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Can YOU Tell If A Lawyer Is Real? - ThinkstockPhotos-478241581-c.jpg

Can YOU tell if a lawyer is real?

In this week’s annals, we have stories of people impersonating attorneys, and a real lawyer accusing himself of impersonating a lawyer.

Yes, according to the ABA Journal, there is a recent surge in the number of folks pretending to be attorneys.

As you might imagine, nothing good comes of it.

In the first case, a 19-year-old ex-convict from San Antonio, Texas, convinced a woman that he was an attorney, despite the fact that the surname on his ID didn’t match the lawyer’s he claimed to be. He said he’d been adopted and had changed it, which sounds pretty suspect, but unfortunately, as lawyer Abraham Lincoln knew, “You can fool some of the people all of the time.”

But also, the woman was desperate to seek an appeal bond for her son. So she forked over $10,000 to the fraudulent attorney, as a retainer.

The woman explained that the family “made sure that the bar number was correct,” and that the “(law firm) existed.” What she apparently failed to do was check that the bar number matched the lawyer’s name, or that the firm employed someone by that handle.

Ironically, the impostor had previously been the subject of a local TV “Eyewitness News” story regarding how he had turned his life around by participating in a theater program while serving time in a state correctional facility.

Whereupon, he promptly utilized his new-found acting talent to convincingly “play” an attorney.

The story also proves what they say about the reliability of “eyewitnesses.”

It’s not funny, of course, because the victims were scammed out of their life savings, and we can all agree that predators who prey upon people when they’re already down on the mat are the scummiest of the pond scum.

Which makes it rather astounding that up until late last year in New York State, impersonating an attorney was classified as a mere misdemeanor.

That was so even if the victim of the deception suffered serious harm. By comparison, the state deemed it a felony to impersonate other licensed professionals such as doctors, dentists, veterinarians, social workers, accountants, and even court stenographers. This “misdemeanor” status was kind of insulting when you think about it, almost as if New York State was saying: “The penalty for impersonating a lawyer is that people will think you’re a lawyer.” So it’s reassuring to see that the Great State of New York now takes pretending to be an attorney as seriously as someone whose duplicity causes harm to your pet iguana.

(Incidentally, I can see how – and why – someone might impersonate a doctor, dentist, etc., but a court stenographer? Where’s the profit in doing that, not to mention: how do you occupy that seat in the courtroom, and where’s the real stenographer while this subterfuge is going on?)

Being deceived by a fake lawyer is a nightmare, but it’s no picnic for the attorney whose identity is stolen, either. Trying to expunge all records of the chicanery is difficult, especially in our Internet age, and just being associated with a scam like this may be enough to sow doubts in potential clients’ minds, and ultimately tar your reputation. As Tristan Jimerson noted, in a very funny talk he gave about having his identity stolen at The Moth, “When somebody steals your identity, they only take the good parts.”

In a second case, someone forged a California solo practitioner’s name, bar number, and electronic filing account to file motions requesting that the practitioner be recused in a high-profile lawsuit against four technology companies.

In both cases, the impostor used the attorney’s bar number, which is available publicly, often online. So keep an eye on those numbers!

Yet another case, this time in Philadelphia, concerned a knucklehead who seemed more motivated by the “romance” of being a lawyer than making a killing.

This numb skull didn’t impersonate anyone in particular but rather patrolled the halls of justice inserting himself into conversations between lawyers and their clients, arguing with the attorneys’ advice. When he did solicit his services, he offered to represent clients for $100 a month, which should have immediately been a giant tip-off. The closest this clown came to being a real lawyer was his proclamation upon being arrested for fraudulent behavior: “I object!”

And then there was the case of the “real” Central California defense attorney whose client was found guilty of murder. Before sentencing, he asked the judge to hold him, the attorney, in contempt of court for incompetence, saying he had failed his client.

Highly unorthodox it may have been, but at least he wasn’t pretending to be something he wasn’t.

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