Developing a Virtual Immigration Practice: Electronic Enrollments, Document Automation and Unbundled Immigration Services

April 8th, 2017

I’m really excited to get this interview out into the podcast ether for all of you to listen to today, because this really became essentially a crash course on unbundled legal services for immigration attorneys, the different types of options that I think many immigration attorneys have never even considered offering in their option, and we break them down step by step with one of our provider attorneys out of Orlando, Vaneskha Wilson, who is offering a suite of unbundled services, pay as you go full representation on immigration cases, as well as the fact that she has run her practice as a virtual office basically since she started her practice in January.

She’s only recently opened up a brick-and-mortar office in Orlando, but up until recently, she was doing everything virtually, meaning that she was only doing everything either over the phone, or she would meet clients in a virtual office but didn’t actually have her own brick-and-mortar office, so she talks about how she does everything electronically, leverages document automation software to streamline the preparation of documents, and so … Gosh, I mean, there’s just so much in this episode that I think any immigration attorney that’s currently practicing can immediately apply in their practice to start speeding up the process and offer a lot more options to their clients that they otherwise may not have ever considered offering, so let’s get right into it.

One thing I will mention here is that Vaneskha and I, actually this is the second time we’re doing this interview, because the first time, the recording didn’t take properly, and so we lost the initial recording, so I think we did the best we could given that this was round two, and I think it came out great, so enjoy this interview with Vaneskha Wilson, one of our provider attorneys out of Orlando, Florida.

Below is the transcription of this episode from our Unbundled Attorney Mastermind Podcast. You can listen to the entire episode by clicking here.

Dave Aarons: Vaneskha. Welcome to the show.

Vaneskha Wilson: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Dave Aarons:  Yeah, I’m looking forward to diving into this conversation. We’ve talked a lot recently, and I’m really excited about everything that you’ve been able to accomplish in the South Florida region, with immigration and the processes you’ve developed, so I really appreciate you taking the time to jump on again today, and share everything that’s been working well for you.

Vaneskha Wilson: Sure. It’s definitely going to be a lot of fun talking about unbundled, because it’s gotten me a long way since I started here, so I’m excited.

Dave Aarons: Great. Okay, so maybe a good place to start is maybe if you can share just a little bit about your background, how you got your start in the practice of law, and the focus area and region that you serve.

Vaneskha Wilson: Sure. I actually started out as a public defender in Manhattan. I was working for the Legal Aid Society of New York, right out of law school, and I was there for seven years, and New York being the diverse community that it is, I had quite a few clients who were not U.S. citizens, who were facing criminal charges, and as a consequence, would face a chain reaction to their immigration status. After a Supreme Court decision in 2008, it became a requirement for criminal defense attorneys to advise their clients that weren’t U.S. citizens of the possible repercussions on their immigration status, so we had quite a bit of training on that, and in that training, I learned so much about immigration, and also being a child of immigrants, it just made me realize that that was probably the field that I wanted to dive into next, after criminal law.

When it was time for my family to move, we decided on moving to a region where we already had some family, Florida, from the New York/New Jersey region, and I knew it would be great to continue my public interest work in a new community that was also diverse and serve the immigrant population, and the best part about it was that, as I was already licensed in New York and New Jersey, I didn’t have to take another bar, so it was just, “Go ahead and practice federal law, immigration law, and not have to sit for another exam,” so that was definitely a plus for me.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, so that was your first venture into running a solo practice, was when you moved to Orlando, Florida, and this was when? What year was this?

Vaneskha Wilson: That was in 2016, January of 2016, we moved down here.

Dave Aarons:  And that’s when you opened up your own practice providing, is it solely immigration services that you focus on?

Vaneskha Wilson: That’s right. Since I didn’t take the Florida Bar, I’m not licensed here, so I don’t practice any Florida law, so I practice only immigration, and it’s my very first time doing any private practice, let alone solo. I went from seven years with a public agency to completely solo, so it was a big change for me.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, and where is your family … You mentioned you were born of a parents from another country. Where is your family originally from, and how’d they eventually come to the United States, if you don’t mind sharing?

Vaneskha Wilson: Sure. My family are from … They’re from Haiti. My mother and my father are both from Haiti, and it’s funny, because as I learn more about immigration law, I learn more about what process they took to come into the country, and how difficult it was, and how, back then, some people, including my family members, took some short cuts, but eventually got to the same status that they would have gotten had they followed the normal processes, I guess. Just looking at how different things are now, post 9/11, than they were pre-9/11, the process back then was probably just as lengthy as it is now, only they want a lot more information from you now, so it’s harder to do on your own than it was back then, and that’s why I think a lot of people need a professional, an immigration lawyer, to assist them.

Dave Aarons: Yeah. Times have continued to change, of course. It’s interesting to see how the political environment is directly affecting the immigration arena and the immigration industry, legal industry. Can you talk about how things have continued to get up … At least, a lot of uncertainty has arisen, most recently with Trump’s election and so forth, and how that’s impacted people’s overall feelings towards being uncertain about their current status and how that’s impacted the amount of people that you’ve been … People have been coming to your door to get help with securing their rights in a more reliable fashion.

Vaneskha Wilson: Right, absolutely. Just to give you some of my experience when I first started out, coming from a public interest background, I had no idea how to advertise. I was networking by going to events with other lawyers and hoping that these non-immigration attorneys would send me work that they didn’t do, immigration work, or if I went to a church or a community center and do a talk, I hoped that the people would remember my name and call me when they needed help, but I really wasn’t getting much work that way. It was a very slow start, and I didn’t know what else to do, because I never had to do anything. My work was assigned to me before, so even when I met people, people who were eligible to apply for things and would likely have a successful application, just didn’t really move forward in their cases. They’d get the information from me, and they’d say, “Okay, I’ll reach out to you when I’m ready.”

For instance, citizenship, to be eligible to apply for citizenship, one of the eligibilities is if you have had your green card for at least five years. I’ve met people who’ve had their green cards for 20 years and still haven’t applied for citizenship just because there’s no rush, but now with the change in the administration, those same people that I spoke to maybe a year ago are running and banging on my door like, “Hey, remember when you spoke to me about this? Can I do it now? I know I was in no kind of rush last time, but now I need to do it right now, because I don’t know what might change.” The uncertainty in immigration law, I think people didn’t realize that a president could just write an executive order that makes something that was legal yesterday now not available. Whether or not it will pass muster, that remains to be seen because these executive orders have seen a lot of … They’re being stayed right now by different courts.

There’s a lot of backlash, so they’re not actually going anywhere luckily for my client base, but had things not been the way they were during the campaign, it’s possible that maybe they would have gone somewhere. Maybe these executive orders would actually ban a group of people, and if it takes no warning like that, then that’s what I guess motivates people to now apply for something they know that they’re eligible for, they’ve been eligible for, and just to stop procrastinating, to get it done, become a citizen so that you’re more secure in your status here.

