H&R Block the Immigration Lawyer

May 15, 2015 5:09 am
by David Jakeman

April, as most Americans had better know, is tax season, and it’s a time when we are bombarded with advertisements telling us which tax service is the cheapest, easiest, and quickest to use. When you think of H&R Block, you probably think taxes. (Or perhaps you think of a giant green square.) But a recent development shows that H&R Block has more on their mind than just taxes; the company has actually tried to provide legal services as well.

H&R Block, the Immigration Lawyer?

H&R Block recently shuttered a program that made use of sophisticated computer programs designed to help immigrants file immigration applications. Partnering with a software company named ClearPath, it sought to provide an alternative to what some see as overly expensive immigration attorneys. It ran advertisements on the radio saying it only cost $119.95 to use their services. The advertisements highlighted the low cost of the program, saying, “This is much cheaper than a lawyer.”

And if that line didn’t make it clear, the next one did: “Even that lawyer who’s the cousin of your aunt’s neighbor and just graduated from law school.” So yes, immigration lawyers beware: H&R Block is coming for you, and it’s not just for your taxes.

Hacking Immigration Law

In reality, this recent push by H&R Block is representative of the tech world’s approach to practically everything—seeking to disrupt many services that have previously been done by professionals. H&R Block’s program is kind of like Turbotax for immigration. But for something as byzantine as the immigration system, you probably want to make sure that you’re actually applying for the right visas and doing it in the right way.

The last thing you want is to end up in deportation hearings because you entered some things wrong on a computer program. It’s not like there is a simple amendment form for everything in the immigration field. But such is the hubris of the tech world, thinking that everything in this world should be hacked: personal relationships, arrangements for childcare, and finding someone to love. You may argue that those areas of life have been successfully hacked and monetized, but no matter how complicated love can get, immigration law has it beat.

H&R Backs Down

Under some pressure from immigration lawyers as well as common sense, H&R Block has shuttered the program, which was primarily targeted to the Latino population in Texas.1 Immigration law is complicated, and while immigration lawyers often use computer programs themselves, they don’t rely solely on those programs to make sure everything goes right.

Unfortunately, like most bureaucratic mazes, immigration law is full of unspoken rules that are quite difficult to translate into computer code. This is why it will be difficult to disrupt immigration law any time soon. The laws and enforcement are influenced by more than just documents; there is a human element as well. At this point, a green square is not your best bet for a good immigration lawyer.

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