Within the last few months here at L4SB, several of our clients have encountered an alarming issue—that is being able to locate a reliable and authentic attorney. They delve into intense legal matters only to find that the person who has been giving them legal advice is a scrivener or worse, a fraud. For more information on the difference between lawyers and scriveners, check out our article Lawyers not Scriveners. They’ve wasted resources, time, and a lot money for what they thought would be legitimate help from an attorney.
We encounter this situation way too often whether from our clients or from the opposing parties, and it is completely preventable; it just takes a little time and research. With the amount of money you’re investing into an attorney and into your business, you want to make sure everything is done right the first time.
How to Verify Attorney Authenticity
Don’t be afraid to ask the attorney for their information with the state bar. It is important to feel safe about the attorney you want to hire.
– Check Your Local State Bar
If you are unsure about the status of your attorney, check their name and registry with the state bar in your area. A search under the bar directory should have their name, contact information, area of practice. If you still cannot find a name, call the state bar, and they should be able to verify it for you. There should be no attorney uncomfortable with disclosing this information with you, and if they are, that should be a red flag. Here are a few examples of state bar homepages: New Mexico, Illinois, and California.
– Google Search
It is common for attorneys these days to have a website with updated contact information. A quick search of their name and the state you’re in should draw you to the correct website. Inconsistent or nonexistent contact information could be a sign of fraud. A good place to search for is the American Bar Association.
– Contact and Meet the Attorney
Call the number registered for the attorney before you go in. Ask for a consultation and some information regarding their area of practice. Some attorneys will do a free consultation (here at L4SB, our attorneys do a free fifteen minute consultation over the phone), and others may charge for their time; however, meeting your attorney before you begin any legal work is of the utmost importance. Regardless of which option you choose, you want to know what you’re getting yourself into and who you’re working with.
– Ask for Their Full Registered Name
There are several attorneys who are registered with a formal name and go by a different one for ease in day to day communication. This does not mean they’re frauds. However, to be sure, always ask for a full name that can be easily searched for in the bar directory or online.
– Make Sure They are Authorized to Practice in Your State
If you are out-of-state and are searching for an attorney to assist you, make sure to check the state bar for which your business is located. If you are in Texas, for example, and are looking to open a business in New Mexico, you should find a NM attorney. An attorney practicing in the appropriate state will know the rules and regulations required for your business.
For more information on how to safely and successfully find legal help, the American Bar Association has a great article entitled, Consumers’ Guide to Legal Help Hiring a Lawyer.
Every Profession has an Expertise; You Should Hire Accordingly
The best way to protect yourself from attorney fraud is to hire a real attorney. Paralegals and accountants are not licensed (nor trained) to give you legal advice.
– Paralegals are NOT Attorneys
Would you hire an attorney to perform brain surgery on you? For that matter, would you hire a brain surgeon for legal help? The obvious answer is no, and that is because everybody has their own area of expertise. With all of that being said, it is not wise to get legal advice from paralegals or accountants.
Some people will choose the option of having a paralegal do all the paperwork for their business and/or legal issue. Paralegals can assist with paperwork, but they absolutely cannot give legal advice to anyone. If your paralegal is trying to steer you to make legal decisions or is giving you options, it may be a wise decision at that point to find an attorney. Paralegals are not attorneys and are unauthorized to give legal advice at any time.
– Accountants CANNOT Give Legal Advice
It may be tempting to save time and money, especially when starting your small business, to have your accountant do everything in one go. However, accountants should strictly handle financial matters for your business. You should not have an accountant draft or review a contract. Likewise, your attorney should not handle your small business’ financial matters unless it specifically has to do with a legal issue. It would be wise to have both an attorney and an accountant working in unison to prevent any mishaps. For more information, check out our article Accountants vs. Lawyers: Using the Right Tools for the Job.
Other red flags may include sparse information on the attorney, lack of contact, or consistently changing information regarding their practice. If you suspect attorney fraud, get in contact with your local state bar and see what you can do. Protect yourself and your business from any potential danger before you start. At L4SB, we have attorneys who will help you with every aspect of your business. Contact us today for your free consultation with one of our attorneys.
I need to know if a particular person is even a “Lawyer.” Period. This is someone that has been given to us, a large sum of our money supposedly to pay this woman’s legal fees after her father’s death.
Why would we be paying her lawyer fees when she is or has the power of attorney over her dad’s estate?
Do an attorney lookup in the relevant bar, for the individual in question. Can they charge attorneys fees, assuming an attorney? You’ll need to hire your own attorney to figure that question out. Good luck to you.