Immigration Solo Practice and Software Challenges
I am an immigration lawyer who has solved visa issues for clients for more than 30 years. This January as it is the start of a new and hopefully much better year worldwide, I would like to share some of my views and experiences in the field of technology and law in an effort to assist other lawyers or human resource professionals who might be and looking for solutions in the field of global immigration law or transitioning from office to remote and paperless offices.
I have seen the practice of immigration law in Miami and other cities and at the same time legal technology and software options evolve dramatically over the years. When I began working for an immigration firm in Miami in the late 80’s, believe it or not, as associates, secretaries were assigned to us, but we did not even use computers at that time! Shared secretaries would prepare immigration forms using typewriters. Often the secretaries would be tasked with countless time-consuming corrections. Once completed, we would ask them to call the clients to come into the office and review and sign the forms personally. Finally, when the forms and casework were completed, I and other young and eager associates met in attorneys Larry Rifkin’s and Michael Shane’s offices. They gave us appointments to file our cases in person that week or the following on behalf of our clients at the Miami District office at 7880 Biscayne Blvd. We relied then more on individuals than on technology. Now, clients can enter their information easily in our firm portal, reducing errors and saving time and personnel costs, and many processes can be automated.
As Miami immigration attorneys in the 80’s and 90’s we constantly traveled in pairs to the centralized immigration office with enormous files to meet personally with government adjudicating officers who would render decisions on our clients’ cases on the spot! We waited in long lines circling the building just like the general public was forced to do until the building was finally condemned and immigration was decentralized into 5 locations with free parking.
In person filings included family and business petitions, included famous actors and models, employment-based investors, intra-company transfers and family and business-based residence cases. A denial would usually mean we would have to return the following week with additional information and resubmit an application. Following the interview, we would rush back to the office with the approval notices in hand to happily submit to our clients for payment. Personal relationships with other attorneys and immigration officers were nurtured and encouraged.
The decentralization of immigration and its shift to remote, paper-based filings for all operations created challenges in modernizing information technology across the board, especially with the government itself (https://trac.syr.edu/immigration/library/P460.pdf). Software companies emerged to serve the market. For example, in 1998, according to its website, Tracker Corp was used by approximately 75% of top-rated immigration law firms and many Fortune 1000 companies, hospitals and universities and was at the time a desk-top based product. There were others available and some attorneys created their own proprietary software. I started using a desk-top version of Tracker and began training.
It was essential then to have an in-house tech, such as Scott Booth of South Computers, manually update the ever-changing immigration forms provided by Tracker and back up the systems on site and off site monthly at a minimum. Then, about 10 years later, the company began providing cloud-based services with automated program and forms updates, so theoretically we no longer needed to use our tech for this type of maintenance. Now, my former tech has retired, I have a new tech who doesn’t really understand immigration forms and software like my old tech did after years of service, and the company has been acquired by Mitratech, a large company with more than 30 years in the market, which does not mention even tracker on its portal https://success.mitratech.com/.
I will continue to evaluate and research competitors. I have personally tested Clio, Practie Panther, Law Logix, INS Zoom, Docketwise and Cerenade, among others, concluded it is best to remain with my current immigration forms provider add another case management and billing program, as the perfect solution may not yet exist. My immediate concerns though involve wondering whether the company will remain responsive and continue to emphasize excellent tech support as it has in the past with Lina Ordonez and Ben Gigli and whether it will ever end integrate successfully with a billing program such as QuickBooks or something even more tailored. I must conclude that the main reason I have remained loyal to this provider is that the customer support has been excellent over the years and has exceeded my expectations.