Regulation

He's Not a Real Lawyer, but He Played One in Connecticut

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Although Brian Valery faces a five-year prison sentence for pretending to be a lawyer (strictly speaking, for committing perjury by lying on the record about being a lawyer), it's hard to locate his victims. In a case where Valery represented a Stamford drug company, The New York Times reports,  "a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs…found Mr. Valery 'unduly aggressive' but never questioned his abilities." A businessman who hired Valery found him "unimpressive" but "chalked it up to inexperience." The prestigious Manhattan firm where Valery worked for two years, Anderson Kill & Olick, "has been offering to reimburse clients fees they paid for Mr. Valery's services…and is hoping clients do not contend that their cases were bungled." According to the firm's managing partner, "We have not had anybody saying anything like that."

But perhaps it's telling that Valery has not chosen to represent himself:

Mr. Valery has not explained himself publicly and has been referring questions to a criminal lawyer, Joseph R. Conway, who declined to comment about the case but was quick to reassure a reporter about his own credentials. "You can check me," he said. "I'm a real lawyer."

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  1. Human resources in a big law firm has got to be the biggest joke ever. Sit around, pick your nose, hire the guy from Harvard, pick your nose somemore, oooops!! the paralegal without a college degree slipped through the cracks, pick your nose some more, and so on and so forth.

  2. The thing is, when it comes to hiring lawyers, there is no such thing as human resources. The hiring is done by partners in their “spare” time.

  3. Wow, “lawyers” and “humans” in the same sentence!

    Sorry.

  4. As a junior attorney at a large law firm… I’m so not surprised this kind of thing could happen. Unathorized practice of law is one of those things that’s highlighted in all kinds of legal magazines every month…. but it keeps happening.

    Although these kinds of cases lead me to believe that when/if I decide to move on from this job, I should claim to be a Harvard Grad with a 4.0 GPA, since it’s obvious from these kinds of stories that half of employers don’t bother to check credentials (and if any of the 3 bar associations of which I am a mamber happen to read this, yes, I am kidding.)

  5. The Air Force JAG Corps had a guy just recently who was a Colonel promotable, meaning he was up before Congress to be a one star general of which there are only three in the Air Force, who had been disbared in Texas before joining the Air Force. He was disbared for inadaquate representation of a criminal client. He joined to Air Force before his case was heard, so he was still a member in good standing when he joined and just never told anyone that he had been disbared. After twenty plus successful years of pracicing in the Air Force someone finally ratted him out.

  6. An attorney who represents someone who impersonated a lawyer has a fool for a client.

  7. This guy must have a decent knowledge of the law if he was able to win cases for his clients.

    Would it be just crazy for me to suggest that the Bar Association need not be the final arbiter of who is and is not qualified to act as legal counsel?

  8. Eric,
    I didn’t see anything about him winning cases. He was supervised anyway- not running his own cases.

  9. President Andrew Jackson didn’t have a law degree, and he was a pretty decent frontier lawyer. Of course, in those days, being a lawyer meant kicking people’s asses and challenging them to duels, but I digress.

  10. Hmm, that could explain a couple of people who post here…

  11. Comment, rather.

  12. This guy should be hired to do a Holiday Inn Express commercial.

  13. The fact that his degree came from “Ronald McDonald Law School” should have been a clue…

  14. He had been at the firm since 1996 as a paralegal and lawyer…sounds like he learned on the job what to do and how to do it.

    So what’s wrong with the old apprenticeship system, anyway?

  15. LTOD:

    The apprentice system worked well.

    But what’s the point of a closed shop if you don’t set up bars to entry?

  16. Aresen: pun intended?

  17. I’ve always suspected Thoreau of faking his credentials here.

  18. on some thds ppl say that state sanctioned credentials are a big sham to keep the price of professional services high.

    Is that Sullum’s point with this post, or is it more to say that these credentials are rational and valuable after all?

    I haven’t noticed anybody taking the position that nobody’s money should be refunded because nobody complained before the dishonesty was revealed. Do any of the purer libertarians among us feel that way?

  19. I haven’t noticed anybody taking the position that nobody’s money should be refunded because nobody complained before the dishonesty was revealed. Do any of the purer libertarians among us feel that way?

    No, and for the record, I think “pure libertarian” is a silly phrase (if you have a substantive argument, don’t appeal to some ephemeral notion of libertarian purity).

    On one hand, I completely agree that state bars serve entirely anti-competitive purposes, and we would have a cheaper and probably better legal system without them. However, this man defrauded his clients. He represented he had certain credentials, and he accepted payment based on those representations. Whether you’re a libertarian or not, fraud is fraud.

  20. Andrew

    Pun intended.

  21. I’ve always suspected Thoreau of faking his credentials here.

    Wouldn’t you think he would make himself more interesting if he were a fraud?

  22. “I haven’t noticed anybody taking the position that nobody’s money should be refunded because nobody complained before the dishonesty was revealed.”
    This kind of supports one of the main arguments in favor of bar certification- laymen don’t have the means to evaluate whether a lawyer is any good- at least not until its too late because you’ve lost your case.

  23. Highnumber

    Good point.

  24. I would have no problem with Valery representing himself as a lawyer.If he falsely claimed to have completed a law degree or passed the bar exam he should be charged with fraud.

