The unauthorized practice of law in New Jersey is a crime under 2C:21-22. However, the prosecution and punishment of this crime is rarely enforced. The Supreme Court of New Jersey and the prosecutors’ office are, in theory, supposed to prosecute those crimes. In reality, these “practices” are not prosecuted unless fraud is involved. Fraud deriving from practice of law will only be prosecuted if it has been performed systematically. In order for the fraud to be detected, a high amount of immigrants or defrauded persons have to report a particular person or entity at the same time.
Thus, in New Jersey, there are many people and entities whose are neither qualified nor licensed actively engaging in what is called among lawyers Unauthorized Practice of Law without impunity. These are the “so called” “notarios”, “consultants”, “professors” or “tax preparers.” These criminals are most often under-qualified, lie about their credentials and do not have degrees of any kind and do not compare to a highly trained and learned juris doctor.
The City of Newark has unfortunately become a paradise for fraudsters practicing law without a license. Once known as a “sanctuary city” for immigrants to live and work, it has become a “paradise” for the one who defrauds them. Many of the fraudulent cases against illegal immigrants go unreported, because illegal immigrants are usually too afraid to make a complaint or press charges.
In addition, a lot of Americans believe that going to a non-lawyer is cheaper and less cumbersome than going to a real qualified lawyer. It is a myth that “notaries”, paralegals, travel agencies, “professors” and “legal consultants” can save you a few bucks: in reality, many of them charge more than attorneys since they do not have to follow the lawyer’s price guidelines. There are many advantages of using an attorney:
First, an attorney can be checked to see whether he or she is licensed to practice. Behind that license, there are years of high training in a law school and passing the bar exam, a gruesome and difficult exam used to ensure lawyers who passed have a minimum of competency to handle any legal matters. Non-attorneys have never been tested nor approved. Non-lawyers lack almost entirely any knowledge of substantive and procedural laws, and go by their “best guess”.
Second, with a true lawyer, a person has the right to ask for the attorney’s license number and credentials. Lawyers can nowadays be easily verified online and searched to see whether they have been suspended, disbarred etc. Non-lawyers don’t have any credentials and many often lie or exaggerate their credentials. Some of these non-lawyer criminals often state that they have credentials “in their country.” These foreign diplomas are harder to be checked by the average immigrant and some “credentials” are often faked.
Third, a good lawyer has a motive in keeping his license in good standing and the pride to provide services under a high level of ethical and skillfulness: years of study, hard work, and personal sacrifice. Attorneys are highly regulated by the Supreme Court, unlike the non-licensed person. Thus, with a true lawyer, there is a high level of accountability, whereas with a non-lawyer there is not.
Finally, a true experienced lawyer can give the client a fair and accurate prediction of the outcome of the case, without making any guarantees. Non-lawyers practicing law generally make glorious promises which they absolutely will not honor, since all they want is to take the client’s money regardless of any outcome. In fact, going to these legal “consultants” is more or less like going to a casino: you’ll lose your money and seldom achieve the results you wanted. With an experienced lawyer he or she can at least tell you a probability to win or lose your case. With a lawyer is more like playing chess than Russian roulette. With someone unauthorized to practice law, you are playing Russian roulette.
Another problem is that “cutting corners” and using a non-lawyer to do your legal work is detrimental to the local economy. Attorneys, like anyone else, need clients to support themselves and their families, pay their student loans etc. Going to a non-lawyer causes a terrible economical unbalance in the community. It weakens the amount of competition amongst lawyers in the community because many of them move away to areas where their services are sought and appreciated. This actually lowers the quality of the legal services offered by the lawyers in that particular area. In addition, most lawyers pay taxes and are highly scrutinized by the IRS, whereas these “tax preparers” and “notarios” do not pay taxes or under-report their gains, so the local economy and the community suffers.
A well-known quotation from William Shakespeare’s play Henry VI, Part 2 says: “Let’s kill all the lawyers.” This quotation has a complex meaning subject to hundreds of interpretations. In fact, it has been interpreted to be in praise of the lawyers, in their honor, showing that without lawyers a civilized system would collapse.
In Newark, the Ironbound, and all other areas in New Jersey, legal consultants and “notarios” are doing just that what Shakespeare stated: killing all the lawyers; killing them all economically and professionally. Many authorities, prosecutors and politicians do nothing regarding such a shameful situation. In the end, however, the private citizen or the immigrant looking for a good lawyer is the one who ends up legally “dead.” And the local economy and the legal profession is the one that suffers.