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Is Your Lawyer Legit?
The legal profession is one of the most heavily regulated professions in the U.S. Every state requires attorneys to be licensed, yet people still practice law when they shouldn’t, which can lead to huge complications for their unwitting clients.
If you are considering hiring, or have already hired, a lawyer to represent you in any capacity in South Carolina, do your due diligence and check their standing first.
How to Determine if Your Attorney is In Good Standing in South Carolina
There are a few different online resources you can use. The South Carolina Bar’s directory tool allows you to search for attorneys in the state and returns information on their law school, the year they passed the bar in South Carolina, and their Status. You want to see “Good Standing” here. The South Carolina Bar also maintains an ongoing list of Member Discipline, which includes instances of reprimands and reinstatements.
The South Carolina Bar is not the agency responsible for disciplining judges and attorneys; that’s the Disciplinary Counsel of the South Carolina Judicial Branch. Use the search at the top to look for your attorney’s name, and if they’ve been disciplined in the past then the South Carolina Supreme Court’s published opinion will show up in the search results. (If you’re looking for the disciplinary agency in a state other than South Carolina, check out the American Bar Association’s Directory of Lawyer Disciplinary Agencies instead. Link to pdf.)
Finally, while it’s not as official as the sites listed above, Avvo.com does list instances of professional misconduct, or lack thereof, on each attorney’s page. Use the search tool to find your attorney’s profile and check for a history of disciplinary action.
Licensed in Your State?
As you likely know, each state requires attorneys to be licensed to practice in that state. Still, sometimes people licensed in one state decide to practice in another. In South Carolina, this can lead to being Debarred, which is different from Disbarred. Disbarred means the person was once licensed to practice in the state, but now no longer is. Debarred means they were never licensed to practice in the state, and now they never will be allowed to (without first obtaining an order from the Supreme Court of South Carolina).
This is exactly what happened to two people earlier this spring, Farzad Naderi and Christopher Michael Ochoa, who were (separately) debarred for providing legal services to people despite not being members of the South Carolina Bar. In Ochoa’s case, he accurately represented himself as being “licensed in the State of Florida” and not able to practice in South Carolina, but implied that he had a “network of attorneys” allowing him to take cases in South Carolina when in fact that was a misrepresentation. The attorneys he worked with in South Carolina and other states were hired on a piecemeal basis and in various instances, he provided the legal services himself. (You can read the details in the Supreme Court’s opinions in this PDF here.) The lesson here is to be very careful when entering into an arrangement for legal services with someone who is licensed in another state so you understand exactly what you’re getting.
There is an important exception to this rule, however. A lawyer who is not a member of the South Carolina bar but who is admitted and authorized to practice in the highest court of another state or D.C. may apply for pro hac vice admission in South Carolina. “Pro hac vice” means “for or on this occasion only” (literally “for this turn”) and adds an attorney to a case in a jurisdiction in which they are not licensed to practice so that they are, for that case, legally allowed to practice in another state.
Finding a Lawyer in Good Standing to Represent You
The South Carolina Bar has information online to help the public locate pre-screened attorneys, certified mediators, and even free legal aid, all of which you can find links to here. You can also ask your friends, family, and colleagues for a referral to someone they trust.
If you’re looking for help or advice on estate planning or business law, give Gem McDowell and his associates at the Gem McDowell Law Group in Mt. Pleasant, SC a call at 843-284-1021. Gem is a problem solver with over 20 years of experience and he and his associates are ready to help you. Call to schedule a free consultation today.