But even so, with this change in the administration, I think that even citizens have come to me worried about whether or not they can travel outside of the country, and will they be let back in when they’re trying to come back to the U.S., and I laugh because I’m like, “Well, you’re a citizen. Come on,” but to them, they really have no idea how the laws change, why the laws change, if the laws can change, and when they can change, so it’s definitely not funny to them, and I try to be sensitive to that, but I’m now ready and available to help the people that were once just kind of kicking tires, and now they’re ready to work, so that’s been a huge change for me. I had a lot more time on my hands probably a year ago this time.

Dave Aarons:  Yeah, it’s been really amazing to see, as a company that’s providing clients access to immigration attorneys all throughout the United States, just how much of an increase there’s been in demand for immigration services just over the past few months, and we’ve kind of been at a scramble to really re-prioritize finding attorneys in specific regions we didn’t have them available, because of the sheer demand for the amount of attorneys, clients that are coming in and wanting to secure their rights, and I’m also someone that’s from Canada. I have my citizenship here in the United States, but my own mother doesn’t have her citizenship, and we’ve had conversations.

As a permanent resident of the United States from Canada, I said, “Well, is it time for you to get your citizenship?” And we haven’t, you know … She doesn’t have that, but it’s just interesting that the question arises all of a sudden when everything that you thought was the case up to a point all of a sudden can change. It really raises a lot of questions and a lot of uncertainty, and frightens a lot of folks that are not originally from this country, so I can certainly empathize with their lack of feeling being secure, if they don’t have full complete citizenship, and even when they do right now.

Vaneskha Wilson: Yes, exactly.

Dave Aarons: Let’s dive into the way in which you’ve been serving these clients when they’re coming through and requesting help. One of the things that you’ve talked about before when we’ve talked before is the fact that you initially were offering a virtual practice, in the sense that you were working with a lot of people virtually, without even an office, and then eventually transitioned to having a brick-and-mortar office, but can you talk about some of the systems you developed when you didn’t have the initial office, and then maybe why you made the transition to having the brick-and-mortar for now?

Vaneskha Wilson: Right, and I am still doing quite a bit of virtual practice, but when it started out, once I got the lead, if it was during business hours, I’d go ahead and call the person to do a screening call. If it wasn’t during business hours, sometimes I would shoot them a text or an e-mail, depending on what I was doing and if I was able to write out a whole e-mail. I have a two-year-old, so sometimes even sitting there with my own cell phone, just trying to type something with my thumbs is just impossible. It’s not going to happen, so if it’s a quick text, then it’s a little easier for me, but before … During business hours, if I call the person and I reach them, I’ll just screen them and say, “Hey, you made this online inquiry. I received that. I’m the unbundled attorney who can assist you on that. What kind of immigration matter were you interested in talking about?”

And if we want to go that citizenship example again, then I’d screen them to see if they’re even eligible to apply for citizenship, and just basic questions, like how long have they had a green card, did they get it through marriage or some other way, and if it was through marriage, are they still with their spouse, because their requirements are different. If you’re living and married to a U.S. citizen, you can get your citizenship in three years instead of the usual five years, or if they served in the military, they can get it after one year, so things like that, just to find out what type of citizenship application they would have.

That way, I would know what my full representation fee is, but then I would talk to them about how much work they’ve already done, because some clients have filled out the entire form on their own, but they’re just not secure. They’re not ready to send it off without someone looking it over for them, or some clients, they don’t really think they need someone to attend an interview with them. They’re pretty fluent in English. They’re comfortable in that sort of one-on-one interview situation, so they don’t need an attorney to do the full representation. Maybe they just want me to fill out the paperwork for them and provide me with all the supporting documents, so based on what they’ve already done, what they want to do, what their budget is, we decide what kind of representation they’ll get, and that could be the document review, if they’ve already done it, the document preparation, if they want me to do it, or the full representation.

And every now and then, you get someone who’s already submitted their own application, and they want to know if you can just come to the interview with them, and then we’ll do that, and of course, the most tedious of all, the potential clients who aren’t sure exactly what’s going on with their case. Maybe English isn’t their first language, and someone assisted them in the application. They sent it off, and maybe they didn’t get copies of everything, or maybe they moved and now they’re not sure if the mail is coming to the new address, and they’re just not even sure what stage their application is at right now. They want me to do an investigation, so they can know, can they pick up where they left off, or do they need to start over? Did they miss something, or are they in the clear and they just need to continue waiting? So I have a separate representation, I guess, that I just call investigation or consulting.

Those are all things that I guess unbundled attorney opened. I was more of a traditional practitioner, where every representation was full representation, but once I was introduced to this system, it just made me realize I don’t have to do that. I can assist people who have already done a lot of work and don’t want to have to do it all over again. They just want me to review what they’ve done, and make corrections and suggestions, and give them advice, so that’s definitely made me more open-minded to what I do in every case. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, so what I would really like to do is unpack some of those options, and then maybe if you give a general overview, or … I know every case is a little bit different, and you’re going to be providing different levels of services, but I’d really like to unpack roughly what you might charge or within a specific range for each of these different options, so we’ve got document review. You have document preparation. You have attending the hearing, and investigation, I think, was one other one, and then you have the full representation. Can you break down roughly what you might typically charge for each of these kinds of options, and then we can also talk about the full representation maybe, if you’re doing a kind of pay-as-you-go as well there, once we’ve gone through these.

Vaneskha Wilson: Sure, I’ll stick with the citizenship example. The citizenship applicant who has already completed all the paperwork and just wants me to review it, I call that document review, and in that case, I want to see not just the form in place filled out, but also all of their supporting documentation, so I can also check it for accuracy. That I would charge the lower end of the unbundled, I guess, the suggested pricing, the $500, because almost all of the work is done for me, and I can do that, it’s almost like leisure reading for me. I’m just comparing a photocopy of their IDs to the line on the form that says, “What’s your ID number?”

I’m just checking to see if things are accurate, and just to cover my own bases, my contract includes an agreement that everything they’re sending me is legitimate. There aren’t any fraudulent documents that they’re giving me, because when you’re practicing virtually, you are taking that risk that what you’re getting isn’t what is real, so they are signing a contract to that affect, so that I can at least rely on what I have in front of me, and if it turns out that that’s not the case, then I at least did my efforts, my own investigation into what they’ve given me to make sure that it is at least something I can rely on. I’ve done my due diligence, so not only do they sign the contract, but I also check and see, you know, this is an ID from the state of New Jersey. What does that look like? I’ll check the New Jersey DMV website to see, what does a typical New Jersey ID look like, and if it does look like the real thing, then I can rely on that and their signature, so that would be the document review portion.

The document preparation would be a little higher. Now that’s going to depend on the type of case, because with the citizenship example, if the person has never been arrested, never had any owed child support or owed taxes or anything like that, that is a pretty simple representation. Full representation would be $1,000 on a case like that, so the $500 for document review is half of that, and then document preparation would be $750, so the difference is not that great. Oftentimes, they’ll just choose the full representation, because with full, they’re get the document preparation and the representation in the interview, as well as any continued correspondence with USCIS, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service. If they have any follow up questions or need additional documentation or if they find something that they don’t feel is sufficient, if they want more, I’m the one who’s doing the talking for them.

