In many Latin American, Central American, and European countries, Notarios Publicos are highly trained legal professionals similar to attorneys who provide legal advice and draft legal documents. However, in the United States, Public Notaries are not attorneys and are not authorized to give legal advice or counsel. A public notary in the United States is merely a state-commissioned official with witnessing duties for important forms. The term “notario publico” is particularly problematic as it creates a unique opportunity for deception.
A plague on immigrants looking to secure low-cost immigration help are notarios and other individuals who claim to be qualified to offer legal advice or legal services in immigration matters, but who are not qualified. Some immigrants and their families will spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on services from these individuals that are believed to be licensed attorneys. These individuals misrepresent their qualifications and charge unknowing immigrants to complete legal work that they are not qualified to handle and that they are not licensed to handle.
Misrepresentations of these individual’s qualifications to offer legal advice can have devastating implications for immigrants and their families. In many cases, the work performed by such individuals results in missed deadlines, the filing of incorrect or incomplete forms, or the filing of false claims with the government. It is important not to be deceived by individuals who claim that they are attorneys or notarios and have the license and qualifications to represent you and your family before the government and immigration agencies. Many clients will have experiences with these individuals in which the opportunity to obtain legal residency has been foregone, they have been entered into deportation proceedings, or they are civilly and/or criminally liable for the filing of false claims.
Do your research and ask lots of questions. In Florida, every barred and licensed attorney can be searched for and found on the Florida Bar’s website: https://www.floridabar.org/directories/find-mbr/. Additionally, the majority of attorney’s will have a profile on https://www.avvo.com/ fairly shortly after passing the bar. Avvo profiles will tell you about the attorney, their practice areas, and might even have client reviews of their work to browse.
It is important to find out about your attorney’s qualifications, education, and licensing before hiring them. Questions including “where did you attend law school”, “what state are you barred in”, and “how long have you been practicing law” are preliminary inquiries which can help you to determine if you are speaking to a qualified and licensed attorney.