One of the basic foundations of the judicial system of every free nation is the notion that “no one is above the law”. This concept is very vital in the preservation of social order. In line with this, most laws are enacted in order to protect the underprivileged against those who will use their power and influence to oppress the weak. With this, lawyers are appointed as the vanguards of justice and the seekers of truth.
Attorney scams are not as frequent as other scams because lawyers tend to be law-abiding citizens. However, it is wise to stay on your guard and become aware of the common scams if you ever end up seeking legal representation at a certain point in your life. We’ll help you identify fraud associated with law professionals.
The term attorney scams is used to denote the ways and means by which a lawyer uses his or her knowledge in law, in order to deceive the clients for the purpose of amassing money. These acts constitute a direct violation of the ethical standards and professional code of lawyers.
The legal representative might request contingencies and you need to know how to stay on top of things in order to not lose your money. This guide will teach you how to navigate the complex world of attorney selection & common law scams.
Where should a poor citizen seeking for relief under the law turn, if these so-called advocates of justice are the ones trampling on their rights?
- Scam Cases By The Legal Profession
- Quick Law Scam Clues
- Attorney Red Flags: Who NOT To Hire
- Steps To Avoid Attorney Scams
Scam Cases By The Legal Profession
Law scams are NOT minor scams such as being overcharged for hourly work or filing procedures. Lawyer scams unfold once lawyers request huge contingencies from clients. The victims are oftentimes the members of the impoverished sector of the society (immigrates, injured people, elderly). They are simple people who are aggrieved and seeking for remedy the law can provide for them, but unfortunately have fallen to the wrong hands.
The materialistic mentality pushed lawyers to forget their sworn duty to uphold the interest of justice. Instead of catering to the welfare of the client, money became the primary consideration in handling the client’s case. Accumulating wealth at the expense of the weak became the trend, overshadowing the real purpose of becoming a member of the bar.
The most important things one can do prior to hiring a law firm is to research lawyers with experience in handling similar cases. This is why researching law firms is imperative. Make sure you research your attorney or law firm diligently before you entrust them with your case. You might have to shift through dozens of potential lawyers in order to determine their success rate in handling cases similar to yours.
There are certain factors that make individuals prone to scams. Those factors include age, immigration status, medical condition and private details which the client entrusts to a lawyer. The mere act of seeking legal representation makes one vulnerable because the person is sharing details with a stranger and they never know what their motives are and/or how they’re going to react to the information they give them.
Cases With the Highest Amount of Scams
- Immigration cases
- Visa cases
- Personal injury cases
- Tax cases
- Bankruptcy cases
- Insurance claims cases
Unfamiliarity with the law and the legal process may have lead clients into believing that their lawyer is acting out in their interest. To put it simply, when the client does not know his rights, he becomes an easy prey for ill-willed lawyers. Too much reliance on the lawyer’s guarantee that their cause would be pursued may have led these individuals to be a victim of the scams employed by lawyers.
Quick Law Scam Clues
It is never expected that an individual knows all the intricacies of law, but he must at least have the basic knowledge of his rights and how they should be protected. There are many instances when a fraud lawyer is said to have committed a scam against a client. Be especially wary of:
- Pre-mature settlements: In this type of scam, the lawyer prematurely settles with the other party in the case. This is to ensure collection of higher attorney’s fees.
- Giving false hopes: To collect further attorney fees. Instead of telling the client the true nature of his case, the lawyer promises or even guarantees favorable court decision, but in fact only delays the case to obtain further profits.
- Unlincensed lawyers: probably the worst of all misrepresentations, the supposed-to-be lawyer is in fact, not a member of the bar. The person who is representing the client does not have a license to practice law. This most of the time results to the miscarriage of justice, thus leaving the victim further oppressed and victimized.
Note: If the client is the perpetrator of a crime and the lawyer is aware of this, they are at a much higher risk of becoming the subject of an attorney scam. This is because the lawyer can blackmail the client.
