December 21, 2007
Ignorance No Excuse: Public Discipline Imposed
The New York First Department rejected a hearing panel recommendation of private censure in favor of a three month suspension in a matter involving misconduct arising out of an immigration law practice. The attorney had worked for many years as "general counsel to a corporate graphic art enterprise" before moving to immigration law. The attorney was employed and compensated by "an immigration services company owned by non-lawyers and staffed by non-lawyer agents." He also received referrals from another source.
The real work was done by the non-lawyers; the attorney appeared at hearings. He "admitted that he did not have primary responsibility for the case files and that the work done by the agents in drafting asylum applications involved some legal analysis." He did not advise the clients of the conflicts implications of the arrangement.
In rejecting the request for private discipline, the court notes that "[the attorney] ignores the fact that he openly participated in a business that blatantly engaged in the unauthorized practice of law and accepted improper fees from non-clients. While [he] suggests that he was unaware of the impropriety of such acts, we cannot accept that as an excuse." (Mike Frisch)
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