March 17, 2004
Is That Lawyer Who's Threatening You...Really a Lawyer?
A year or so ago, I was contacted by an attorney representing a firm that is listed in the Whispers and Warnings section of WritersWeekly.com. He said he would sue us if we didn't remove the complaints about his firm from our website. His emails were quite menacing...so menacing in fact that we became suspicious. Aren't attorneys schooled in the art of subtle manipulation and vague threats? Aren't they trained to keep their cool at all times in order to prevail as the more intelligent animal in any debate?
We started doing some digging (which, to be quite honest with you, was really fun!) and determined within less than an hour that the attorney didn't even exist. We believe he was actually the owner of the company in question, posing as an attorney.
Since he'd sent us emails and also responded to our contact box on our website (which provides us with his IP address), we had a nifty electronic paper trail to prove his actions. You see, not only was he now in trouble for not paying people who worked for him, but he was also committing fraud and practicing law without a license. When we asked for his bar number, he became hostile and refused to give it to us.
To confirm our suspicions, we contacted the California State Bar by phone and their representative said nobody by his name was licensed to practice law in that state. He's now being investigated by the attorney general in another state for hiring people and not paying them, fraud and practicing law without a license.
And, we suspect it's happening all over again!
I was contacted by an attorney (a "barrister", which, in the United Kingdom is a "lawyer admitted to plead at the bar in the superior courts") who threatened to sue me if I didn't provide him with the I.P. address of one of the users on our forum. I, of course, refused. I don't give out any type of contact information for our subscribers, our forum users, nor our authors. That information is private and I, after being threatened and cyber-stalked, am a staunch advocate for individuals' privacy. Since his email was quite unprofessional and contained a few misspellings, I contacted the General Council of the Bar in the United Kingdom. Sure enough, the only attorney that appeared in their database under his name died in 2002.
It's not entirely uncommon for dishonest people to pretend they're attorneys in order to frighten others into doing their bidding. The people who resort to this tactic are, of course, already crooked, and you can usually determine if they're real in just a few moments of online research.
First, if an attorney is harassing you, ask for his or her bar number. If they're not really an attorney, a request for their bar number may halt the threats and all further contact. However, they may simply provide you with a false bar number. Whether they do or do not comply, don't stop there. You don't need a bar number to find out if they're legitimate or not. Is their email address anonymous (through one of those free service providers?) or that of the company they're claiming to represent? If their email address is that of a legitimate law firm, they may be a real attorney, but not always. It could be a clerk at the law firm or even the secretary of a friend (the friend being the person who is trying to make your life miserable). Use the information you have to find out which state they're contacting you from. This is usually the state the company is located in. You can try looking up their IP address as well by viewing the source of the emails they sent to you. You can then paste the IP address or domain name into DNS411.com and it will tell you where the IP address is registered. You should also ask them, point blank, what state they are located in, but they may lie to you.
Then, get online and find the state bar website for the state they're located in. You can usually search for them online at each individual state bar's website. You can find lists of the state bar websites HERE and HERE.
You can look up attorneys in the United Kingdom HERE.
After studying what a "barrister" is in the UK, and after receiving confirmation from his own employer that the "barrister" was "never called" (it essentially means he's not a barrister), we reported him to the Complaints Department of the General Council of the Bar. You can download their complaint form at http://www.barcouncil.org.uk. Click on the link to enter the site, and then click on the Complaints links in the left-hand column. To determine if someone is really licensed, click on "Bar Directory" at that same link and enter their name. Remember, they could be posing as someone else, so, if their name does pop up, contact the law firm they represent to ensure the person you've been corresponding with really is the attorney at that firm.
If you do determine that the attorney who is contacting you isn't really an attorney, please file a complaint immediately with their state bar and also contact the police department in their city or country. What they're doing is a serious crime. Your actions will save others from their crimes in the future. Only through selfless action can we make this world a better place for everyone.
Due to her advocacy efforts in helping freelance writers receive fair treatment and payment by deadbeat publishers, Angela Hoy has been the object of numerous threats. However, she is happy to continue her work and invites you to read about those deadbeat firms in the WritersWeekly.com Whispers and Warnings forum HERE.
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