An immigration lawyer is an independent practitioner (unconnected to the U.S. immigration authorities) who helps clients deal with a wide range of issues relating to visas, green cards, U.S. citizenship, and other immigration benefits. U.S. immigration law is federal, which means that you can get help from a lawyer in any U.S. state, even if you are currently living in another country.
Not all immigration issues require consultation with an immigration lawyer. For example, if you merely wish to visit the United States for a vacation, and are sure you will be ready to return in 90 days, you might not require any visa at all, but could (if you're from one of the countries on the list) travel on the Visa Waiver Program.
However, U.S. immigration law is incredibly complex. In many cases, hiring an attorney can save you time, aggravation, and even money (in cases where you might have to redo an application done incorrectly the first time, or defend yourself in removal proceedings after an application goes seriously wrong).
You will definitely want to consult with an attorney who practices immigration law if:
These are just some of the reasons why you might choose to consult with an immigration lawyer. There are others!
Most immigration lawyers will charge a flat fee (often around $100) to meet with you and talk over whether and how the lawyer could, if you hired him or her, help you out. A few offer a free first consultation. You will probably want to meet with more than one attorney before choosing one to represent you.
Bring along any personal documents that relate to your immigration situation, such as your passport, visa(s), I-94, marriage certificate, records of criminal convictions, and any notices from immigration authorities.
The lawyer is likely to ask a number of questions and take notes, and will then advise you as to how you should proceed, and whether there are any further documents that need to be produced or applied for.
Many immigration lawyers offer a flat-fee structure for standard types of cases, such as help with an application for a marriage-based green card. However, for less predictable types of legal services, such as representation for an immigration court hearing (which could turn into several hearings), the lawyer is more likely to charge you at an hourly rate. Also see What Immigration Lawyers Report About Their Fees and Free Consultations.
This meeting is your chance to tell the attorney your circumstances and to ask questions. Give the attorney as much information as possible, so as to avoid mistakes in strategy or unpleasant surprises later. The attorney is duty-bound to keep your information confidential. Realize, however, that the attorney's role does not include lying on behalf of a client. If, for example, someone tells an attorney, "I need help preparing paperwork for my fake, green-card marriage," the attorney (assuming he or she is reputable, some are not) will have to tell the client to go elsewhere for help.