The scenario is almost always the same: you formulate some migration objectives and start researching the net for ideas and strategies. At some point you discover an internet forum dedicated to your needs, and you enter the forum hoping for some free advice and helpful pointers. To some people in that forum you are a person needing some help. To others, however, you are a potential customer; in fact you are their primary source of income.
There are over 10,000 legal professionals in the UK who are accredited or otherwise licensed to provide immigration services. Of these, fewer than 20 practitioners actively troll the net hoping to attract business; for these practitioners word of mouth and industry standing have not been sufficient for them to build a sustainable clientele. It is the classic ambulance chasing idiom brought to electronic media. In short, these are the bottom feeders.
This article can help you identify them and perhaps avoid the problems that others have had when they got suckered in by immigration advisers trolling the net. Problems can occur when a practitioner gets in over their head on a particular issue and leaves the victim with an ugly refusal on their record (in addition to the loss of the practitioner’s fee). Problems can also occur when a practitioner goes bankrupt or is otherwise not capable of performing. In this scenario, you are vulnerable to a compromise of your personal data along with your intimate financial records. But the biggest problem is lack of quality, and this is because they are busy trolling the net looking for more business rather than focusing on your case.
Ambulance chasing is illegal in many US jurisdictions, and hence people are not aware or familiar with the practice when they engage the UK's legal environment via the net. So what do bottom feeders look like? How can they be spotted? Here are some tips to help get you oriented. Remember that a bottom feeder may not conform to all of these traits, but if there's more than two or three, be careful!
Use of the title ‘Lawyer’ or ‘UK Immigration Lawyer’
The UK system recognizes two types of professionals: solicitor and barrister. These titles are reserved under the Legal Services Act such that they can be used only by accredited persons. This differs from other systems (for example the US) where a ‘lawyer’ is understood to be a person who has been admitted to the Bar and is professionally accountable to a higher authority. In contrast, virtually anyone in the UK can call himself a ‘lawyer’.
The UK system provides other routes through which people can provide immigration services; these are ‘adviser’ and ‘non-solicitor immigration advisers’. Accreditation via these routes is usually acquired by taking a qualifying examination or similar preparation. In other legal systems, these people would be called ‘paralegals’. They are not licensed to undertake the full scope of the law, they are not eligible to receive legal aid for their clients, and some are actually barred from taking on complex cases.
What this amalgamates to is that when someone in the UK calls himself a ‘lawyer’, they are actually equivalent to a ‘paralegal’ in other systems; and these people may be leveraging your lack of knowledge about the UK system to portray themselves as something grander than they actually are. If so, this practice is slightly deceptive, and people identifying themselves as a ‘UK Immigration Lawyer’ should be approached with caution.
Implausible claims or claims that cannot be substantiated
Someone who claims to have represented at ‘countless’ tribunals or claims to have an impressive success rate with hundreds or thousands of clients should be treated with caution. These claims cannot be substantiated and UK based solicitors and barristers will never make such claims because it is a violation of their code of ethics.
If you see a forum posting where someone has claimed to represent at ‘countless’ cases, you can ask for detail, such as the case numbers. If the person does not respond or engages in prevarication, it is likely that they have made an unsubstantiated claim and may be out to exploit your gullibility.
Sock puppets and cheerleader accounts
This is one of the most common techniques with some estimates running as high as 80% of forum testimonials being contrived. An internet persona with a very thin history and whose only activity appears to be promoting someone’s skill as an immigration practitioner may be a ‘sock puppet’. This is a persona created (or encouraged) by the practitioner to act as an independent voice and offer a testimonial.
Note that a ‘sock puppet’ or ‘cheerleader’ may in fact be a real person, but one who has received a substantial discount (or commission) in return for promoting their favoured practitioner. As a general rule, testimonials from people with a long-established, well-rounded internet persona can usually be trusted whereas others should be treated with caution.
Unusual behaviour and patterns
Generally, people who spend more than 12 to 15 hours a day posting in forums should be treated with caution because they may be monitoring forum activity for the appearance of potentially new customers who are located in different time zones. It stands to reason that this sort of internet activity is not compatible with the day-to-day belabouring needed to be effective as an immigration practitioner, especially for practitioners who claim to have a large case load. Most reputable practitioners agree that their energies are best spent during the working day with their existing case load.
Preparing for ‘countless cases’ before the immigration tribunal often requires periods of sustained concentration, and this is not compatible with constantly monitoring forum activity for the appearance of potentially new customers.
Sometimes in order to make a given situation appear more complex than actually is, the bottom feeder may describe how rules are shaped by case law and case law does not appear on the UKBA site. There is truth to this statement, case law does in fact shape the way rules are interpreted; and UKBA has no mandate to publish that body of knowledge (the responsibility for publishing court decisions is given over to various branches of the judiciary). Analysis of case law, however, is best performed by professionals who are trained to do that work, and as explained above these are solicitors and barristers rather than advisers, ‘lawyers’, and ‘non-solicitor immigration advisers’. Without professional qualifications, the most a bottom feeder could hope for is an amateur understanding of case law at best.
Those people whose immigration objectives rely upon case law should seek out a qualified and reputable solicitor, and reputable solicitors do not troll immigration forums looking for business.
If you notice a pattern where someone posts a lot of “I agree” or “I agree with what the others have said” but otherwise adds marginal value to the thread; or the person simply rehashes what previous posters have written, they may be trying to put their contact details before as many people as possible. While it is normal for some people to post a few “I agree” articles, cases where it is a conspicuous pattern should be treated with caution.
This advisory will help you recognize when you are being targeted by a bottom feeder. As with everything on the net, a bit a caution forearmed with a bit of knowledge will help keep you safe.
This article is an update/extension to our original article published in 2009 entitled, "Touting on the Internet"
To follow up on this information, check our Internet Resources page...
Reviewed 9 May 2012