THE VIRTUAL IMMIGRATION LAWYER: A New Approach to Immigration Lawyering

By Dahlia Radcliffe-Castillo

I am barred in New Mexico and represent clients in places like Kuwait and Ghana while physically living in Texas. How do I do this?

All through a virtual immigration law office. What's that? A Virtual Immigration Law Office (VILO) is an online law office that operates from the lawyer's home, or satellite office, by providing a secure environment to clients 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  

For lawyers, this means that no physical office is required, allowing attorneys to maximize profit while offering flexibility and having the option to work from home, Starbucks, or anywhere else. For clients, VILOs provide an incredibly convenient way to take care of legal needs online while working without compromising the quality of the legal representation.

The Path To My VILO

VILO came to life as a result of my role as an Amy wife. Military spouses face significant professional challenges due to the military orders that cause their families to relocate, on an average, every two to three years. Bar admission in each new state can take many months and be quite costly. By the time a military spouse is re-licensed and finds work, they are already preparing to move to their next duty station, making it nearly impossible to maintain a continuous career path. 

In addition to being a military spouse, I am also a mother of two young boys, which makes it difficult to work outside the home. After several military moves, I started to rethink the utility of a traditional law practice. Hence, my VILO was born. Since immigration law is federal, I can represent clients no matter where they live. 

VILO is not a document service that just provides pre-printed forms. I perform much of the same tasks of Traditional Immigration Law Office (TILO). I prepare all my clients for their USCIS interviews and consular interviews via Skype. I even attend the USCIS interviews with my clients if they need me or contract other attorneys if the clients are not in my local area. VILOs work best with family-based and business/employment-based immigration. In my opinion, I do not think that a VILO would work at all with removal or humanitarian immigration matters.

The Technology

Document Exchange. The majority of my document exchange is through eIMMIGRATION, a practice management system specifically for immigration law. It allows my client and I to store and access documents in a secure location. My clients love it because it is user friendly. When I need supporting documents, clients can log in to their account and upload the documents. I can also send client documents to review in the draft. 

Client Communication. I use Skype, Google Hangouts, or Face Time for video conferencing consultation. Most people prefer this since it is the closest thing to face-to-face communication. They get to see the attorney and I only have to look nice from the waist up. I also use RingCentral, which forwards the calls to my cell phone.
  
Legal Fees. I use LawPay since clients can pay into my IOLTA or my operating account online or via the telephone. 

The Benefits

There are a lot of positives to having a VILO. It gives me work life balance. It is portable. I am able to spend time with my family. If I want to take off for a few days with my kids to SeaWorld, I am able to do that. I get to see a lot of have low overhead cost. 

The Potential Downside

VILO is not for everyone. It can be hard to convince a PC that you are “real attorney” and not a Notario trying to take their money. Like a TILO, it helps when you have a website with reviews from other people who have used your services to get you over these hurdles. Not everyone is technologically savvy. Some people prefer a TILO where they can see their attorney in person. In these types of situation, I will do an initial meeting, after I am retained, the client will be sent their log-in credential to use the portal. 

In Summary

I love that I am doing what I love: a career, my kids and my hubby.  In my opinion, this is work-life balance. 

About the Author
Dahlia Radcliffe-Castillo is an immigration lawyer, mother of two boys, a military spouse. She is the owner and founder of Dahlia R Castillo Law Firm, a Virtual Immigration Law Office. In addition to practicing law, Dahlia assists other solo attorneys, small firms, and legal organizations looking to outsource legal research and writing on a project basis.