Sometimes it feels that certain sectors of legal innovation grab all of the attention, especially regarding new solutions in corporate law, litigation, tax, and intellectual property. But aside from the big 4 accounting firms incorporating immigration law departments into their service offerings, few solutions move the needle when it comes to innovating immigration.
Located in a beautifully repurposed house on Bloor Street West in Toronto Ontario, the team at Sobirovs Law Firm (https://www.sobirovs.com/) offers an entrepreneurial approach when helping clients abroad bring their businesses to Canada.
The Sobirovs team hails from the four corners of the world, bringing with them a multilingual and multi-jurisdictional experience to the practice of immigration.
The success of the firm is due in large part to the managing partner, Rakhmad Sobirov, who has law degrees from Uzbekistan, Hungary and Canada. Working with a number of leading law firms throughout the world during his career, he has managed to successfully merge his experiences in corporate, international aviation and intellectual property law into a unique offering for immigrants into Canada.
What intrigued me, perhaps more than anything else, was the firm’s personal investment in helping their clients help themselves. Recently, Sobirovs launched ImmigrationShop.ca (https://www.immigrationshop.ca/), a teaching tool designed to help new immigrants manage much of the immigration process themselves. As Sobirov himself explains, “ImmigrationShop is unique in the sense that it allows us, the lawyers, to share our legal knowledge with the general public. Rather than saying “pay me and I will do it for you”, we are saying “come and learn AND do it with us!””
Using videos, consultations and lawyer application reviews, the ImmigrationShop workshops offer a “hand-holding” approach for potential immigrants. While there is a cost associated with watching the videos and taking the online workshops, immigrants undertaking the process themselves can save thousands in potential legal fees.
I had the chance to sit down with Rakhmad Sobirov and probe the ImmigrationShop a little bit deeper. I think his responses reflect a positive trend in lawyers taking initiative to create unique business models and revenue sources, all while increasing client value and satisfaction.
How long have you been practicing law?
I have been a lawyer in Uzbekistan since 2003, but have been practicing law as an Ontario lawyer since 2012. When I immigrated to Canada in 2006, I decided to go back to law school from the beginning and study the common law system in order to become a full-fledged Canadian lawyer.
Given your broad legal experience, when did you realize you wanted to focus exclusively on immigration?
Immigration law is constantly changing, and businesses, domestic and international clients rely on experienced lawyers to help navigate the complex immigration laws and regulations. We effectively facilitate the international relocation of executives, investors, high-skilled workers and their accompanying family members, starting from temporary visas for business visits to Canada to eventually obtain Canadian permanent residency or citizenship.
We realized there is a large market for unique, tailor-made and creative legal solutions for foreign business owners, investors and high-net-worth individuals interested in bringing their businesses and families to Canada.
It’s a win-win strategy for us as Canadian lawyers who ourselves immigrated to Canada. We have a deep understanding of the challenges that are often faced by immigrants or foreign businesses entering new markets. On one hand, we are contributing to the Canadian economy by bringing in capital and expertise from outside of Canada. On the other hand, we are helping established families from outside Canada make a new home and build a better future for themselves and their children.
We understand our clients very well. Our practice is best described as an “immigrant to immigrant approach.”
Have there been any recent innovations, technologies or opportunities in the area of immigration in the last 5-10 years? Any technologies devoted exclusively to this area of legal practice?
Overall the field of immigration law remains pretty conservative with few novel solutions available for law firms or their clients. It is dominated by the “do-it-for-you” model. That is, you hire a lawyer/immigration consultant/Quebec notary and pay him/her, and the service provider does all immigration applications for you.
What we see in immigration law more often is the danger of the unauthorized and unlicensed practice of immigration law by “ghost consultants,” “travel/visa agents” and so-called “helpers.” They would complete all applications as if the applicant were doing it himself/herself. There are plenty of horror stories of such shady practices and we want our clients to trust us and not worry about being swindled. With the launch of ImmigrationShop, we hope to tackle this problem by educating potential visa and immigration applicants.
What inspired the creation of ImmigrationShop? How long has it been in development? What do you hope your clients (and future clients) will get out of it?
