The California State Legislature is about to pass a bill to protect its residents from immigration fraud. The bill, which if passed will take effect on January 1, 2014, is also supported by the State Bar of California. While a bill to protect people against immigration fraud is always laudable, California’s Immigration Reform Act, AB 1159, will not meet this objective. Indeed, many of its provisions are so onerous, and interfere so radically with the attorney-client relationship, that it will likely drive away good and ethical attorneys from representing clients in California leaving it to unscrupulous unauthorized and unregulated practitioners to prey upon them.
A “flat fee” is a stated amount for the representation contemplated, to be paid regardless of the actual hours that are ultimately required. The agreement might provide for an additional fee if the representation extends to an additional phase (e.g., the case goes to trial or there is an appeal). The flat fee reflects a sharing of risks between lawyer and client and generally provides the client with the security or comfort of a known cost for a particular service.
Update – Improved Markup of AB 1159
Since the blog was posted, AILA InfoNet posted an amended version of the bill, which substantially improves some of the provisions. For instance, pro bono attorneys will no longer be subject to the provisions of the bill. The immigration reform related services provision is limited to preparing applications for undocumented immigrants who will be able to apply under legalization provisions of BSEOIMA or future versions of this law. A certified legal specialist in California who maintains a professional liability policy of $100,000 per occurrence and a general aggregate limit of $350,000 is also exempt. Most important, a non-exempt attorney may maintain a professional liability policy in an amount of not less than $100,000 per occurrence and a general aggregate limit of $350,000 or a bond of $100,000. Hence, a bond of $100,000 is not required if the attorney has the requisite professional liability insurance. It appears that AILA’s advocacy efforts have born fruit, but the bill still needs to be further improved before the immigration bar can support it. Notwithstanding these modest improvements, AILA leader Annaluisa Padilla, who is spearheading this effort in California, asks these pertinent questions: “Is further state regulation of immigration attorneys specifically acceptable to us? In the sense that in addition to to already existing requirements, is further regulation needed in this particular area of the law? Will these regulations actually prevent fraud on immigrants? If so, are not immigrants likely to be defrauded in other areas of the law?”