The Queensland Law Society (QLS) has issued a warning for people to avoid taking legal advice from unqualified fraudsters posing as lawyers.
QLS president Christine Smyth said there was growing concern in the profession people may be duped into taking “cheap” or “free” advice via the internet or from lay advocates holding themselves out as qualified legal practitioners.
“Beware of fraudsters who claim to be able to give legal advice,” Ms Smyth said
“There seems to be a growing number of armchair experts who are giving legal advice and services against the law.
“In Queensland a solicitor is required to hold a practising certificate to be legally allowed to give advice and anyone who wants to make sure their representative is certified can do so by contacting the Queensland Law Society or via its website.”
Ms Smyth pointed to the case of a 24 year old on the Gold Coast convicted of illegally engaging in legal practice on 12 occasions in 2013 and 2014.
During a two-day trial in the Brisbane Magistrates Court last year, the court was told Jacob Reichman intervened in police interviews with so-called “clients” on the Gold Coast and failed to correct officers who assumed he was a solicitor.
“There have been others in the past who advised on matters such as divorce and family violence. These parties were also fined and ordered to pay costs,” Ms Smyth said.
“Some of these cases have ended in money not being refunded by the advisor, meaning the client then must incur further costs by hiring a real lawyer.”
Ms Smyth said other pitfalls in engaging an unqualified advisor included:
Right to confidentiality is not guaranteed
Right to privilege cannot be assured
Unqualified practitioners cannot obtain insurance, while qualified solicitors are required to
Non-certified practitioners are not bound by any codes of conduct or ethics
“Having a qualified, educated and informed lawyer on your side will only assist you in your matter, whereas an unqualified party will often cause you more trouble, including higher costs,” Ms Smyth said.