Nobles Law Firm

How on Earth could an unlicensed lawyer practice for 18 years?

bar-01The ABA Journal reported that a couple of brothers who were never admitted to the board in Rhode Island managed to operate a law firm – Lovett & Lovett – for 18 years before getting caught.

It’s intriguing that one brother took and failed the Rhode Island bar exam eight times while the other never bothered to take the test at all, yet the two managed to run a highly visible for years before being investigated. Highly visible? Yes – the brothers apparently advertised their personal injury, criminal and worker’s compensation firm on buses and in the Yellow Pages.

Apparently, the brothers avoiding signing pleadings or actually appearing in court. Seemingly, they had a couple of attorneys on call to handle those chores, but the two allegedly held themselves out as licensed attorneys to their clients.

A very good question is how they could get away with posing as lawyers for so long. Actually, such a situation isn’t too far-fetched – I can’t think of a time that I’ve been asked to prove I was a licensed attorney. If someone is bold enough, then, one might be able to pull off such a con for some time before being caught.

Ah, but here’s the thing. In Arkansas, Rule 5.5 of the Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit anyone from practicing law without a license. No surprise there.

But, there is Rule 8.3 to consider. That one makes it mandatory for any attorney who suspects someone is violating the Rules of Professional Conduct to tattle to the appropriate professional authority.

That means a lawyer who suspects that another one is practicing without a license could get in trouble for not divulging that fact to someone who can do something about it.

In a perfect world, then, Rule 8.3 would mean that anyone suspecting a pair like the Rhode Island non-lawyers operating in the state of Arkansas would be turned in by other lawyers. However, one has to wonder how often lawyers turn each other in or are actually willing to do so as Rule 8.3 mandates.

So, does Rule 8.3 work in practice? That is hard to say, but one would hope a lawyer would do what is required under that rule when faced with a particularly outrageous incident of the violation of the Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct.

This column was authored by Ethan C. Nobles and originally appeared in the July 28, 2015, edition of the Daily Record in Little Rock.

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