First, we have deep knowledge of the common repetitive inquiries that people ask us about immigrating to Canada. We constantly receive queries asking “How to come to Canada as a student/worker/tourist/businessman?” or “How to claim refugee status in Canada?” We identified a certain level of repetitiveness in our practice.
Second, based on these findings, we wanted to consolidate our expertise into useful material in order to reference and share multiple/unlimited times. We realized that our knowledge had scalability and can serve for the benefit of future visa applicants.
Third, we realized that interested potential immigrants living outside of Canada could not always afford the legal fees of Canadian immigration lawyers. That could be one of the reasons why these people go to unlicensed service providers or complete the immigration applications themselves using the information they find online. Obviously, in so doing there is a level of risk involved.
Analyzing all these circumstances, we thought “why don’t we, the licensed and experienced Canadian lawyers, empower the applicants by transferring our knowledge directly to them? We could do it by transferring our expertise, tools and tips, and train those applicants on how to prepare strong visa and immigration applications. In a way, we would share our expertise with them at a fraction of our standard legal fees.”
While many visa applications can be done by the applicant personally without involving any intermediary, the challenge is to have the right information, experience and tools (which most visa applicants lack). We help applicants become better educated, more powerful, and well-equipped to prepare their own applications, while at the same time avoiding the pitfalls of ghost consultants and scammers.
We then developed detailed training workshops in which we give the candidates the necessary tools to increase their chances of success in their visa or immigration applications. It took us almost 2 years to develop the concept and it takes us 3-4 months to prepare one detailed visa workshop. We are constantly working on creating new workshops.
You are encouraging clients to undertake much of the immigration process themselves, as opposed to seeking out a lawyer at the outset. Why? What effect do you think this will have on your practice?
We are not removing the traditional legal services from the spectrum. For complicated immigration matters, clients are encouraged to hire an immigration lawyer in a traditional way. But for clients with limited means or preferring to complete applications by themselves, we offer workshops which save them money.
After completing the relevant workshop, candidates can complete their immigration applications based on our knowledge and guidelines. Taking the study permit workshop as an example, we offer legal consultation at a discounted rate and can review completed application packages of our students on a limited scope retainer before anything is submitted to the Canadian immigration authorities.
In a traditional “do-it-for-you” model, a client would pay around $2000 for a visitor visa/student visa application done by a Canadian immigration lawyer. This price covers the lawyer’s overhead costs which are built in the lawyer’s legal fees.
We removed the administrative costs and transferred all the savings to the client. We call this the “do-it-with-you” model. It saves candidates money without compromising the application’s quality, thereby maximizing client value at a very affordable rate.
For study permit, our workshop only charges $99. The clients/students can get all the necessary information, step-by-step video instructions, template documents and sample application packages, which enables them to complete everything themselves. If the student has any questions, he/she can get a consultation for just $149, and a professional review of the completed application package for just $249. The total cost of one visa application would be less than $500.
The creation of ImmigrationShop has an implied mission of addressing the access to justice issue within the Canadian immigration system. Indeed, for people with limited financial means, many of them could not afford traditional legal services and may be left without any access to legal help. When it comes to navigating the Canadian immigration process, it is better to have the right knowledge and tools offered by licensed Canadian lawyers than to rely on your own Internet research, friends’ stories or ghost agents’ services.
Are you the first immigration law firm to offer a solution like ImmigrationShop?
To our knowledge YES! What we are trying to do has never been done by any other traditional law firm. We are turning our immigrant candidates into immigration professionals for a very specific period of time and with a very specific purpose.
What other new/unique technologies and solutions are you using at Sobirovs Law? Are there new solutions on the horizon?
While new specific projects remain our secret, I can tell that we are maximizing the utilization of technologies in our daily practice. For example, starting from basic paperless environment in our office and continuing with using automation in client intake and document drafting, we can pass more value to our customers. Tools like Calendly, amoCRM and CosmoLex (to name a few) have certainly helped streamline a lot of the administrative components of running our firm.
We constantly search for new solutions that would allow us to achieve the goals above. That’s why we got interested in MinuteBox, which allows us to maintain client’s minute books electronically. Because we deal with business owners and investors, we also provide basic incorporation and company organization services. We can use MinuteBox to maintain corporate documents easily and that saves us time and client’s money.