CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

"I'm not a Lawyer, but I play one in Court": The Phony Lawyer Phenomenon

Perry20mason Arbitrary and Capricious blogs the remarkable case of a California public defender (and former DOJ attorney and 8th Circuit Clerk) who, although a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, was apparently never admitted to the bar.  You might think that this would be unusual, but it happens so often that there is an ALR on the topic. See Jay M. Zitter, Criminal Defendant's Representation by Person Not Licensed to Practice Law as Violation of right to Counsel, 19 A.L.R.5th 351.  Occasionally prosecutors also don't bother to get admitted. See, e.g., People v. Carter, 77 NY2d 95 (1991).  Some false lawyers are outright con artists, especially, it seems, in New York, although this convict on supervised release operated his fake law firm from Florida, and there are fake solicitors in Britain.  Better than being a fake lawyer, obviously, is being a fake partner in a big firm. More interesting are the people who are really trying in spite of a lack of legal training, or those who can't pass the bar, such as (presumably) this Wilson Sonsini associate. My recommendation: Ignore any law blog entry unless you can verify the author's bar admission. [Jack Chin]

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» Fake lawyers on the rise from Hale Razor
It's fascinating, but it seems that fake lawyers are on [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 28, 2004 5:56:20 AM

» If Law School Doesn't Work Out IV from Inter Alia
I'll just fake it. [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 28, 2004 9:35:51 AM

» The Phony Lawyer Phenomenon from Commonwealth Conservative
Very interesting article with lots of links about people posing as lawyers, or people who went to law school but never passed the bar, but still practicing law. I can assure you that I passed the bar. Come by my office and take a look at my certi... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 28, 2004 12:22:46 PM


Thanks for the education. Got a link for Mark A. Godsey bar registration?

Posted by: Bob(A.) | Dec 28, 2004 6:02:50 AM

Reminds me of Scott Turow's best novel , Personal Injuries -- or at least his best character, Robbie Feaver. Well worth the read --

Posted by: Bob Batey | Dec 28, 2004 6:23:29 AM

Prof Chin:

Yeah, cough up the Prof Godsey's proof of bar membership.

I should note, that not all state bars (such as NJ) have publicly available information on those licensed to practice in their jurisdiction. I am licensed in NJ & MA, but only Mass ( has such verification.

- k

Posted by: Karl Keys | Dec 28, 2004 7:26:25 AM

I always thought the whole "practicing law without a license" bit was just protectionism. There's no prohibition against a defendant acting as his own counsel, so why should it be illegal for him to engage an amature? As long as the "counsellor" is in full disclosure concerning his qualifications (or lack thereof), let the defendant make their own choice, good or bad.

Posted by: submandave | Dec 28, 2004 9:13:13 AM

Thank you kindly. I'm not accustomed to favorable attention from a law school professor. Links to five comments about the unfolding P.D. Wannabe story can be found in one place at

Posted by: Skelly | Dec 28, 2004 2:56:57 PM

What makes passing a bar exam qualifications for making comments on legal issues? As anyone who has taken a bar exam knows, it is an artificial test that really doesn't test one's ability to practice law. Indeed, most of the bar exams I have taken have little, if any relevance to the work I do as a patent attorney. I had to know about divorces, wills, etc. to pass. But immediately forgot what little I knew, as it is totally irrelevant to the law I practice.

Add to this that some brilliant legal theorists get themselves disbarred. I know one in Colorado who was a marvel in criminal defense. Unfortunately, he was caught with a bit too many drugs. To this day, he knows far more criminal law than I ever will.

Then again, not all JDs take or pass a bar exam. I know several physicians who testify regularly in court who picked up JD degrees on the side, for fun, and to aid themselves in their testifying. They never bothered with taking the bar exam. But they probably know more about their area of the law than most practicing attorneys do. I might add that some law profs either never took the bar, or let their bar admissions lapse.

So, I find it fairly arrogant the claim that the only people who should be allowed to opine about the law are those admitted by some state to practice such. We are not talking about practicing law (which does require being licensed), but rather discussing it.

Posted by: Bruce Hayden | Dec 28, 2004 7:41:22 PM


You are right, of course, and my comment was meant to be a joke.

Posted by: Jack Chin | Dec 28, 2004 7:51:19 PM

Yes, maybe UPL is protectionism by a monopoly attempting to prevent others from poaching. But, as you probably know, UPL enforcement is done as consumer protection. And, I think that in many cases, it is justified.

The problem (IMHO) is that much of the law revolves around criminal and civil liability. Just as a bad criminal defense can send a party to jail for years, bad advise in the civil context can cost someone their life's savings.

In Arizona, the criminal UPL sanctions were allowed to sunset. The result has been (again, IMHO), a disaster for consumers. "Document Preparers" run around "assisting" people in filling out forms. Yet, they often (maybe inadvertantly) give legal advise, much of which is wrong. So, for example, you have people filing for bankruptcy who, with such help, fill out forms incorrectly, and are ultimately denied discharge. I have similarly seen real estate agents and brokers fill out sales agreements in such a way that the other party can easily avoid the contract. (And they have typically had some training in doing it right).

So, in my view, there are occupations in our society that should be regulated, such as law, medicine, and pharmacy, because the cost of screwing up is so high. And there are many more that shouldn't be, such as barbers, beauticians, etc., because the cost of a bad haircut does not compare to the cost of spending 20 years in jail or dying because the wrong med was prescribed or administered.

Posted by: Bruce Hayden | Dec 28, 2004 8:04:42 PM

I am a paralegal and recently appeared in m.c. with my daughter-in-law, who speaks fairly good english, but needed assistance explaining herself to the prosecutor. When I produced photographs to illuminate her defense, and suggested that the police officer could not have seen my daughter-in-law go through a stop sign from a vantage point where the stop sign was not visible, I was advised by the prosecutor that I was advocating on her behalf and should stay out of court. He then angrily insisted on re-scheduling the matter as the police officer was not present to tell her side of the story. It has been suggested to me that if I had obtained a power of attorney for use in discussing her case with the prosecutor, he would have had to accept it and discuss the case with me. I believe that if I had appeared less professional and sure of myself, he might have allowed me to "explain" and discuss a plea without threatening me with practicing law without a license. Any thoughts?

Posted by: E. McGill | Sep 14, 2006 7:33:03 PM

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