I’ll give them the option, of course, but with citizenship, that example, because it’s one of the least expensive type of applications, they’ll often choose full representation anyway, so that’s just an example of that pricing, and of course, the attending the interview only, for someone who’s already submitted their application, that would be $250 for my local central Orlando, central Florida/Orlando region. I haven’t had the opportunity to get one that’s very far away yet, but I imagine I would re-evaluate my fee depending on the travel, but I honestly don’t think that it would be worth it to the client to pay me much more than that when they could probably find a lawyer who’s closer to them that might charge the same as I do for my local clients, so right now it’s $250 just for the attending the interview.

Dave Aarons: And then when you talk more about the full representation option, obviously the various different types of things you’re doing are going to carry, and for the most part, I think, with immigration, it’s a flat … Because the process is relatively the same, the documents are the same, they’re going to vary based on the complexity of a unique issue, but you’ve developed an understanding of what each type of case takes, and so you can feel pretty comfortable quoting a flat rate almost every time, right?

Vaneskha Wilson: Exactly, and it does get easier when you’re using some sort of form software that assists you in preparing the paperwork for your client. I use one that really automates everything, so that once your client inputs information in an online questionnaire, it actually populates the form for you, and you just have to go in and make sure the forms are correctly filled out, and then all that all the information is in the right space, and you just review it, and you can have them sign off on it and prepare it for submission, so that really speeds up the process, instead of having to write the person’s name five times over five different forms, depending on the type of petition you’re submitting, so it saves a lot of time that way.

And you can also save time using other services like there are some private paralegal services that … They don’t work for any one lawyer. They just provide paralegal services to any law firm that wants to hire them to outsource that work, and they communicate directly with your clients. There’s one that I believe was … Multilingual Services, I believe? I remember it was MIS, and I just can’t remember what MIS stood for, but I worked with them … I prepared to work with them on a fiance visa, and they were really helpful, and when they communicate with your client, it’s as if they’re right here in your office, and whatever software you may use, they’ll log in to that and input the information there, so you still have it there as well, so it’s really helpful to have some sort of software and a back up plan, so that you’re not doing all of this on your own, without an office. It can be very tough to try to fill out a bunch of papers and try to meet people online only and not have anyone helping you out because it can be overwhelming.

Dave Aarons: I’d really like to unpack that step by step as far as the virtual pieces of the puzzle, and how there’s a lot of attorneys who actually might be more interested in moving more virtual as opposed to moving the direction of the brick-and-mortar, which is the transition you made, where you actually brought in a staff member and started having people come in, and you can talk maybe about why you made that transition in that direction, so but for now, what was the automation or the software program that you’re using to auto-populate the forms?

Vaneskha Wilson: The one I use is INSZoom. There’s another one called-

Dave Aarons: INS? INS?

Vaneskha Wilson: That’s right, yeah. There’s another one called eIMMIGRATIONAIR by Cerenade. That’s Cerenade with a C, and there are a few others like Immigrant Pro. I don’t remember all of them off the top of my head, but I like Zoom because it is all-inclusive. It’s got forms for your client to complete. You can e-mail them the PDFs to print out themselves and sign it and mail back to you. You can put a picture of your client on there, so you remember what they look like. You can bill them there. I send invoices to my clients from that software, but I do billings directly from my bank, so I don’t actually use their Merchant Services, but the billing program is great, especially if you have a payment plan like I do for my full representation clients, because I do offer payment plans as well.

Say I have a, like for the citizenship example, the full representation is $1,000, I’ll require half of that up front, $500 down, and then we can work out $250 a month after that if that’s easier for the client. I’m pretty flexible, because immigration’s sort of a slow process, and you tend to have longer relationships with your clients, so it does give them time to pay. I’m going to be working with them for awhile, we’ll be in touch for awhile, so I expect that they’ll pay me over that time, and if not, the software e-mails them when the bill is due, and reminds them to pay it, and until I mark it as paid, it continues to remind them, so that’s helpful that I’m not having to deal with that on my own.

And it just saves a lot of information for you, as well as you can put in court dates, reminders. With the calendar in here, you can set up pop up alerts, so something pops up on your screen reminding you that you have a task to complete. It actually breaks up each case and suggests tasks that you should complete on each case, depending on what type of case you have assigned to the person, and it also includes links to outside immigration sites, like USCIS, Department of Labor, Department of State, the individual service centers, and … Yeah, there’s a lot on INSZoom, so I’m a big fan, and it’s very affordable. I think I may have gotten a deal because I signed up with them while I was at a conference with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, but my monthly fee is only, I think, $100 for one user, so it’s really helpful. It’s definitely worth it for me.

Once I’ve spoken to a client about what kind of case they have and what kind of package they would like, I virtually would e-mail a contract using Adobe software, where they could sign it online using their finger or their mouse, or they could type it in, so it’s an electronic signature, and now they’ve signed a contract with me, and the next step would be to pay the deposit, which I would also send them, either online or I would take the information over the phone. I-

Dave Aarons: Let’s talk about that real briefly, so when you’re on that initial call, you’ve got step one which is, okay first of all, you have to figure out, do they have a path to get the immigrant status that they’re seeking, because there are some cases in which they just don’t have a path leading forward, or they have to wait for a period of time, certain qualifications you have to meet, so step one is figure out, okay can I assist you right now, or is there going to be a timeline and so forth, and then step two is, more of figuring out exactly what they’re needing help with, asking some questions, and then basically explaining to them the strategy to move forward in their case, basically the applications that need to get done, and then step three is, you describe maybe the fees or the options.

Can you talk about just from strategy to then determining the type of options you’re going to offer legally, or also for representation, and then how you figure out exactly what that deposit will be so then … Because a lot of these enrollments, you were doing right over the phone obviously, because you didn’t have a local office, so can you just talk about that initial call, how you determine … What encompasses the strategy versus the nitty gritty of getting into each piece, and then also how you determine which option they’re going to choose, and what will be the fee for that to get started, and then we can unpack the enrollment from there.

Vaneskha Wilson:  Sure. The strategy, if we go back to the citizenship example, if someone maybe … It’s February, and maybe they haven’t filed taxes in a couple of years, not that there’s anything wrong with their taxes, but they actually made a decision with their accountant to just file taxes from previous years, and just request the extension. I don’t know anything about tax law, so whatever it is that they do when you file them late and it’s okay, that’s what they do. So they agree to do that, but because of that, we won’t have the most complete application for naturalization that I’d like to send, so we’ll strategize as to the timing. “All right, you are paper eligible, but the supporting information that I know the government wants to see, you don’t have available to you yet, because you’re still working with your accountant, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get started.”