Attorney Red Flags: Who NOT To Hire
The specific details of each case will defer based on the value of the case, the contingency, number of parties involved and more. There are generally red flags that you should be on the lookout for when you’re about to hire an attorney. When you meet a potential attorney you want to watch out for the following red flags.
They Mention Exact Numbers
Serious attorneys will not reveal how much your case is worth in advance, until they have the opportunity to analyze your case in detail. This is in partially the fault of the clients who push lawyers to tell them how much money they’re entitled to.
“Is it $1M? Is it $1.5M?”. The lawyer is forced to make up a number to appease the client. No reputable lawyer will ever tell you the amount you’re entitled to unless they have a deeper look at your case.
Tip: Observe the way your lawyer responds when you ask them how much your case is worth. If you present them with little information and evidence and they make up an amount, you should avoid them. If they request additional information before they can give you an estimate, this is a sign of a solid lawyer.
Bring the paperwork on your first meeting and ask them to have a better look in order to learn about the value of your case. The first sign a lawyer is unreliable is that they rush to conclusions and give you the case value without analyzing the facts. Always consider the caliber of expertise and reliability if a lawyer is eager to reveal the value of the case in advance.
Hidden Legal Fees or Processing Costs
The attorney has to inform you of the fees and costs involved, regardless of the outcome of the case. There are basic fees you’ll have to pay such as their attorney fees, processing fees (documents like medical evidence, police reports, etc) and filing fees with the court. The lawyer might promise to make these costs contingent on the outcome of the case. In the event they do, you should avoid the lawyer.
Estimating costs based on the outcome of the case (contingent) are actually illegal in some US states and some countries in the world. This policy is considered a violation of the rules of professional conduct in law circles. Make sure your lawyer can reveal the full costs in advance. This includes their fees, processing/filing fees and all other court duties.
Tip: The lawyer should have an advance fee set in stone. If you are able to negotiate the fee with the lawyer, what makes you think they’ll be able to argue in your case? If they lose a basic negotiation, they will lose your case. The best lawyers will tell you what you owe in advance and you won’t be able to change that.
No Clear Communication
Lawyers must establish real communication with their clients. A lawyer that gives you indirect/politician style answers should be avoided. It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with an experienced lawyer who has big cases under their belt. If they don’t give you clear answers in regards to your case, you should seek out alternatives.
Lawyers must be clear in their communication and tell you exactly what to expect. If you have a have high chance of losing, they need to give it to you straight. Being direct doesn’t only mean telling you the facts. It also means they have integrity. If the lawyer is only telling you things you want to hear, you should replace them.
You will able to gauge if the lawyer is being honest and telling you the truth or if he’s not being truthful. The lawyer must be direct, informed and give you advice. They have to analyze your case, estimate your chance of winning and tell you the facts.
Tip: If the lawyer is enthusiastic about taking your case, it could increase the chances of winning. If you have a gut feeling you’re going to lose the case with this lawyer, you should reconsider hiring them. Evaluate them further.
Remember that lawyers can’t guarantee outcomes and any promise of a won case is a fraud. Guaranteeing cases goes against the rules of conduct, even if the client is the victim. Ask for clear, direct communication with your lawyer.
If you’re going against big companies or wealthy businessmen, they will bring shark lawyers. Most big companies deal with lawsuits all the time and their lawyers already know all the other lawyers in the area. They know exactly which lawyers will settle for low amounts without putting up a fight because they’re afraid to take their cases in front of a jury.
Tip: The amount of cases a lawyer has taken on in the past doesn’t matter. What matters is how feisty and determined they are to win their cases for their clients. Ask your lawyer how many times they’ve taken their case to trial WITH a jury. If the lawyer claims they’re a trial lawyer but they’ve never taken their cases to a jury and always settled, you should avoid working with them.
