Residents warned of dodgy 'internet lawyer' risks
LOCALS desperate for legal help are being warned about taking advice from an increasing number of fraudsters and arm chair experts posing as lawyers on the internet.
Queensland Law Society president Christine Smyth has issued the warning after lawyers became increasingly concerned about consumers opting for "cheap" or "free" legal advice from the internet.
Ms Smyth said victims were be duped by lay advocates who were claiming to be qualified legal practitioners.
"Beware of fraudsters who claim to be able to give legal advice. There seems to be a growing number of arm chair experts who are giving legal advice and services against the law," she said.
"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 Coast convicted of illegally engaging in legal practice on 12 occasions in 2013 and 2014.
During a two-day trial, the Brisbane Magistrates Court was last year told Jacob Reichman intervened in police interviews with so-called "clients" on the Coast and failed to correct officers who assumed he was a solicitor.
Reichman had attended 11 police interviews with suspects where the range of serious offences included fraud, rape and sexual assault, indecent treatment of a child and supplying dangerous drugs.
On five occasions Reichman did not correct a police officer after he was called a solicitor and in two instances advised a suspect not to answer questions.
In one of the legal cases, a man pleaded guilty to one charge of maintaining a sexual relationship with a child who would later become his wife.
The man later gave evidence that he entered the plea because he felt he had no choice after the advice of Reichman who "walked like a solicitor, he dressed like a solicitor and he talked like a solicitor".
Reichman was fined $1000 and ordered to pay professional costs of $1000 and $83.50 for filing fees but had no conviction recorded.
Ms Smyth told the Bulletin: "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.
"Some of these cases have ended in money not being refunded by the adviser, meaning the client then must incur further costs by hiring a real lawyer."
Ms Smyth warned consumers that there were major pitfalls in engaging an unqualified adviser.
Their right to confidentiality was not guaranteed, and a client's right to privilege could not be assured.
Unqualified practitioners could not obtain insurance and non-certified practitioners were not bound by any codes of conduct or ethics, she said.
"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.