act in order to deliver timely news updates to clients.

Meeting Founders and Providing a Value

Do you have to hang out where the entrepreneurs hang out? If hobnobbing with 20-something start-up founders is not your cup of tea, there are certainly other ways of getting your practice’s name “out there.” Advocacy on your clients’ behalf can help market your law practice as a start-up-friendly law practice and provide exposure for your firm. Posting on an opinion-editorial on a popular blog post (like Case Management Guru) and other news or websites are other ways to gain exposure. Providing original, educational content via webinars or articles can also be an important medium to showcase your expertise and your openness to helping start-ups. I stress “original” because there is so much readily available content on the internet. It’s important for practitioners to devise content that reflects their personal signature, tone and style. While the internet may be an amalgam of wild-west approaches, friendly “borrowing” of others content without appropriate attribution can land practitioners in copyright-hot-water, not to mention a loss of credibility.

Another way to demonstrate legal expertise is to provide “generic” answers to legal questions in private forums. If performed correctly, it can lend additional credibility, though there is significant danger that it may inadvertently be considered dispensing legal advice and creating a de facto attorney-client relationship. The best approach is to check with the applicable state bar association for guidance on this matter. [Stay tuned as I will follow up with a more detailed article on this specific issue.]

Leveraging Referrals

Once you begin accruing start-up clients, it’s important to continue to grow that aspect of your practice by encouraging referrals. In any practice, word-of-mouth referrals can become a strong source of new clients because the relationship is prefaced on a level of trust and credibility already established by the referring party.

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In November, we commonly pause to give thanks but it’s never too late to review other opportunities for expanding your practice. Have you recently targeted a new demographic for your practice? What tactics have worked for you and what tactics have not? We’d love to hear from you. Please send us your comments.