Is he really a lawyer?

To qualify as a lawyer in most States, one needs to graduate from law school and then pass the bar exam. (There are some exceptions.) Nothing unusual about this.

But, on the ABA’s Solosez listserv, there is a long and sometimes heated discussion about the “need” to identify whether the person posting a comment is a lawyer before posting their comment.  In reviewing that thread, I merely thought that some folks have too much time on their hands and nothing more challenging to discuss.

Then, I recalled another discussion recently about “ghostwriting” and a New York rule that says that if a lawyer writes a brief for a client appearing in pro per, that fact must be disclosed. The Court believes it must be informed that an attorney was involved, even if not “of record” (making a formal appearance) …  that the client isn’t smart enough to write that brief!

And today, I had a coaching session with a lawyer-client . We talked about whether to describe herself as an “attorney at law” or a “J.D.”   Oh, by the way, she is a Ph.D., a significant issue in her work.  We decided to say “xxx, J.D., Ph.D.”  Full disclosure.  Of course, if you say you’re a “J.D.,” does this mean you’re also an attorney? Of course not. J.D. is merely evidence of graduating law school. But, if the designation is on a business card or a web site, and you’re soliciting legal services, the clear presumption is that you’re licensed by the State.

Perhaps this issue is so important today because our society is witnessing, and being the victim of, so much fraud in other parts of our life … from politicians claiming they went to schools they never attended, to authors claiming they wrote words that were plagiarized (see the movie Hoax), to commercial “bait and switch” schemes.  Use your imagination for more.

And today, Carolyn Elefant writes about knowing who is a lawyer. She cites Terry Berger and his Herculean effort to link to State Bars’ lawyer directories.


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