So I’ll tell them what we will start now, while we’re waiting for their tax return to be complete, and sign them up based on that, based on the fact that I can still collect proof of your status as a resident, proof of your living in the U.S. I can still collect proof of … If it’s spouse, proof that you’ve been living with and are married to a U.S. citizen, and you have been for at least the last two years and nine months. Things like that, so I do tell them that … I wouldn’t necessarily list all of the specific documents that I need from them in that phone call, but in general, I’d give them an idea of what I would need in order to send this packet, and what they can expect based on what they think they have now and what they will get in the future, how much time it will take to actually send off a complete application.

That’s a strategy to the tax example. Another example might be of someone who may have had a criminal arrest or a criminal conviction in their past. Immigration can look at pretty much everything. It’s the federal government. They do background checks, they find everything, but they only consider the last five years, so if someone has a conviction on their record, and it’s not a great one. It’s not something that they are easily going to show rehabilitation from necessarily, I would suggest that they wait the five years, and in the meantime, if they want to retain me, we can get started on everything else that we need, or we can even start on the legal arguments that I would make as to why they have rehabilitated themselves, if it’s less than five years. Things like that, so it’s really up to them if they want to get started right away, so that once the alarm goes off, five years is up or my tax returns are ready, now we’re not waiting to start at that moment. Instead, we’re just completing an already started package.

Dave Aarons: This is a really good point to highlight, because a lot of attorneys that I’ve spoken to, that we worked with in the past, if there was any missing documentation that they would need to get, whether it be a copy of their birth certificate or something that was extraneous that they are going to need to be able to complete this filing, they would say, “Okay, go ahead and get these documents together, and then once you have everything together, then give me a call and then we’ll go ahead and get started, and you can retain me at that time.” And so what I’m hearing from you is that, if they have all their documents, okay that’s fine, but right now, you’ll still continue with getting them started enrolling in the process, and then they can get that information together down the road at some point, but you’re still moving forward with getting them … moving forward and retaining them, having them come on board as a client, and then getting some of these steps moving forward in the meantime, right?

Vaneskha Wilson: Yes. I’ve learned that the hard way, that if you say, “Call me later,” then they just might not, because, at the end of the day with immigration, I’m not just competing with other immigration lawyers. I’m competing with other lawyers that don’t even practice immigration law that think that it’s pretty easy, I can do this too, I’ll try it. I’m competing with notaries. I’m competing with secretaries, and I’m competing with the person’s friend who filled out their own forms on their own, and they can help me with it, so I don’t need to hire a lawyer. If they’re speaking to me, and I sound like I know what I’m talking about, and I’m giving them instructions already on what to do next, if I strike while iron’s hot and have them hire me on the spot, or at least while we’re still in communication with each other, then there’s more of a chance that it’s going to be a continued relationship, and as of today, I haven’t lost anyone.

I lost one client, and it was only because a family member who was supposed to be doing the petitioning decided they don’t want to do it anymore, so that’s wholly unrelated to what I’d been working on with them, so even clients who have things they still need to work on getting me, they are also on board, and they’re all still paying me either through their payment plan or they’ve already paid in full, depending on what package they got. You’re competing with people who don’t have legal training that are offering much lower fees, and it’s harder when people are price-shopping, or if they meet someone who they know was successful on their own, sometimes they don’t realize that every case is different. Maybe your friend did it on their own, but your friend doesn’t have that criminal record, or your friend paid all of their taxes on time every year, so maybe yours won’t be just like your friend’s, even if your friend helps you, so that’s why I like to get in as early as possible instead of just doing the come back to me later game.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, it’s pretty shocking that in the immigration arena, you can have, you’ve mentioned to me before that anyone can pretty much enter an appearance and represent someone as long as they’ve registered with the court, with the immigration hearing in court, and then you’ve got these notaries, people doing documents. It’s certainly absolutely in their best interest to hire an attorney, but you still have these companies out there throwing out these low price points, $300 to draft this or this and that.

And so that is the reality of what it is that attorneys nowadays have to complete with, whether it’s in that client’s best interest or not, which ultimately it’s 99% of the time, you’re going to want to have a lawyer representing you to handle these types of issues, because there are an untold numbers of complications that can come up, but the reality is, you still have to get people moving forward in the process, because the competition is fierce, and you have these types of other organizations out there that are undercutting attorneys that are providing these services to these clients, and it’s even more of a reason to be offering the types of options that you’re offering, to be more competitive so that folks that are looking for a lower price point have the option available to them to be able to move forward in the process without necessarily having to pay a huge amount of money up front.

Vaneskha Wilson: Yeah, I’ve found that they’re very interested in the fact that they’re meeting someone, a lawyer, who’s so flexible. They’re like, “Oh wow. Someone else wanted to charge me about the same, but they wanted all of it up front.” Or I actually had one prospective … well, client now told me that their previous attorney that they retained didn’t inform them until some time had passed, and they were wondering what’s the hold up, that they don’t actually start the case until the full payment is made, even though they did offer a payment plan, they don’t start any work until the entire bill has been paid.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, exactly. So how do you, when you’re talking to the client, how do you determine what is the best approach given that you have document review, doc prep, all these different unbundled options, and then you have the pay-as-you-go full representation. The fact that you’re offering a flexible pay-as-you-go, I’d assume the majority of clients go through that approach, and I think that’s the most common option that most of our immigration attorneys offers because you have so much time to be able to get these things done, they can give the client the ability to pay things one phase at a time, and then break things up in that manner, so can you talk about how you figure out with the client, whether it be by asking questions or laying out the various different options and then letting them choose, how to figure out how to proceed with and which options to utilize to do that?

Vaneskha Wilson: Every conversation is different, but I’ve actually found that … You can probably tell I’m a talker. I can really go on and on, but I’ve found that I start with full representation, and sometimes I stop there, because the client is ready to move forward based on the rest of our conversation, but other times, I let the client tell me, “Well, I don’t know if that’s in my budget right now. Could you offer me something different?”

At this point, they’ve probably already read up on Unbundled Attorneys website what unbundling means, and what types of options they could have based on their budget and based on their ability to take part in some of the work, so now they’re asking me, “Well, what if I were to fill out the paperwork myself? How much would it be then?” That sort of question might come up, and I’m like, “Well, exactly. Yeah. That is an unbundled service that I do offer, and in that case, then this would be my fee, and this would be the service that you would get for that fee.” And then, there would be a clear separation of service at the end of that, just so … That’s another thing that lawyers would definitely want to be aware of. You do want to make it clear to your client when your service starts and when it ends when you unbundle them because they might think that, “I have a lawyer on my case. This is my lawyer.” And now anything that comes up, they’re calling you when they’ve only agreed for you to complete the document review.

In that case, you’re not their lawyer. You are their document reviewer. You’d kind of just a proofreader and providing some legal advice, which is about the equivalent of a consultation. I’m just a more personalized one. It’s not just general law, now it’s, “Here’s what law applies to your case,” but other than that, you do not represent them, and you do want to make that clear to them, that that is what they’re agreeing to when they pick that option.

