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  #1  
Old 09-13-2009, 11:47 AM
TheMadHun TheMadHun is offline
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Is it illegal to impersonate a lawyer if you are representing yourself?

I'm not talking about practicing law.

Say I want a debtor to think I have turned his case over to a lawyer.
Can I make up stationery with a random alias, with the word Esq at the end, and a lawyerly "company line" in the title?

John Jacob Doe, Esq.
Higgens, Figgens, & Wiggens, Partners

re: Debt owed to ThMadMax ...

I have such letters, collected in my callow youth, so I know what to say.

Anything illegal about that?
Do I have to pass the bar to call myself Esq?
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  #2  
Old 09-13-2009, 12:03 PM
astro astro is offline
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It's illegal to practice law without a license in all US states. If what you are doing makes people think you are practicing law, and they respond to you, pay you or otherwise do business with you based on this representation you are breaking the law.

Last edited by astro; 09-13-2009 at 12:04 PM..
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  #3  
Old 09-13-2009, 01:06 PM
The Second Stone The Second Stone is online now
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In your particular scenario, you are also committing mail fraud and violating the Fair Credit Collections Act (or whatever it's name is).

As a matter of language usage, a lawyer is a person familiar with and studies law. An attorney is an agent for another. People who have gone to law school but not passed the bar are "lawyers" if they so style themselves. But without the license, the cannot represent others as "attorneys at law". Using a power of attorney form, people can act as agents for others, but not before the courts.

Obviously, don't do this.
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  #4  
Old 09-13-2009, 03:35 PM
Camus Camus is offline
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Not to mention that many state bars have online search-able member databases. For the ones that don't, a simple phone call can verify whether a given person is licensed within a state. In addition, signing and sending such a letter may constitute forgery, depending on the given state statute.

Last edited by Camus; 09-13-2009 at 03:36 PM..
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  #5  
Old 09-13-2009, 03:42 PM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Second Stone View Post
In your particular scenario, you are also committing mail fraud and violating the Fair Credit Collections Act (or whatever it's name is).

As a matter of language usage, a lawyer is a person familiar with and studies law. An attorney is an agent for another.
Just as a point of information, I raised this same point a bit less than a month ago, and was gently corrected. While the distinction was historically relevant, and in pedantic usage still is, common usage has blurred it to the point that they are considered full synonyms. I should regard Gfactor, with whom I have never established an attorney-client relationship, as an attorney, just not my attorney.
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  #6  
Old 09-13-2009, 08:32 PM
Campion Campion is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TheMadHun View Post
I'm not talking about practicing law.

Say I want a debtor to think I have turned his case over to a lawyer.
Can I make up stationery with a random alias, with the word Esq at the end, and a lawyerly "company line" in the title?

John Jacob Doe, Esq.
Higgens, Figgens, & Wiggens, Partners

re: Debt owed to ThMadMax ...

I have such letters, collected in my callow youth, so I know what to say.

Anything illegal about that?
Do I have to pass the bar to call myself Esq?
Under California law, at a minimum, you would be guilty of a misdemeanor under Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code section 6126(a): "Any person advertising or holding himself or herself out as practicing or entitled to practice law or otherwise practicing law who is not an active member of the State Bar, or otherwise authorized pursuant to statute or court rule to practice law in this state at the time of doing so, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in a county jail or by a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment."

You'd probably also be guilty of fraud (criminal), as well as various other civil torts.
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Old 09-13-2009, 08:51 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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Same in Ohio. Don't do it! A layperson may represent herself in any kind of case at all (even when you'd be stoopid to do so), but pretending to be a lawyer when you're not, even out of court, is always a bad idea.

An agent for a local collections company around here used to be notorious for allowing uneducated, scared, poor debtors to think he was a lawyer by dressing well, carrying a briefcase, throwing around a lot of legal jargon and talking about filing this or that, but he was always careful, when asked point-blank, to admit that he wasn't, in fact, a lawyer.

I've had several people appear before me in court who identified themselves as lawyers, which I doubted because of their obvious incompetence or just an odd vibe I got from them, so I checked with the Supreme Court of Ohio's attorney registration office. Wouldn't you know it, they all were lawyers!
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  #8  
Old 09-13-2009, 11:11 PM
Northern Piper Northern Piper is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Second Stone View Post
As a matter of language usage, a lawyer is a person familiar with and studies law.
As always, answers to this type of legal question depend on the jurisdiction. In the jurisdiction in which I practise, calling yourself a "lawyer" without being a member of the Law Society would be contrary to The Law Society Act.

