New York State should toughen the law to protect innocent New Yorkers who suffer serious harm caused by individuals who falsely represent themselves as lawyers, State Bar Association President Seymour W. James, Jr. said today.

"Individuals who fraudulently hold themselves out as attorneys can and do cause serious harm to their unsuspecting victims. Potential consequences for victims can include jail time, loss of child custody, deportation and other financial hardships," said James of New York City (The Legal Aid Society).  The poor and immigrants are most frequently targeted, he said.

Consumers should be protected from unscrupulous individuals who fraudulently claim to be licensed professionals. This is recognized in state law which makes it a felony to impersonate a doctor, dentist, veterinarian, chiropractor, social worker, accountant, landscape architect, court stenographer or many other professionals. However, impersonating an attorney is only a misdemeanor in New York, even if the consumer is seriously harmed.

A bill (S.1998A/A.5700A) would make it a Class E felony when someone engages in the unauthorized practice of law and thereby causes someone else to suffer monetary loss exceeding $1,000, or other significant damage resulting from impairment of a consumer's legal right.

The bill has been passed by the Senate and recently was reported out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

"This important legislation will protect New Yorkers from unscrupulous predators. We commend the Senate for passing the bill and urge the Assembly to follow suit and send it to the Governor for his signature," James said.

The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876.

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Contact: Mark Mahoney
Associate Director of Media Services
mmahoney@nysba.org
518/487-5531