So yeah, I definitely let the client lead the way in that conversation because I find that I don’t want to sound pushy. I think I’ve felt … I kind of heard myself sounding a little pushy in the beginning, when I first started doing this, where I would say, “Well, this is my fee, but if you don’t want to do that, well how about this fee? Okay, well how about this fee?” Instead of just, I would just say, “This is my full representation,” and then the next … It would just follow organically. They would just ask, “Well, what other options do I have if I were to already have some paperwork completed or if I don’t need you to come to the interview with me?”

Dave Aarons: Right, so basically you’ll share with them, “Okay, well this is my rate to handle this entire issue,” and then essentially at that point, you start listening essentially for price objections where it’s like, “Oh well, I can’t really afford that right now,” or “Okay, I really need to think about it.” Then you might have to ask the question, “Well, yeah. Do you just not have the ability to pay that all up front right now, because if not then I can give you some other options to do so?” You give them the price of what it’s going to charge, which a lot of, I think, from feedback and conversations I’ve had with attorneys that work with an immigrant population, they tend to want to know, “Okay, what’s the price? Tell me how much this is going to cost.” Even more so than other areas of law, and so you’re already automatically giving them a clear answer. There’s no ambiguity around that.

And then it’s just a matter of figuring out, okay if they can’t afford that or they want a more flexible approach, then you can start to have the conversation, and whether it be them paying a small amount up front, and they’re doing it pay-as-you-go, or if they want to cut down on the actual total cost, they can start to get involved in some of the processes of getting somebody’s paperwork together themselves or just doing parts of it and so forth, so it just cascades from there, right?

Vaneskha Wilson: Yes, it does, and I haven’t felt pushy since. I feel like it’s a very natural conversation about fees, and it’s not haggling. It’s like, “This is the price. This is my fee for this service that I offer. You’re not convincing me to lower my price for you. I’m not doing you any favors. This is just actually a package that’s already in place and available to you.”

Dave Aarons: Yeah yeah, exactly. Okay, and so let’s say, assuming they choose some option, and you guys make an agreement. Okay, this is going to be the deposit down, or this is the flat rate option. You mentioned that you have, I think it’s Adobe EchoSign or some type of Adobe Suite product, where they sign a contract just with the click of a button, right? You send them that agreement; they can click and just sign electronically, which makes things a lot easier nowadays. 90 some odd perfect of the people, probably getting pretty close to 100% of folks, have a smart phone, and so the ability for them to just click and sign is going to be really key to the process, but once you send that agreement and they’ve signed that, they make that initial payment through the payment billing system that you have, which is that also like an e-mail with a link where they can go online and make that payment?

Vaneskha Wilson: It was. Well, yeah. At the time, I was using Square, which has no monthly fee. They just have a percentage of the credit card fees, depending on how you input it. If you’re swiping it because it’s a card that’s present or if you’re inputting the numbers on a virtual terminal on your own website, I would include a space on my contract for them to put their credit card information. That way, once they’ve signed, they’ve also given me the authorization to take payments at the agreed upon times for the agreed upon amounts, and that way, I don’t have to call them every time or e-mail them every time. I have it right there, but that would be for the Square.

Now since I bank with Bank of America, they’ve got a new merchant servicer. I don’t know if it’s new actually, but it’s called Clover, and I’ve switched to them because now that I’ve signed up with Clover, they actually waive my monthly bank fee, so I know I have no bank fee. I figured why not. I haven’t had all my training on how to use it just yet, so I’m not sure about sending a link like you mentioned. I do know that I can take information over the phone and input it that way, and of course, I have a device to take cards in person as well. Once I figure out how to send an invoice for them to pay online that will definitely steam line things for me.

Dave Aarons:  So inevitably, they either give the card over the phone … Certainly, when you were working virtually, it was they were always either providing the card over the phone or just inputting it into that contract that you would send through Adobe Echo where they can just type it in basically, right?

Vaneskha Wilson: Right.

Dave Aarons: Okay, so now they’re enrolled. I think you mentioned earlier on about a client portal where they can log in and provide information. Can you talk about … I know we already covered a lot with the INSZoom service, but basically just to put a picture to that, it’s a place where they can log in and provide information to you, or are you entering all of that information in yourself from there to begin the work?

Vaneskha Wilson: They provide it, so INSZoom has some questionnaires that they’ve already created, depending on the type of case. In the citizenship example, I would create the contact person as a prospective client when I’m first speaking to them, and I could take notes under their name if they’ve now decided to hire me, if they sign the contract and pay the deposit, I now convert them to a client, and I can add a family member if they’re petitioning for someone else, but this is a citizenship example, so I’m going to add a case instead. There are no family members necessary for a citizenship questionnaire, so you add the naturalization questionnaire or case to their name, and then it just asks you to confirm the forms and the questionnaire that you would want the client to complete.

Once you’ve confirmed that, you can go ahead and e-mail those forms to the client, and it gives you a chance to put more information into the body of that e-mail, just saying “Thank you for choosing the law office of Vaneskha Hyacinthe to represent you in your immigration matter. Below, you’ll find instructions on how to log in to your client portal, where you can complete your questionnaires, upload your documents, and take a look at our invoice as well.” I do update their payments in the online … And I believe it also syncs with QuickBooks. I haven’t taken a stab at that yet, but I believe there’s an option to do that as well.

But anyway, so I send them an e-mail that has the questionnaires and a login for them to access those questionnaires, to look at their invoices, and to see what type of documents I would like them to upload for me if they can upload them. Of course, I come across a client every now and then who is not as tech-savvy, and instead just wants to e-mail the attachment or mail me a hard copy, and that’s totally fine. To me, that’s still virtual practice, because we haven’t even met in person, so I make that available to everyone as far as exchanging documents, but the questionnaires … It’s fairly easy. The password is just some alphanumeric that they create for each client, and they can copy and paste that right into their login screen, and it just goes page by page. It asks them age, address, contact information, all of the questions that are on the form, and they just keep going page by page until they reach the end, and when they reach the end, it notifies me that they’ve completed that questionnaire.

Now I can go, I can log in on my end and take a look at their answers and make sure that they’ve answered it correctly, because every now and then, you have someone who didn’t understand the question, be it a language barrier or just the fact that it’s in legalese or whatever the case may be, and then I’ll double check things with them to make sure everything’s correct, and then I can open up the form, so now the form just populates based on what’s in that questionnaire, and I do another check on the form to make sure it is what was inputted in the questionnaire, and at that point, I can print it out and mail a hard copy to them to sign, or I can e-mail it to them for them to print and sign on their own, or they can arrange an appointment in my office.