YMMV, depending on where you live and what the local law is.
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  #9  
Old 09-14-2009, 12:12 AM
Cunctator Cunctator is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Northern Piper
Quote:
Originally Posted by The Second Stone View Post
As a matter of language usage, a lawyer is a person familiar with and studies law. An attorney is an agent for another. People who have gone to law school but not passed the bar are "lawyers" if they so style themselves.
As always, answers to this type of legal question depend on the jurisdiction. In the jurisdiction in which I practise, calling yourself a "lawyer" without being a member of the Law Society would be contrary to The Law Society Act.
Ditto. I have a law degree, but I'm not a "lawyer". If I held myself out as one, I'd be in breach of the Legal Profession Act 2004 (NSW).
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  #10  
Old 09-14-2009, 12:18 AM
Randy Seltzer Randy Seltzer is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TheMadHun View Post
Do I have to pass the bar to call myself Esq?
No. There is no actual legal significance to that honorific in America.

Except, of course, when one uses it to hold oneself out as a lawyer. Then one is breaking the law in most states.
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  #11  
Old 09-14-2009, 12:30 AM
IAmNotSpartacus IAmNotSpartacus is offline
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Originally Posted by Elendil's Heir View Post
Same in Ohio. Don't do it! A layperson may represent herself in any kind of case at all (even when you'd be stoopid to do so), but pretending to be a lawyer when you're not, even out of court, is always a bad idea.
So Ohio doesn't have small claims court? Or is it only for "stoopid" people?
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  #12  
Old 09-14-2009, 02:03 AM
Kimmy_Gibbler Kimmy_Gibbler is offline
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In addition to subjecting you to penalties for the unauthorized practice of law (by fraudulently holding yourself out as a lawyer), you would also in particular violate 807(3) of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (codified at 15 U.S.C. 1692e) which states:

Quote:
A debt collector may not use any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt. Without limiting the general application of the foregoing, the following conduct is a violation of this section:

* * *

(3) The false representation or implication that any individual is an attorney or that any communication is from an attorney.
Now, you might think that because FDCPA 803(6) (codified at 15 U.S.C. 1692a(6)) generally defines a "debt collector" as "any person who uses any instrumentality of interstate commerce or the mails in any business the principal purpose of which is the collection of any debts, or who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another," you would be exempt from this restriction. However, that section continues and states "the term [debt collector] includes any creditor who, in the process of collecting his own debts, uses any name other than his own which would indicate that a third person is collecting or attempting to collect such debts."

By using a fictitious name, you needlessly transform yourself from a creditor collecting a debt into a plain old debt collector and thereby take on much greater burdens under the FDCPA. Including, as mentioned, a ban on misrepresenting the nature of the legal personnel working on the account.

In other words: Don't do it.
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  #13  
Old 09-14-2009, 02:31 AM
Claude Remains Claude Remains is offline
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My letterhead would read- From the law offices of Dewey,Cheatem and Howe...

Last edited by Claude Remains; 09-14-2009 at 02:34 AM..
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  #14  
Old 09-14-2009, 07:03 AM
Bricker Bricker is online now
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In Virginia, it's a misdemeanor to hold yourself out to another person as qualified or authorized to practice law in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This would almost certainly include the implications offered in the OP.
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  #15  
Old 09-14-2009, 08:28 AM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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Originally Posted by IAmNotSpartacus View Post
So Ohio doesn't have small claims court? Or is it only for "stoopid" people?
By "even when" I meant if you had a particularly complex civil case or a felony criminal case but insisted, as a layman, on representing yourself. Those are not the typical small claims case.

Last edited by Elendil's Heir; 09-14-2009 at 08:29 AM..
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  #16  
Old 09-14-2009, 08:38 AM
SCSimmons SCSimmons is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by IAmNotSpartacus View Post
So Ohio doesn't have small claims court? Or is it only for "stoopid" people?
He said 'even when', not 'even though'. I saw no implication that representing yourself is always 'stoopid'. I think anyone would agree that it's at least sometimes 'stoopid'; the points of disagreement on this are usually whether the range of 'sometimes' is more like 'nearly always', or 'in rare instances'.
[Edit--too slow, EH already defended himself! But maybe he'd like to pay me to represent him in this thread. ]
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Last edited by SCSimmons; 09-14-2009 at 08:41 AM.. Reason: addendum
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  #17  
Old 09-14-2009, 08:40 AM
Gfactor Gfactor is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kimmy_Gibbler View Post
By using a fictitious name, you needlessly transform yourself from a creditor collecting a debt into a plain old debt collector and thereby take on much greater burdens under the FDCPA. Including, as mentioned, a ban on misrepresenting the nature of the legal personnel working on the account.

In other words: Don't do it.
That's a great point.

Here's my state's unauthorized practice statute:

Quote:
600.916 Unauthorized practice of law.

Sec. 916.