  25. People should be free to sell legal advice, so long as they don’t misrepresent their expertise (as this guy might have done). When it comes to invoking the coercive powers of the state, however, you possess some of the characteristics of a public official, not just a private actor. Filing a lawsuit means invoking coercive state power — there should be *some* state regulation of those who want access to the state’s coercive mechanisms. What kind of regulation? I like the old apprentice system, but what do I know?

  26. there should be *some* state regulation of those who want access to the state’s coercive mechanisms

    So do you want the State to regulate who can hire a lawyer?

    Your above statement does justify “campaign finance reform” though

  27. I’m not sure our legal system didn’t work better before we required lawyers to get three-year JDs, etc. Certainly, the whole concept of “self regulation” has devolved to simply maintaining barriers to entry and ensuring that none of us gets disciplined without a minimum of twenty corpses resulting from our alleged malfeasance.

  28. Wouldn’t you think he would make himself more interesting if he were a fraud?

    How interesting can you make physics? It’s not as if Einstein made his reputation as an international playboy.

  29. Not germane to the discussion here, but I find it interesting that Jonathan Rauch’s neofascist article about the putsch, er, push hasn’t been blessed with an accompanying thread on Hit & Run.

  30. to entry and ensuring that none of us gets disciplined without a minimum of twenty corpses resulting from our alleged malfeasance.

    In my bar journal, there are a lot of disciplinary actions every month, but no corpses ever. Usually the problem is that the lawyer dips several thousand dollars that was put in trust. Often less than $10,000.

    Sometimes they just stop taking any action in their cases.

  31. I tend to agree with Mad Max’s general point. (I would say that — I’m a lawyer.) Lawyer licensing is a little different from other professional cartels in that lawyers (unlike doctors and hairdressers, but arguably like engineers) are hired to take action against other people. The license acts as a sort of bond given to the state that can be cashed in (revoked) if the lawyer lies to the court, suborns perjury, etc. In addition, the licensing requirements (along with their concomitant education requirements) make it easier for courts to impute your lawyer’s mistakes to you. In other words, since we assume lawyers to have a certain level of competence, if you lose because your lawyer (not you) screwed up, you still don’t get a second shot. It’s over. This is good for efficiency and certainty. If you take away the licensing (or make it a lot easier to get), courts will feel more pressure to let losing plaintiffs sue again.

    There are probably ways to accomplish these goals without licensing. I just raise these points because they should be considered in any reform proposals.

  32. there should be *some* state regulation of those who want access to the state’s coercive mechanisms. What kind of regulation? I like the old apprentice system, but what do I know?

    I like the bar exam because a lot of people fail it. It takes something besides money to pass it.

    I wouldn’t mind if they once again stopped making the 3 year jd a prerequisite to taking the exam, but the point is mostly moot because most people who would have a chance of passing it would go to law school anyway.

  33. I agree with Sam, there are a lot of really bad lawyers out there. Read any bar journal and you will find a at least a few disciplinary cases that cause you to go “that guy did what?” Unfortunately, I don’t know how you improve the quality of legal services. It is pretty random who is actually good. I have known sole practitioners who went to fourth tier law schools at night who are spectacular lawyers who I would trust with my life. I have known partners at big firms with Ivy League degrees who could fuck up a cup of coffee and would steal the pennies off of their dead mother’s eyelids.

  34. Unfortunately, I don’t know how you improve the quality of legal services.

    Simplify the law.

    We’ve gone past the point where the law was complex enough to require certified education to the point where it’s so convoluted that you can’t really tell if lawyers are making dumbass mistakes. Most of the time they can’t tell.

  35. 1. California is a state where you don’t need to go to law school. Pass the bar exam, you’re in.

    2. Simplify the law? Uh, has anyone explained to you the difference between civil law societies and common law societies? The US is a common law society–our law is composed of all that has gone before. That’s where a lot of the complexity comes in. If you want to try to turn us into a civil law society, good luck. (And even so-called civil law societies don’t have very simple law.)

    3. Credentialed vs. non-credentialed. I could see, rather than having the whole 3 years of law school thing, if we had a series of exams that would-be lawyers would have to take, dealing with civil procedure, torts, etc., etc. and so forth. You pass, you’ve got a license for that area. Put that together with an apprenticeship system working for legal firms and you’d have something that would probably work out. Remember however one of the major benefits of certification of any form is a) short-hand “proof” of ability, b) portable from employer to employer.

  36. California is a state where you don’t need to go to law school. Pass the bar exam, you’re in.

    So is Vermont. The license gained through that route is only valid in the state in which it was earned.

    I daresay that there are law schools whose degrees are only recognized by a few states too. But I don’t kow that for a fact.

  37. Correction:

    There is no portability of the cedential to another state. There is if you have a degree from an accredited school.

  38. Already being a licensed attorney, I think that states should stop giving out licenses to lawyers.

    Well, maybe I josh a bit. But I would favor bringing back the apprentice option, at least for litigators. Maybe we need the bifurcated bar and the wigs, after all? I fail to see the need to have one-size-fits-all rules for admitting attorneys to practice in any given state. I’d also like states to acknowledge the ability of paralegals to handle simple legal matters without direct oversight (which is what happens in practice, anyway).

  39. Thanks for the info about Vermont–didn’t know that.

    Pro Libertate, yes, indeedy it would be loverly if we could get more stuff into paralegal hands–probably won’t work because lawyers are always looking for reasons to charge $600/hr even if it’s some really simple stuff. (I love the Nolo series.)

    Would also like it if we the hoi polloi could get access to LexisNexis without paying an arm and a leg. Sheesh.

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