I actually just had one right before you called me, where I had some clients come in and sign some documents in person that I printed off from that software, and the software is very good because it keeps the forms up to date. In fact, I had this client that just left this afternoon earlier this year, and the form has been updated by USCIS, so the form that I had for them was out of date, and when I went to print it, a pop up showed up on my screen saying, “You need to update your form. Follow these steps, and then try to print.” So I did that and I got the new form, and they signed it. That way I was sure to not send in the wrong form because that would surely come right back to me from USCIS.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, and that’s a big deal to have to keep checking and updating regularly your forms to make sure they’re up to date with whatever USCIS is using, so the fact that that happens automatically is nice, and so I can start to really see how, if the client is filling out these questionnaires and it’s step-by-step online, it’s just a lot of time saved that you don’t have to sit there and just interview them … The alternative being they would come in the office, and you would fill all this information out with them sitting in front of you and all taking time, and so it really starts to cut down on the personal amount of time that you have to put in or a staff member would have to put in by just enabling the client to fill the stuff out on their own, and it seems relatively self-explanatory, pretty straightforward, and you’re there just to review to make sure there are no mistakes and correct anything that wasn’t completely accurate or wasn’t filled out completely.

Vaneskha Wilson: Right, so instead of basically reinventing the wheel for every single client and every single form that I have to fill out for each client, I now am getting them to fill out their own information. I mean, it is their own background. They know where they’ve lived for the last five years. They know where they worked for the last five years, and they have time to sit and think about the exact addresses and zip codes and phone numbers, instead of sitting in my office and wondering, “Oh man, I don’t remember.”

I guess I could have done the same thing in the paper. I could mail things like this, but that would mean that I’d have to create them. I’d have to create the questionnaires for them because I wouldn’t want to send them the government forms because that’s what they were trying not to do. They’re trying to get me to fill out the government forms so I would need to send them a questionnaire that I created, and they’d have to fill it out on paper and then mail it back to me, and now you’re dealing with whether or not I can read their handwriting, the mail. Sometimes the mail doesn’t get through. Just the fact that it’s all in English as well. This software also allows them to change the language. It uses Google Translate software, so there are tons of languages available to them to change it. Of course, Google Translate isn’t the most accurate translation software out there, but it’s helpful to just not see it in English, which is sometimes totally foreign to some clients.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, and when that questionnaire’s complete, it basically populates directly into USCIS forms.

Vaneskha Wilson: That’s right, and now I’m just editing and correcting and checking for accuracy, and what’s also pre-populated in the forms is my information as the preparer, as the attorney of record, my name, phone number, address, all of my contact information, my bar numbers, my license numbers, and my USCIS ID on my number. All of that is pre-populated in every form, so I never have to input that again, and that’s saved a lot of time as well. Just imagine having to write your name and address that many times.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, absolutely. And so when we zoom out and look at how all this technology … The reality is almost every immigration lawyer that I’ve talked to or that we’ve worked with is typically charging a flat rate for a service, whether it be $1,500, $2,000, $1,000, depending on what they’re doing, and there are some things that you might be charging a retainer hourly. You’ve got representation and other things, but the vast majority of quotes is a flat rate, and so it behooves the attorney to become more efficient when you’re offering a flat rate, right? Because whatever that amount is you’re going to collect, let’s say $2,000, that could either take you 10 hours and you can make an effective hourly rate of $200 an hour, or it can take you five and you can make an effective hourly rate of $400 an hour, and that very much determining by the technology and the systems and the steam-lining that attorneys now have available to them as this perfect example illustrates, to be able to start cutting down and stream-lining the delivery of the services under those flat rates.

And so by integrating these types of document automation software and client portals where the client is empowered to be able to provide a lot of this information on their own time, then that information goes right into the forms and then you just need to make sure that it’s all completed correctly and reviewed and making sure of its course, like they’re taking the right steps and so forth.

It really starts to cut down on your own personal time that you need to invest in each case, which then gives you the opportunity to either have a greater profit margin for each flat rate, a higher effective hourly rate, or offer a more competitive lower price to get these documents at the door and help them with these various cases, which both options are going to be really good for competing in today’s market or being able to offer a lower cost service that you’re able to make a really good profit or margin on at the same time, so it really seems like these types of technologies and this process, especially in immigration, is really key for attorneys nowadays to be able to compete and offer competitive rates and also see a good return on their time.

Vaneskha Wilson: Right, yeah. Especially for me as a brand new solo attorney, I don’t have the staff yet to support me, to help me with this. Having the software is like having a virtual paralegal, and I’m just … If I had a paralegal, I would be checking their work, and now I’m checking this software’s work as well, so it’s sort of the same process, and it’s much cheaper. It’s $100 a month, and I don’t have to pay for benefits or anything like that because my practice just started. I’m not quite ready for that yet. I have an assistant who helps me with phone calls and some screening and appointment setting, but not so much with the actual work, so I’m not at that stage yet, and this software really helps me, but once I do get to that stage, it should be a smooth transition, because everything they need will be right there. They’ll be able to follow the same steps I’m following, and there’ll be training on the system software for them as well, so it’s [crosstalk 00:53:47].

Dave Aarons: And everything that we’ve described up to this point, potentially you still have never met with the client, and ultimately may not ever need to unless you’re going to be going and appearing for the hearing, depending on the type of option that they chose, so this is all done 100% virtually, potentially with you working from home and being able to spend time with your two-year-old, and spend more time with your family, which I think, as much as attorneys like making money, we’re all in it to spend time with our family, and have the ability and flexibility to live life in the way that we want to live it, and so this also enables that possibility to be mobile and virtual and not necessarily have to come in the office if you don’t want to.

However, you’ve actually made the determination recently to open up an office and hire an assistant. Can you talk about why you felt like it was worthwhile for you to make the move to actually have the brick-and-mortar office, whereas before you were operating everything virtually 100%?

Vaneskha Wilson: Yes, so that’s actually a product of my local environment. Of course, my workload has increased overall, but regionally, in Orlando, there has been an influx of the Haitian population, specifically people who have come to America by way of Brazil. After the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, many people moved to Brazil and Brazil actually offered many Haitians what’s the equivalent of our green card here, residency, and they were able to work and live there lawfully. But unfortunately, now that Brazil’s having an economic downturn, many Haitians have immigrated to the U.S. seeking asylum or other immigration benefits, and many of them came to California, Texas, and Arizona, and Florida already having quite a large Haitian population, a lot of the people those other states have relatives here, and they were actually released to those relatives, so that influx in that population, and me having a Haitian background, I am attracting those same clients. They want to speak to someone who speaks their language, and they’d really like to meet them in person, and not only that, they came here with nothing.

They don’t have access to the internet to find me on Unbundled Attorney and fill out these questionnaires online and e-mail me things, so it wouldn’t be conducive were I only that for me to serve that community, so I was using a virtual office plan, where I could just pay for a few hours here and there to actually sit at a real office in Orlando, or anywhere. Davinci offers the same sort of office program anywhere in Florida. I can rent a space by the hour and meet with clients in person and have a desk. I have wifi. There’d be plenty of parking. I had access to a printer, a fax machine, and all of that, and that was really useful until it was just too much time spent traveling to those locations, and too much money spent on those locations when I could just find a place that had rent and store all my files there. Now that I was getting more and more cases, more clients, the files weren’t really fitting in my home office anymore, so that’s when I knew it was time to move.

