Midyear Meeting Preview: Panelists to Discuss Notario Fraud
In communities across America, “notarios” pose as attorneys qualified to help immigrants obtain legal status. They take advantage of the fact that in Latin American countries the term notario refers to a skilled lawyer rather than a notary public. This fraud sometimes ruins any chance for the immigrant to correctly legalize his or her status.
Experts at an American Bar Association Midyear Meeting panel will address how lawyers can better respond to this unauthorized practice of law.
Avoiding Notario Fraud
Friday, Feb. 8, 2 p.m.
All lawyers need to be aware of the common notario abuses and the significant impact such abuses may have on unsuspecting consumers of legal services, said Jim Coyle, deputy regulation counsel of the Colorado Supreme Court.
“Lawyers need to be willing to raise the level of knowledge in their communities of what can be predatory business practices by notarios,” he said. “An educated consumer is much less likely to fall victim to unauthorized practice of law and the incumbent risks associated with hiring an unlicensed and untrained provider of legal services.”
There must always be attorney supervision on all legal processes or any type of legal representation, said Michelle L. Saenz-Rodriguez, attorney, Saenz-Rodriguez & Associates P.C. and Texas American Immigration Lawyers Association chapter chair.
“If an attorney is just ‘signing off’ but a notario is providing the legal advice and doing all the paperwork, in my opinion, there is a clear violation of ethical standards for lawyers,” she said.
What should lawyers do if they are aware of abuses in their communities?
Each state has its own regulatory process; therefore, lawyers should know what agencies in their state regulate the unauthorized practice of law and what information may be needed by those agencies in order to proceed with an investigation, Coyle said. Hopefully, the lawyer can help assure the client that it is in his or her best interest to report the fraud. The lawyer should also be able to explain the process.
“And even if the client chooses not to report, the lawyer should go ahead and notify appropriate authorities without revealing confidential information,” he said. “While a case may not be proven without firsthand witnesses and other evidence, the regulatory authorities can start to focus in on the bad actor and be quick to respond when another victim does come forward.”
The Federal Trade Commission has developed educational materials in English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean on how to avoid and report immigration services fraud, said James R. Golder, assistant regional director, FTC-southwest region. The materials also explain how to find legitimate no-cost or low-cost immigration advice from authorized providers.
As part of the campaign, the FTC also is rolling out six new radio public service announcements in English, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese that warn about illegal notarios and immigration consultants. The announcements also direct consumers to the materials on the FTC’s website, Golder said.
The State Bar of California is also placing a special emphasis on the unlawful practice of law this year, added Brooke Schafer, deputy trial counsel, State Bar of California. The bar will run radio spots in English and Spanish with contact information on how to report the unauthorized practice of law.
The Midyear Meeting program on notarios will be held from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8 at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas.