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Lita Smith-Mines

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May I Practice Law... On You?

Posted: 09/11/2012 8:07 pm

The recently-admitted attorney asked if she could accompany me to a closing. She advised that she wanted to get the feel of the real deal "so that I can fake it until I make it."

I'm happy to lend a helping hand to a new colleague (hello, extra competition), but before arranging a date and time, I advised the rookie lawyer to never deceive potential clients by professing to possess an excess of expertise. "Oh, I won't," she said. "I'll tell them that I have just started my practice. My fee will reflect that."

I don't believe that launching an obvious newbie into the world of real estate transactions poses any consumer-protection problems; I can't see a 25-year-old with wet paint on her shingle being mistaken for a seasoned pro by an unsuspecting home seller. Everyone needs to start somewhere, and besides, clients should question an attorney's experience and expertise before hiring him or her. However, I am troubled by those in my profession who hold themselves out as having been around the block quite often, while hiding their shiny new tricycles behind the file cabinets.

This economy is as troubling for many attorneys as it is for others. Lots of us look at our checkbooks and practically see the moths fly out... we keep our ears open for new business, yet only hear crickets. Some of us adopt "slash" identities (I'm a lawyer/editor), some consolidate with colleagues to pool resources and share costs, and others expand their areas of practice.

Take the lawyer specializing in divorce and other domestic disputes for over 20 years. He'll casually admit to knowing almost nothing about criminal law, except for the knowledge collected in two cyber-courses and backseat observations at the courthouse. Yet he's now holding himself out as being the right choice to represent those whose liberty is at stake!

The attorney announcing her expertise in bankruptcy didn't even bother taking legal education courses. Who needs education or experience when you can fire the full-time secretary who handled your bank closings for decades and replace her with a part-timer who knows all about bankruptcy? He's happy that the new hire knows "what to ask a client and how to file the proper paperwork," so he's all set up when the beleaguered and the impoverished respond to his advertisement.

Is the counselor fresh from 15 years of seeking property tax reductions for shopping centers any more qualified to represent a buyer of investment homes than a fresh-faced law school graduate? Probably not, but only one of them is claiming "I have been focused on property law since 1997."

Please don't perceive me as put out by my fellow practitioners. I'm an advocate of continuing legal education, and I certainly can't begrudge anyone who needs to put food on the table. My unease stems from those in my profession who market themselves in a misleading manner; newbies in the field learning as they go, practicing on clients who think that they've hired pros.

 

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