And I knew I was trying to get some help when I couldn’t field all of my leads. I just wasn’t able to get back to people. I wasn’t able to reach out to people who initially reached out to me, or when I finally did, I missed the boat. They’d already hired another lawyer, or they’ve already decided to do something themselves, or in some cases, returned to their home countries, because they gave up, and that was the saddest part for me. I felt worse if a person left and gave up than if they hired another lawyer, because at least if they hired another lawyer, they got help, but if they left, that means that part of the reason why they couldn’t get help is because I didn’t get back to them fast enough, so now that I have someone who can answer every call that comes in, during business hours I should say, and can reach back out to the unbundled leads as soon as they come in, that makes me feel like I’m at least reaching folks right away, and can start helping them right away.

Now in the Central Florida region, I’m getting a lot of people who are originally from Haiti that want to meet someone in person, not only because they don’t have the technology available to them to do the virtual practice, but also just culturally, there are many cultures that would prefer one on one meeting. There are countries that don’t have all the bureaucracy that we have here in the U.S. and it’s that much less trustworthy to deal with someone and spend money on something that really matters in your life, such as your ability to stay in a country, that you’ve never met, and I can completely understand why anyone from any country might not be able to be comfortable with that, even a native U.S. citizen, so it makes sense to me that I should also be available to folks who don’t want to necessarily do everything virtually.

Dave Aarons: I think Davinci’s Virtual Office and there’s a lot of other companies out there where you can just pay for an hour at a time, I think is a great bridge for attorneys that either want to expand into a new region, for example, and don’t have an office there, and want to just have that presence there, because a lot of clients feel a lot more comfortable if you’re going to be serving a region where your primary office isn’t, that you have an office and you can say, “Yeah, we have an office in Fort Lauderdale.”

And the reality is you do, it’s just a virtual office, and you’re only paying by the hour for it, so virtual offices are key in the sense that you can bridge the gap and just pay for an hour at a time. You don’t necessarily have to maintain full overhead and something you’re paying monthly for in staffing as well, but at a certain point I think, like you said, it just gets to the point where paying hourly makes less sense than actually having the office and having someone staffing it, and obviously you’re getting a lot of leads. Can you give a bit of a context on how many leads you’re getting and roughly how many calls that is for … which has lead you to have to get a staff member involved to assist you with that?

Vaneskha Wilson: Yeah, any day I don’t get a lead is shocking. I at least get one a day. Let’s see. I guess one day I got four, and honestly, right after the inauguration, I would get 15 a day, 20 a day. It was really insane. That was actually when I decided I need an office. I can’t do this. There’s no way I can do this, even if I get virtual help. I had a virtual phone answering system, where they’d answer, “Thank you for calling the law office of Vaneskha Hyacinthe. How can I help you?” I’d give them a script of questions I’d need them to ask clients to screen them and what they need, but at the end of the day, they were just a human voicemail. I needed someone to actually do some immigration work, who understood what the questions were that they were asking, who could schedule for me.

There are some out there that do some scheduling, but it was difficult for me because I need to rent a space, so I don’t know if I can have the person who’s taking the call look at my calendar and find the best location on the right day, because even if they see something in my calendar, do they know that I might have put it in my calendar for one hour, but in reality, it could last all day, and maybe they should not schedule anything that day? It’s hard to keep up with without it just being a lot of phone calls back and forth to get to the final answer. Now that I’m in the same space as my assistant, she can just shout over and say, “Hey, I see something on your calendar for Tuesday. Can you take anything else that day?” She gets an immediate answer, so it got to be unmanageable based on the workload that was coming in.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, absolutely. It was pretty crazy, especially right around the inauguration, and I think at the time you were doing Miami, but since you’re back to Orlando, at least for now, but we were getting … It was getting a little crazy with all the amount of leads that were coming in, the amount of people requesting help for understandable reasons. People were scared. People were frightened, and like you said, the ability to be the one to call each lead, at least as much as possible, or at least if you can’t call in real time, have someone calling them to schedule someone to speak with you is important, because people are going to keep looking, and they really are comforted by hearing from an attorney that is responsive to those requests, and so I can completely understand why you decided to make the move to not only have the office for the Haitian immigrants and people that want to work with you in person, and maybe don’t have the technological ability, but also to have that staff member to back you up, to make sure that you’re able to be fully responsive to each lead request.

Vaneskha Wilson: Yeah, it’s been a rollercoaster.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, well this has been just an awesome interview. I just really appreciate you coming on and sharing so openly the different options. We’ve gone … I think everyone that’s listened has a really clear understanding of how to offer step by step virtual immigration to become virtual if they choose to be, and there’s technologies that are able to do that, and how to get that payment request, have them fill out the questionnaire, how that all populates through and really helps you be a lot more streamlined and more efficient, and then also just the various unbundled options you offer.

I think there’s a lot less attorneys nowadays that are offering document review, document preparation, attending the hearing, providing investigation. Could you actually … I think we might have skipped over investigation. That was the one piece.

Vaneskha Wilson: Oh, you’re right.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, I don’t think we touched on that. Can you take that real quick as far as people that just want to figure out what the heck’s going on and be offered that option just to look into things where an attorney’s involvement can get some more information for them?

Vaneskha Wilson: Yeah, I can actually give an example of one person who came to me. He, actually also of Haitian descent, came here as a minor, and his parents came, and this was during a time where immigration law actually … There was actually a law in place that assisted Haitians in getting resident status here if they met certain criteria at that time, so his parents unfortunately did not meet that criteria and they were deported, and this was back in the early ’90s, but somehow, he and his sister were allowed to stay here. They didn’t really give him much information at the time. He just knows that he stared with another relative and continued going to school, and was authorized to go to school and was authorized to go to work, and then one day, he goes to work and his employer says, “You’re employment authorization is expired,” and he’s like, “What are you talking about? I’m a citizen.”

And turns out, he’s not a citizen. He did a little investigation on his own before he found me, but he just wasn’t able to understand all of it. He didn’t understand … There were copies of court records and copies of forms, and I wouldn’t expect to understand all that stuff, but he basically came to me with that big pile of information and a CD, and was wondering, “I don’t even understand what happened here. What is my history? What is my immigration history?”

And I was able to break it down for him based on what he had in his hands, but I also offer doing that research for you, because there are some folks who don’t know where to look. They don’t know that they can do a Freedom of Information Act request and just literally write a letter saying, “I want a copy of my whole immigrant file.” They don’t know where to send such a thing. They don’t know if there’s a fee for that, so I would assist them with that, and I would also help them decipher it, and from there tell them what their next step should be, if any need to be taken.

And for that, it’s $500, but of course, that doesn’t include what those next steps are. If that means that now we need to reopen a case, there’s going to be a different fee for reopening that case and now fighting that case out in court. If that means that maybe they’re halfway through an application and the government has been waiting for their response or their next steps in the application, now I’m telling them what the fee is for that next step, so the investigation alone … would be the $500 usually, depending on how complicated the case is.