Steps To Avoid Attorney Scams
The following steps will help you stay on the safe side when you deal with attorneys. Attorney scams are typically hard to identify and you have to be vigilant in order to find out if you’re being crossed by a lawyer. There are many different ways attorney scams can unfold, and clients can do few things to stay protected. In some cases clients have to entrust lawyers with millions of dollars worth of cash, which is why researching the lawyer is essential.
Taking measures such as researching credentials, being stingy and not sharing sensitive information is a good way to start. You also have to trust your gut and try to find if the lawyer is up to something along the way. It may be impossible to get your money back once you’ve handed them to a lawyer, so make sure the lawyer is reliable before you trust them with a down-payment.
The first step is to research the credentials of the lawyer representing you. You want to know that the lawyer is licensed and has experience dealing with cases similar to yours. Ask them how many cases they’ve won. Ask about the amount of times they’ve taken their cases to trial. Ask them how many years they’ve worked as a lawyer. Question their qualifications. You want to know the lawyer representing you will give the best chance to win in the court of law.
A common scam is carried out by fraudsters who pretend to be lawyers and call their victims. If you had a call by a person pretending to be lawyer, you can look up their phone number on the internet and see if matches.
Tip: Ask a family or a friend for a recommendation. If they’ve won a case with a certain lawyer, there’s a chance that lawyer can represent you too. The best way to avoid scams is to deal with proven lawyers.
Established lawyers have reviews online. Try to Google the lawyer’s name or look up the law firm he/she represents. This will give you an indicator as to the reliability of the firm or individual. Do this research before you sign a contract with a lawyer or entrust them with your money.
If the lawyer has had a history of scams, you will find out soon enough. Individually research the lawyer to make sure their story matches up. If the lawyer is high-profile you will notice him mentioned in news reports where they defend prominent clients.
Look For Common Signs Of A Scam
While lawyer scams unfold on an individual basis, there are still common signs you can look for that indicate that you’re involved with a scam. If you have a high-value case that involves personal injuries, bankruptcies, inheritance or similar you have to be on your guard constantly. Only deal with reputable lawyers and be careful before you share sensitive information with a lawyer. The following are the most common signs to look out for:
- Under-Qualified Lawyers. While many lawyers might have the degrees and bar exams to show off, they might not be the ideal fit for your case. Some lawyers will convince you that they’ll represent you the best, but they might not be qualified to do so. Always look for the branch of lawyer that relates to your case. If you’re dealing with a bankruptcy, find a bankruptcy lawyer to represent you. If you’re an immigrant, find an immigrant lawyer to represent you.
- Quick Payments. Usually lawyers won’t ask you for large payments when they’re getting started, and this includes high-profile lawyers. Many lawyers will meet clients for free to discuss the case and don’t ask a single cent before the case is taken to court. If the lawyer is trying to convince you to shell out cash to “guarantee a win”, you’re probably being scammed. Be wary of payments that have an urgency element and lawyers who are quick to ask you for money.
- Fake Emergencies. Some lawyers take advantage of clients by making up emergencies and claiming the client will be in trouble if they don’t file their case early. They make up things like that the family members of the client might get in trouble if they don’t pay on time and rush the client into making a payment early. Certain lawyers might share the details of the case with other people who threaten them and extract them for cash.
- Digital Money Requests. Lawyers only request payments from clients in real life. When it’s time to pay your attorney fees, you have to meet the attorney at their office and pay using a credit card or wire the law firm a bank payment. Lawyers NEVER request payment through the internet using services such as PayPal or online billing. If your lawyer is requesting a payment, this might be an imposer who is not actually the person they claim to be. Always make sure to pay your invoice when you visit the law firm’s offices.
- Strange Calls. If you’re getting calls from people you don’t recognize but somehow know about your case, you should become suspicious. Many cases make it to the news and people become a target for scammers. A few years ago the FTC published how scammers look for victims of scams in newspapers and scam them again by acting as “Recovery agents” who can supposedly help them get their money back. Only trust your lawyers and make sure to meet them in person when you discuss the sensitivities of your case.
