Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Attorney Scams

No one cries when a lawyer is ripped off...

There has been a significant downturn in the legal market, mostly due to the large number of graduates coming out of law schools and the small number of jobs available.  As noted in the New York Times magazine last weekend, the cost of law school has outstripped the staggering inflation of ordinary college, with many schools raising tuition by 300% or more in the last decade.

We may decry the antics of sleazy "For Profit" schools, who encourage students to take on student loan debt they will never be able to repay.   But for many Law Schools, the business model is not far different - charging outrageous tuition, paid for with student loans, on the premise that high-paying jobs will await graduates at the other end of the pipeline.   Problem is, for most of those graduates, no such jobs exist.

Many people think a law degree is a ticket to riches, fame, and fortune, and they think this because they watched "Boston Legal" or, back when I was a law student, "L.A. Law" and they think that being a Lawyer is just all about having sex and making lots of money.  No, really, otherwise smart people fall for this.  Stop watching television!

So today, there are a lot of desperate young unemployed lawyers out there, and I know this, because they e-mail ME of all people, asking for a job (when I can barely employ myself!).

So, naturally, the Nigerian scammers have figured this out and have developed a number of e-mail scams, such as this one that was in my inbox today:

Kara info@united.com
via yahoo.com
show details
Tue, Jul 19, 2011 at 1:27 PM

I am contacting you for settlement agreement between me and my ex. I need your counsel for litigation or possible collection on this matter. I need your legal help over a Settlement Agreement funds against me and my ex. Husband,please kindly reply me via my email address if you can represent me in this matter.

My email: saXXXX@gmail.com


There are variations on this theme.  Sometimes, they purport to be a Japanese manufacturing firm (sometimes even a real one, if you look online) and claim they want me to collect on a debt or something.  I responded to one, telling them I am a Patent Attorney and couldn't help them.  I never heard back.  I have probably received 50 or more of these e-mails.  I stopped responding, of course, as it quickly became clear something was up - even though the company names were all different, the text was all the same.

I suspect it may have been a variation on the fake cashier's check scam.   You respond by asking them for a retainer, and they send you a fake cashier's check for over that amount, asking you to forward the rest by wire transfer to some 3rd party (them, of course) for some convoluted reason that sounds plausible at the time.  Their check bounces and you are on the hook for the difference.

A number of things should tip you off this is a scam.   First, Kara has an e-mail address that doesn't match the address she sent the message from.  Second, a simple search online on info@united.com turns up the words "Nigerian Scam" for six pages on Google (united.com is the website for united airlines, and "info" would be their general information e-mail, which no one would be sending from).  Second, the text of the e-mail is identical to several sent to other attorneys with various word changes.  Third, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Fourth, the typos and wording sound like someone from Africa attempting to speak English.  It has "Nigerian Scammer" all over it.

Whenever you hang out your shingle, and someone approaches you, cold, and says they want to you to represent them (particularly addressing you as "dear attorney") in 9 times out of 10 it is a scam.

I have had "sincere" inquiries from real people who mass-email a mailing list of attorneys asking for price quotes and information.  However, the idea that a guy who is sending out the same request to 100 or 1000 attorneys is going to use your services is, well, somewhat a long shot.

Foreign attorneys, particularly from Korea, routinely contact me asking me to file section 371 National Phase cases (which require the filing fee paid in advance) within a week of the filing deadline.   I usually tell them I need at least a few thousand dollars as an advance, and I never hear from them again.  The gag is, of course, you file the case, they revoke your power of attorney (if they ever indeed sign one) and your 5-10 hours of time preparing the filing documents, PLUS THE FILING FEES are gone forever.

And yet, many attorneys - supposedly smart people, fall for these scams.

So, how does this affect you?  It may not, but it illustrates how supposedly "smart" people can get caught up in really dumb deals.   The people who gave Bernie Madoff all their money weren't idiots.  Chelsea Clinton's Father-In-Law was a smart investment banker - and he still got stung in a Nigerian scam.  Smart people bought into the housing bubble and the dot-com bubble, and even today, they are thinking Gold is a good investment and Facebook will make money.

People are idiots - and smart people are the biggest idiots of them all, because they confuse Brilliance with Being Lucky.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist or a financial genius to see through the smokescreen.   In fact, it probably helps if you are not super-smart and super-successful, as those sorts of people often start to believe their own hype and think they are invincible.

You can't get something-for-nothing.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  And There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

Maybe smart folks don't see that.  But fortunately, we dumb folks can.