Could I See Your Bar Card?

by Rick Wetzel on January 17, 2011

I recently read an article about a convicted felon in Illinois pretending to be a lawyer for over five years.  He represented dozens of individuals in court before he was caught.  Authorities speculated he honed his legal skills from his own experiences of being prosecuted as a defendant.  He further refined his courtroom prowess by watching legal dramas on television.  Apparently, he only appeared in trial courts and did not pretend to be an appeals lawyer.

Pretending To Be a Lawyer

It is a third degree felony in Texas to falsely hold oneself out as a lawyer.  A person commits an offense if, with intent to obtain an economic benefit for himself or herself, the person holds himself or herself out as a lawyer, unless he or she is currently licensed to practice law in this state, another state, or a foreign country and is in good standing with the State Bar of Texas and the state bar or licensing authority of any and all other states and foreign countries where licensed.  Texas Penal Code § 38.122(a).

No Representation

A criminal appeals lawyer will tell you that representation by someone pretending to be a lawyer is the same as no representation.  Defendants are guaranteed representation by an actual lawyer under both the Texas and United States Constitutions.  If it is discovered an imposter lawyer represented a defendant in court, a Texas criminal appeals lawyer can pursue relief from the conviction on direct appeal or post-conviction habeas corpus challenge.  Such convictions have previously been overturned by Texas criminal appeals courts.

A Little Self-help

Information about those currently licensed to practice law in Texas can be found on the State Bar of Texas website  There you can determine whether an individual is licensed to practice law in Texas, currently in good standing, the date licensed, law school attended and graduation date.  If you discover your “lawyer” was not a lawyer, a Texas criminal appeals lawyer can help you.

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