What’s the Difference between an Immigration Consultant or Lawyer
When searching online for the difference between immigration lawyers and immigration consultants, you’ll find various opinions. It’s no surprise that when an opinion is written by a lawyer, it favours lawyers over consultants. When written by a consultant, it favours consultants. It’s a given one promotes its own profession over another, especially when they are in competition for business.
When I am asked this question, I am always happy to answer it. Given our firm is a combination of lawyers and consultants, my answer is somewhere in between. Yes, there is a slight difference of what services they can offer. However, for most immigration cases, the critical question is not what profession is better, but what individual is the most professional, trustworthy and has the relevant experience and knowledge for your case.
Here are the two main differences between the lawyer and consultant profession:
- Services: When it comes to practicing immigration law, lawyer and consultants can offer most of the same services. Lawyers however can represent a client in federal court for complicated cases, whereas a consultant can only go up to the appeal tribunal level when there is an issue with an application.
- Education: Lawyers graduate from law school, having studied various areas of law over a three year period, plus articling with a firm and writing the bar exam. They typically specialize in two or three areas once they graduate. In contrast, consultants do a 6 to 12 month course specifically on immigration law, and write a national exam. Both programs have a prerequisite of university.
For complicated cases, it’s crucial the applicant has a lawyer or consultant who can provide proper representation. When it is possible the application could go to the federal court, having a lawyer from the beginning of the process (at submission) may be a wise idea. Keep in mind that while consultants cannot go to the federal court, not all lawyers are interested handling these type of cases either.
Furthermore, education is only part of the equation to being a qualified lawyer or consultant. Experience and ability to interpret and apply the law are extremely important. To say all lawyers or all consultants are more experienced than the other is false. Both lawyers and consultants must start somewhere when they enter their profession. They equally find their own niches as well. One lawyer may be an expert at family sponsorships, whereas a consultant may be more experienced with temporary foreign workers. There are over 60 immigration programs. It’s hard for any professional to be an expert in all.
Regarding fees, both consultant and lawyer fees can range among their own peers and between professions. It is true that often immigration consultants charge less for some cases than a lawyer would, but not always. We’ve seen both lawyers and consultants fees range between $8,000 – $10,000 at one firm, and $3,000 to $5,000 at another, for the same service. Our recommendation is to do your research. Get a sense of what the market rate is.
At the end of the day, it’s your future in Canada. Choose a professional, whether it is a lawyer or consultant, that you feel is right for you. Ask about their experience. Meet them in person or on skype when possible. Read client reviews and testimonials. Know their fees. You want someone who is professional, experienced and trustworthy. Remember, you could have a great or bad experience with either an immigration lawyer or consultant.
At Bell Alliance, we have a combination of lawyers and consultants. Our lawyers are experts in Real Estate, Estate Planning and Corporate Law. While they are sometimes involved in an immigration case, its our regulated immigration consultants who work intimately with our clients on immigration matters. Our lawyers and consultants collaborate with and support each other, which in turn gives our clients confidence that all their legal matters can be taken care of under one roof. As a team, we offer clients a one-stop shop for their individual, family and business needs – immigrating to Canada, buying their first home, re-doing their wills or setting up or expanding a business.
Author: Heather Bell