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Navigating legal matters for the first time can be intimidating. Unfortunately, there are people out there posing as lawyers to take advantage of vulnerable people seeking legal guidance. 

For this reason, this guide will highlight scam indicators to help youz identify a fake lawyer and avoid becoming the victim of scammers. 

1. Credentials Verification

Education 

Any genuine lawyer should have graduated from an accredited law school and earned their Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Don’t rely on claims alone – it is essential to verify any such credentials. Here’s how you can do it correctly: 

  • Law School Websites: Most accredited law schools maintain an online directory of graduates which you can search to verify attendance and graduation of lawyers.
  • Contact the Admissions Office: If a law school’s website doesn’t have an easily searchable directory, reach out directly to its Admissions Office to verify attendance and graduation status – this may require written consent from them prior to providing verification results.

Licensing

All lawyers practicing in your jurisdiction (state) must be properly licensed. Here is how you can verify if your lawyer has this required permit:

  • State Bar Association Website: Each state bar association maintains a searchable database of licensed attorneys. Look for an attorney search function where you can enter their name or bar number to access this database and confirm their active status as well as any disciplinary actions they have received in their history.
  • Be Wary of Lookalikes: Some states use similar sounding names for their bar associations (e.g. California Bar Association versus State Bar of California), so make sure that when searching, the official site for your state has been selected.

Specializations

While not required, many lawyers specialize in certain areas such as family law, criminal defense or contracts – this expertise may prove essential in your case. Here’s how you can evaluate their claim of specialization:

  • Website and Marketing Materials: Legitimate lawyers that specialize in one field typically highlight this expertise on their website and marketing materials.
  • Experience Review: Review past cases handled by your attorney that match up with your needs and concerns in terms of both knowledge and skillset. This should give an indication of their expertise and capabilities within that specific area of concern.
  • Reach Beyond Self-Proclaimed Expertise: Don’t just trust a lawyer’s self-proclaimed expertise alone. Formal certifications may or may not exist; a genuine specialist should demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of any relevant legal intricacies.

2. Professional Conduct

Ethical Behavior

Lawyers abide by a code of ethics. Check for any disciplinary actions or complaints filed against your lawyer on the state bar association website.

Communication Is Key

An experienced attorney should communicate clearly and professionally, keeping you apprised of your case’s progress. They should be accessible for questions and addressing concerns in a timely fashion; be wary of lawyers who are difficult to reach or dismissive of inquiries.

3. Experience

Track Record

While past performance can’t guarantee future results, finding a lawyer with a successful track record in cases similar to your own is always comforting. 

Some law firms may showcase testimonials or case results on their websites, but always take this information with a grain of salt.

References

Don’t be afraid to ask potential lawyers for references from past clients who can provide valuable insight into their experience and effectiveness. 

4. Transparency

Fee Structure

Lawyers charge different fee structures (hourly, flat fee or retainer). When hiring a legitimate attorney, they should outline all fees up front in writing as part of an agreed written fee agreement before beginning any work. Here is what to expect regarding fees:

  • Detail of Costs: Your attorney should provide a detailed breakdown of their fees, such as hourly rates, estimated costs associated with specific services provided and any potential additional charges that could apply.
  • Clear Communication: Don’t be shy to inquire about any confusing aspects of the fee structure; any reputable attorney should be upfront with their fees to prevent hidden costs from sneaking up on you.

Contract Clarity

Before signing any contracts or agreements, read them thoroughly to make sure that the agreements are clear and protect your interests:

  • Scope of Services: Your contract should clearly outline which services will be provided by your lawyer for your case, to avoid misunderstandings down the road and ensure both parties remain on the same page.
  • Payment Schedule: Your contract should detail a payment schedule that details when and how payments are due, making it easier for you to manage legal expenses. 
  • Termination Clause: Make sure you know what terms exist for ending the attorney-client relationship as well as any associated costs should this occur.

5. Online Presence

Website

Any legitimate lawyer should maintain an accurate website that includes information on their practice areas, qualifications and contact details.

Social Media Savvy

While not all lawyers may have a social media presence, those that do should maintain professional profiles that match up with the information on their website and watch out for profiles with inappropriate or limited engagement.

6. Red Flags to Look Out For

Red flags may not always be obvious; here is what to watch out for:

Pressure Tactics

Any legitimate attorney won’t put pressure on you to hire them on the spot. Instead, they’ll take their time understanding your case, discussing options available and answering any of your queries before moving forward. Be wary of lawyers: 

  • Using scare tactics by emphasizing immediate action being required immediately
  • Offering unrealistic guarantees of success without proper investigation and planning beforehand.
  • Pressuring you to sign contracts without giving sufficient time for review.

Unrealistic Promises

Guaranteeing specific outcomes or promising an easy solution is a big red flag; legal matters often require time for resolution. Be wary of lawyers that:

  • Claim they can get you out of any legal situation regardless of the circumstances
  • Guarantee immediate results without conducting an in-depth case analysis and offer unusually low fees for complex legal issues.

Lack of Documents

Real lawyers will provide written contracts and fee agreements; be wary of lawyers who only communicate verbally. Keep an eye out for: 

  • Absence of written fee agreement outlining costs and services provided.
  • Reluctance or difficulty reaching the lawyer for clarification or updates.

7. Verification Is Key 

Credential Check

Don’t take anyone at their word when selecting their lawyer; use online resources available through your state bar association or contact them directly to validate his/her license and standing as an attorney.

Review Reviews and Ratings

While online reviews can be useful, make sure they come from trustworthy sources such as professional organizations or legal information websites before taking them as gospel. Eventually, use what’s been learned here for decision-making purposes.

Final Thoughts

To sum it all up, do not rush the decision-making process when choosing a lawyer – take your time, consider all available options and follow your instinct.

Follow these steps and use available resources to effectively navigate the legal landscape and find an attorney that will represent your best interests.

 

About the Author

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Husain Law Firm

Nomaan K. Husain is the founder of Husain Law + Associates — Houston Accident & Injury Lawyers, P.C., a Houston-based law firm specializing in Litigation, Immigration, and Aviation. He is Board Certified in Civil Trial Law and Personal Injury Trial Law, with law licenses in Texas, New York, and other jurisdictions. Mr. Husain serves in key community roles, including as Commissioner on President Biden's White House Commission on Fellowships and Chairman of Houston's Asian American Pacific Islander Advisory Board. He's been recognized with several awards, such as the Global Leader Award from the Houston World Affairs Council.

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