(1) A person shall not practice law or engage in the law business, shall not in any manner whatsoever lead others to believe that he or she is authorized to practice law or to engage in the law business, and shall not in any manner whatsoever represent or designate himself or herself as an attorney and counselor, attorney at law, or lawyer, unless the person is regularly licensed and authorized to practice law in this state. A person who violates this section is guilty of contempt of the supreme court and of the circuit court of the county in which the violation occurred, and upon conviction is punishable as provided by law. This section does not apply to a person who is duly licensed and authorized to practice law in another state while temporarily in this state and engaged in a particular matter.
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  #18  
Old 09-14-2009, 09:47 AM
pulykamell pulykamell is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TheMadHun View Post
I'm not talking about practicing law.

Say I want a debtor to think I have turned his case over to a lawyer.
Can I make up stationery with a random alias, with the word Esq at the end, and a lawyerly "company line" in the title?
What about the case of a fake cc? We did this once with a Japanese publisher which was waffling on payment for an article we had done. After a few gentle reminders to pay, we sent one last one with the cc: of a non-existant, but official looking, law office in the email header, along with a firm demand for payment and threat of legal action. They called us the next day and wired us all our money.

Last edited by pulykamell; 09-14-2009 at 09:49 AM..
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  #19  
Old 09-14-2009, 10:05 AM
Really Not All That Bright Really Not All That Bright is online now
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Originally Posted by Elendil's Heir View Post
I've had several people appear before me in court who identified themselves as lawyers, which I doubted because of their obvious incompetence or just an odd vibe I got from them, so I checked with the Supreme Court of Ohio's attorney registration office. Wouldn't you know it, they all were lawyers!
Sometimes, incompetence is no bar.
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  #20  
Old 09-14-2009, 10:12 AM
Northern Piper Northern Piper is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Randy Seltzer View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by TheMadHun
Do I have to pass the bar to call myself Esq?
No. There is no actual legal significance to that honorific in America.

Except, of course, when one uses it to hold oneself out as a lawyer. Then one is breaking the law in most states.
Previous thread on the issue of "Esquire" - Use of 'esquire' illegal?
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  #21  
Old 09-14-2009, 11:43 AM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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Originally Posted by Really Not All That Bright View Post
Sometimes, incompetence is no bar.
But of course.

pulykamell, I'd say a fake cc: is certainly deceptive but not illegal. I'm not familiar with any bar complaint or UPL case in which that's been an issue.
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  #22  
Old 09-14-2009, 11:50 AM
Really Not All That Bright Really Not All That Bright is online now
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The fake carbon copy line seems kind of pointless. If you've already engaged counsel, you get them to send the letter.
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  #23  
Old 09-14-2009, 12:39 PM
Gfactor Gfactor is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Elendil's Heir View Post
But of course.

pulykamell, I'd say a fake cc: is certainly deceptive but not illegal. I'm not familiar with any bar complaint or UPL case in which that's been an issue.
I agree with two exceptions. First Kimmy's point about the FDCPA may cover that sort of thing in consumer collection cases. If it's a letter you are sending to a business, the FDCPA generally does not apply, but if you're trying to collect from a consumer, it might. Second, I think it might be unethical for a lawyer to do it, at least under some circumstances. I've had clients ask me to include fake cc's in letters I'm sending, and I usually refuse to do it on "appearance of impropriety" grounds. I've never seen anybody actually get in trouble for it, but I don't want to be the guy whose name is on the leading case, either. I also think it's generally an ineffective tactic, but that's another story.

ETA: Hi Campion!

Last edited by Gfactor; 09-14-2009 at 12:42 PM..
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  #24  
Old 05-20-2011, 03:52 PM
Phoenix407 Phoenix407 is offline
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I may know someone who is doing this. How would I go about turning them in? I live in another state from them.
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  #25  
Old 05-20-2011, 04:32 PM
Darth Panda Darth Panda is offline
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Me have law degree. But never call self lawyer. Bad mojo.
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  #26  
Old 05-20-2011, 04:48 PM
Rhythmdvl Rhythmdvl is offline
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Me have law degree too. Me pass bar. Me no join bar. Me still have trouble explaining to me-in-laws why me no help with law problems. Me have MPRE nightmares.

Good mojitos.
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  #27  
Old 05-20-2011, 04:49 PM
Acsenray Acsenray is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Second Stone View Post
As a matter of language usage, a lawyer is a person familiar with and studies law.
I quibble with this definition. It might be true of some informal uses of the word "lawyer."

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gfactor View Post
That's a great point.

Here's my state's unauthorized practice statute:
... but Gfactor's citation from Michigan law would seem to support the assertion that a "lawyer" is someone who is qualified and authorized to practice law in Michigan (license, member of the bar, etc.), not just someone who has studied law. And I suspect that many if not most state laws would be similar to this.
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