Famous Examples of People Practicing Law Without a License
The exact requirements may vary, but every state requires a person to obtain a license before practicing law and becoming a member of the bar of that jurisdiction. In fact, it is illegal in every state for an individual to practice law without the requisite license. The purpose behind this requirement is to protect the public against rendition of legal services by unqualified persons.
In Kentucky, the Kentucky Bar Association is delegated by the Kentucky Supreme Court as the independent agency tasked with overseeing and regulating lawyers in the Commonwealth. Any member of the public can use the Kentucky Bar Association’s lawyer locater to check if their lawyer is licensed in Kentucky.
Famously, some people have caused quite a stir by practicing law without a license:
- Frank Abagnale Jr.
Perhaps the most famous case of a person practicing law without a license is dramatized in the 2002 movie Catch Me if You Can, with Leonardo DiCaprio portraying real life con artist Frank Abagnale Jr., who pretended to be a lawyer, doctor and pilot at different times throughout his life. During a later interview with the Minneapolis Business Journal, Abagnale claimed “of all the things I did, the easiest profession [to fake] was the lawyer.”
2. Leaford George Cameron
Leaford Cameron, known as “Scary Man” due to his creepy eyes that allegedly could hypnotize people against their will, practiced law in Pennsylvania without a license for more than 12 years. He was caught and convicted of practicing law without a license on three different occasions. On the third occasion, in 2018, Cameron was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison in connection with operating his fraudulent multi-state law practice.
Cameron went to great lengths to trick his victims, courts, and opposing lawyers into believing he was a real lawyer with a real firm. He made up a firm name, made fake business cards, letters, and envelopes including the firm name, and made up names of other make-believe lawyers in the firm, even filing court papers purportedly signed by other make-believe lawyers. However, when filing state and federal tax returns, he referred to himself as a “consultant,” “litigation specialist,” or “legal consultant” to avoid getting caught.
Throughout his racket, he provided substandard legal services to his victims, often immigrants and low-income individuals. His botched cases include one in which his client’s home was foreclosed, and another instance in which a National Honor Society student was wrongfully deported.
3. Kimberly Kitchen
Another fake Pennsylvania lawyer was Kimberly Kitchen. She posed as an attorney for nearly a decade before being charged in 2015 and eventually convicted and sentenced to 2 to 5 years in prison in 2019. Kitchen’s highest level of education was some community college, but she tricked her way into a partnership at a law firm and the presidency of the Huntingdon County Bar Association by forging fake bar exam results, a fake law license, and a fake check to pay her registration fee. She worked on estate planning for more than 30 clients before her fake credentials were discovered.
4. Eric Deters
Eric Deters, a former Kentucky and Ohio lawyer whose license has been suspended repeatedly by the Kentucky Bar Association since 2012, has gained notoriety in recent years for his antics and rhetoric towards officials charged with overseeing the profession. He considers himself a “legal outlaw” and has often publicly cast negative comments about bar officials and the Kentucky and Ohio Supreme Courts. After his Kentucky license was suspended, Deters permanently retired from practicing law in Ohio in 2014 but continued to run the office of Deters Law after transferring ownership to his non-lawyer father.
In 2020, Deters was banned from a Cincinnati courthouse after a judge signed an order restricting his access after Deters suggested he might burn down the courthouse.
In 2021, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered Deters to pay a fine for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law by giving legal advice to two clients of the Deters Law firm, for which he was still serving as spokesman and office manager. The Court found that Deters had been “holding himself out as an attorney” and not telling clients of the firm that he was no longer licensed to practice law.
In a June 2021, the Kentucky Supreme Court denied Deters reinstatement to practice law in the Commonwealth, finding that “Deters’ practice of law is not governed by constitution, rule of law or procedure. It is anarchy.” It noted that he has “a notorious propensity to file malicious or frivolous lawsuits.” The Kentucky Supreme Court ordered him to cease any and all activities and advertising relating to the practice of law.
On the day he was denied reinstatement, Deters aired an episode of his “Bulldog Show” stating “I don’t need a law license to make a living in law. You can’t stop me.” Deters currently faces potential jailtime for contempt of the Kentucky Supreme Court’s order.
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