Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Real Fake Lawyer

For the decade I've been practicing law, it's always been as a free lawyer, first at legal aid and then as a PD. Free to my clients, anyway. Several times, over the years, I've had clients tell me they were going to go off and hire a "real" lawyer. You know, one they actually have to pay for.

All of which flooded back to me when I saw this post over at TalkLeft about Howard Kieffer. Kieffer was just convicted in federal court in North Dakota for fraud, based on holding himself out as an attorney without actually being one. This article from the ABA Journal has much more detail about Kieffer and his history, which includes charging clients $25,000 to take their case, as well as multiple prior fraud convictions.

What's really interesting about Kieffer, however, is that he looked to know what he was doing, for the most part. He held himself out as an expert on federal sentencing issues, particularly those related to the Bureau of Prisons. He even ran a mailing list dedicated to BoP issues which, according to the comments on the TalkLeft post, was very helpful.

That doesn't excuse his fraud, of course. And the ABA Journal article is unhelpfully vague as to his success rate in court. If nothing else, Kieffer's story should serve as a cautionary tale to those who think the only "real" lawyers are the ones you have to pay for.


Muze Euterpe said...

Ha! We hired a "real lawyer" and he is now a PD with you. He seems really good. Don't know why he gave up private work.

JDB said...

You're probably thiking of jedi jawa's office, the state PD folks. Our last two hires (the ones after me) have been from out of state. But, at least one of them was a "real" lawyer before he made the switch!

MountainLaurel said...

If he's got the knowledge, can he still just take the bar? (I mean, could he have before?) and does he look like George Clooney?

JDB said...

Doubtful, ML. Most bars require a degree from an accredited law school (either by the state or the ABA). If he doesn't have a degree, he' be out of luck. In the old days, one could "read law" (like an apprentice) and then take the bar, but I'm not sure any state still allows that route.

But, it would be a moot point. I can't imagine any bar admitting a multiple time convicted fraudster on character grounds.

MountainLaurel said...

OH, I meant was that an option for him before he got arrested? I know that those who have been arrested are ineligible for the law.

IOW, my question was really if a person could still "read law," take the bar, and not ever go to law school? I was considering it if I ever need a new hobby.