Brian White | December 13, 2020 | Personal Injury
An impressive website or large, fully furnished office does not guarantee you are dealing with a licensed attorney. On the contrary, it could mean that a fake lawyer is scamming you. It could also mean that you are about to lose thousands of dollars or have your identity stolen.
An Example of a Fake Law Firm in Houston
In 2017, the Houston Bar Association filed a lawsuit against a fake law firm known as Walsh & Padilla, according to the Houston Chronicle. The lawsuit alleged that the law firm was fake, and the website was being used to scam elderly individuals. The photographs of the lawyers were stolen from other law firms.
Allegedly, the law firm would contact seniors throughout Texas and the United States to obtain financial information. They would use that information to steal and scam thousands of dollars from these individuals.
A court ordered the website to shut down. The Houston Bar Association also filed a criminal complaint with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
Even Other Lawyers Are Fooled by Fake Attorneys
If a law firm can be fooled, so can you. A fake attorney fooled a law firm in Pennsylvania for more than a decade.
Kimberly Kitchen forged bar exam results, a law license, and other documents to get a job with a law firm as an estate lawyer. She assisted over 30 clients with estate planning, even though she never attended law school. Kitchen even served as the county bar association president during her time at the law firm.
She was judged guilty of practicing law without a license, forgery, and felony records tampering.
An Office and a Website are Not Enough
A fake lawyer or law firm can rent an office and furniture. They may even set up an active telephone line and staff the receptionist area. As in the case above, there could be lawyers in the office who are not lawyers at all.
It is even easier to set up a fake law firm website. The website might direct you to a working telephone number or have representatives available online to chat with you about your legal matter.
If you contact a lawyer by telephone, online, or through email, never provide personal information other than your name, address, and telephone number. Be suspicious if a lawyer or law firm asks you for your Social Security Number, bank information, birth date, or other information that could be used to access your financial accounts or steal your identity.
What Can You Do to Verify a Lawyer is Not Fake When You Meet With the Lawyer?
It can still be difficult to know whether the person you are meeting with to discuss a car accident, product liability claim, slip and fall case, or other personal injury case is a fake lawyer or a licensed attorney.
The best way to protect yourself is to confirm that the lawyer is licensed to practice law in Texas. Ask the law office to give you the lawyer’s full name. If the name is a common or familiar name, you can also ask for the attorney’s state bar number.
Contact the Texas State Bar Association to confirm that the person is admitted to practice in Texas and is in good standing. You can also use the Bar’s “Find a Lawyer” feature to search for an attorney. By clicking “full profile” under the attorney’s information, you can view information such as:
- The attorney’s state bar number
- When the attorney was licensed to practice in Texas
- If the attorney ineligible to practice
- The primary office location
- Links to the attorney’s website, email, and telephone number
- The courts that the attorney is admitted to practice
- Information about the law firm
- The law school that the attorney attended and the graduation date
- The attorney’s public disciplinary history
If you have any doubts or need additional information, call the Bar Association directly.
What if the Attorney Will Not Provide the Bar Number or Appears Offended?
Lawyers understand that clients want to verify their credentials and check their status with the Texas Bar Association. Once you tell an attorney that you want the information to confirm that he is an attorney licensed to practice in Texas, he should have no problem giving you his state bar number.
If an attorney refuses to give you the information or becomes defensive or agitated, you may want to search for another lawyer. Suspicious behavior or aggressive behavior could indicate that the attorney is a fake lawyer, or there is another problem that might prevent you from receiving the best legal services available for your case.