Dave Aarons: Yeah, I think you’ve said before it’s somewhere between $250-500, usually on the higher end, because if someone’s hiring you to investigate, things tend to be a little bit more complicated, but you’ve also had ones that are a little bit on the lower end as well, so it’s a great example again, so you’ve got investigation, where you can investigate someone’s case, $250-500, somewhere in there. You’ve got document review, where they can bring in what they’ve prepared, and you can just review it, $250-500. You’ve got document preparation, which is usually in the $250-1000 range, depending on what needs to be done, and then you’ve got, if they just want you to go to the hearing, you’ve got attendance of the hearing, which is around $250 as long as it’s local.

If it’s a little further, you might have to charge a little travel time, and then you’ve got the full representation where it’s a flat rate, and if they can’t pay it up front, you’ve got pay-as-you-go, where you can make one payment at a time. Obviously, there’s exceptions to that, because you have deportation hearings sometimes where there’s a timeline or a timeframe where you have to respond. Can you talk just maybe briefly to that? That might be the only limitation to the pay-as-you-go or having almost complete flexibility on the payment plan, is when they have a specific deadline. Do you have a little bit more … I don’t want to say strict, but a little it more clear requirements for someone that maybe has a deadline that they have to get something done by, where you may not have the same degree of flexibility as far as amount of time they have to pay as you would with any usual case?

Vaneskha Wilson: Yeah, like with an affirmative asylum application, you are supposed to make that application before you have been in the U.S. for a year, so if I know that their one year anniversary date is coming up, and I’m giving them a payment plan option, they do know that they have to make at least three quarters I’d say of the payments prior to me sending the packet, because honestly, three quarters of the work has been done at that point. All that’s left after that is the application for employment authorization and attending the asylum interview with them, so that might not necessarily need full payment before I send it, but at least three quarters of it.

With the court representation, it’s a little tougher. I have found that most people in that situation really don’t have much of an income, so that’s more of my low bono side of my practice. There are a couple of pro bono ones in there as well, and I’m actually super flexible with those to be honest, but the folks who are working and have been here a long time, and have fairly simple cases, it is month to month still, but it is a higher monthly payment, because I do know that once it’s over, if it turns out positively, then they’re here in the U.S. Their case is over. They don’t have to worry about anything anymore. There’s not really that much of a motivation to continue to pay me. If it turns out negatively, then they’re getting deported, and there’s really no motivation to pay me, so I do want that payment to come faster, so what I do is just make the monthly payments higher. Yeah, so I still-

Dave Aarons: Yeah, so that they have the full balance paid off by the time the actually hearing comes up if it’s a deportation or something like that, but with that aside, it’s just … You’re making the services of an immigration attorney accessible to anyone, pretty much. I mean, $250-500, and you’ve got all these different options. You’ve got payment plans, and that’s what this is really all about, so the fact that you’re doing this, and working with people in the way that you are, I just really appreciate it.

I know there’s got to be just a ton of clients that you’ve worked with personally, certainly leads that we’ve sent you, we’ve sent you probably 200+ leads now, that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford an attorney if they hadn’t met you and your willingness to work with people in the way that you are, so I thank you for that, and I’m sure they appreciate it too, and I certainly thank you for sharing all these different options so openly so that other attorneys that maybe haven’t been offering these options now have some new ideas, maybe some inspiration to start integrating some of these options in their practice, and hopefully that will impact clients’ ability to use a lawyer in the way that you’re impacting people too.

Vaneskha Wilson: Great. Thanks, and I want to thank you too, because Unbundled Attorney has really changed my practice, or at least, what I thought my practice was going to be when I first started out, and it opened me up to all types of people from all over Florida, who have all types of different situations, whereas before, I was limited to people who knew me though someone else, and me being new to Florida, that was a very small circle, so this definitely increased my ability to attract clients and keep them and keep them happy, and also create future work for myself, because sometimes it’s not over. Maybe they’ll apply for a visa with me, and then they’ll come back in a few years to get their green card, and a few years after that to get their citizenship, so it’s been really great to start these relationships with the folks who need the assistance and just need a little more flexibility.

Dave Aarons:  Yeah, absolutely. Well, I’m glad that it’s had the impact it has, and really excited about the future of the amount of clients you’re going to be serving, and the impact certainly of this interview as well, and I’ll certainly give you feedback on anything that attorneys share that they got from this interview, but with that, we can go ahead and wrap up, and thank you again Vaneskha for taking the time to share these options and what you’ve learned and what you’re doing for the folks out in Central Florida, and to everyone else that’s listening, thank you for participating in the podcast. Obviously, this is really a crash course.

There’s a lot of great ideas and options offered … in this episode, so if there’s any immigration attorneys out there that you know that you think might benefit from listening to this episode, please share it. That’s certainly how we grow this podcast and how we reach more and more attorneys, and to learn some of these ideas and ways that they can make more money and help more clients at the same time, so we appreciate the support of the show, and with that, thank you so much for listening, and we’ll see you all on the next episode.

Vaneskha Wilson: Thank you so much for having me.

What did you think of the interview? Do you have any questions or comments for Dave Aarons or our guest Vaneskha Wilson? 

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Episode 29: Developing a Virtual Immigration Practice: Electronic Enrollments, Document Automation and Unbundled Immigration Services

After working as a public defender in Manhattan, NY and commuting for two hours each day, Vaneskha Wilson decided to move to Orlando with her family and start her own virtual immigration practice. Today she joins on the show to breakdown how she has been able to enroll and deliver immigration services to the majority of her clients without having to meet them in person. This includes a walk-through of each step in the process from the initial call and enrollment, to how she leverages an online client portal and document automation technology to efficiently prepare and deliver immigration forms electronically. Vaneskha also shares the unbundled and “pay-as-you-go” options she offers, and the typical fees she charges for each service.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How the election of Donald Trump and the subsequent changes in the political climate have impacted her practice
  • How Vaneskha was able to successfully launch a brand new immigration practice without acquiring a brick and mortar office
  • The value of being able to run a law practice virtually when necessary, especially for attorneys that are parents and have young children
  • The complete electronic sales and enrollment process of her virtual practice
  • Valuable sales strategies, including the importance of continuing the enrollment process with clients, even when they don’t have all their necessary documents together yet
  • What a client portal is, and how she uses it to empower her clients to be able to provide her the necessary information for their immigration paperwork themselves
  • The document automation software she uses to dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to prepare immigration forms
  • The types of unbundled options Vaneskha offers, and the typical price points
  • Some unique unbundled options that have not yet been shared on the podcast, such as "case investigation" and "attending the interview"
  • The main benefits of offering unbundled services in an immigration practice, and how it has helped her compete against notaries and other “non-lawyer” immigration services
  • A breakdown of the “pay-as-you-go” payment plans she offers to clients that retain her for full representation
  • Why Vaneska eventually made the transition to opening a local office in Orlando and hiring an assistant
  • And much more...

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