Notice Behavioral Changes
Always notice if a layer exhibits behavioral changes. If you trusted your lawyer and you established a good relationship, make sure their approach remains consistent. If they are calm when you get started but start panicking or telling you about emergencies a few weeks later, be on your guard. Your lawyer might be trying to one-up you after roping you on early.
This primarily applies to requests for money. If you don’t sign off large sums of money, you have little to worry about. In addition, be careful when you share sensitive information with your lawyer. This includes your credit cards, past history, old addresses, etc.
Tip: You will have power over the attorney if you refuse to give them a lot of money. Always be stingy when you’re dealing with lawyers and take your time to figure out if their requests for money will actually help your case or not. Don’t assume that because the lawyer has authority that they should be entitled to your money. Always ask for specifics such as what they intend to do with the money and how that helps your case. If a lawyer has your money they could stop contacting you and there’s little you can do.
Trust Your Instinct
Look for signs that feel off about the attorney and how they handle your case. Many scams can be avoided if you trust your instinct and stay on your guard. As a person awaiting trial, your senses are probably heightened and you will notice any details that the average person wouldn’t notice.
If unknown people start calling you and claiming they’re affiliated with the lawyer, make sure to double-check. Do your research and analyze everyone calling or emailing you. Check out their email, phone number, law firm and more. Make sure the information adds up. Usually scammers act aggressive and pushy when they’re trying to get your money. If your lawyer is not demanding any money, you’re in the clear.
Tip: If the lawyer has a change of tone and starts acting nervous when they’re around you, they might be out to get you. Most frequent lawyers can tell if you’re not easily convinced and they’ll let go after some pressure. Don’t fall prey to aggression tactics and always trust your instinct when you’re dealing with lawyers.
Remain on Your Guard
Remember not to trust people blindly. If you’re dealing with a case that involves numerous people and drags on for years, you’ll be contacted by dozens of people you might not know. Your case could be listed in public police reports, news headlines, and more. This leaves you vulnerable to scammers unless you stay vigilant.
If you notice your lawyer acting differently, ask them what prompted the behavioral change. If you’re contacted by people you don’t know offering you services, they might be legitimate or they might be out to scam you. You will find out if you ask them questions.
Tip: Apply caution through each step. Never reveal personal details with people you haven’t met in person and only pay your lawyer at their premises after you’ve negotiated a price for their services. The lawyer should be able to answer your questions in a direct manner using layman’s terms. Remember there are always more lawyers you can choose from and if the first few lawyers you meet don’t meet your requirements, you can always keep looking until you find the right representative.
The legal profession should be a noble vocation. Some of the rotten tomatoes have created a general public mistrust through unethical practices. It is true that at first, one may find it very hard to spot a scamming lawyer from an honest one. After all, they both use the same terminologies and jargons. Though this is the case, it is not impossible to avoid being preyed by greedy sharks in the legal profession. Be vigilant, kee an eye open for possible acts of scams by lawyers.
Seek the recommendation of friends and family members before hiring a lawyer. Always go to those already trusted by relatives and friends. They might be able recommend a lawyer that they know is competent and trustworthy enough to handle a delicate case.
When in the process of selecting a lawyer, it is also advisable to ask for the attorney’s legal certificate. To do this, first hand knowledge of an authentic legal certificate is a must. This is to avoid being represented by a non-lawyer, resulting to mishandling of the case. It is also advisable to consult the local bar association regarding the authenticity of a lawyer’s license to practice.
Last, but probably the most important thing to do to avoid being scammed is to ask for second opinion. Never settle for the opinion of just one lawyer and immediately hire his services. It would be better to look for another lawyer who offers free consultation fee regarding the merits of one’s case. A good lawyer never promises victory but only guarantees to uphold justice. A comparison of the lawyers’ opinions will help the client to distinguish a lawyer with genuine intentions from the scamming one.