Now THAT’S The Unauthorized Practice Of Law!

The fake lawyer with her husband, if it really IS her husband....

The fake lawyer with her husband, if it really IS her husband….

Usually lawyers get sanctioned for engaging in the “unauthorized practice of law” when the unwittingly fail to pay their bar dues, or handle a matter from the comfort of their office involving a client in a state they can’t practice in. It’s a serious ethics violation and a crime as well in some cases, but seldom do you see an example of UPL, as it’s called, like this.

For ten years, Kimberly Kitchen worked as an estate planning lawyer at BMZ Law in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, and thrived.  She even served as president of the county bar.  She was never a lawyer, however; never went to law school, never took the bar exam. Prosecutors said she forged documents to show she graduated from law school at Duquesne University, passed the bar and was licensed to practice. Everything was a fake, and she was a fraud. Now she is facing jail time.

Kitchen’s lawyer, Caroline Roberto, said  she believes her client lacked intent to defraud and, despite her lack of required credentials, “she provided a good service” working as an estate lawyer. She really believes Kitchen lacked intent to defraud, despite forging all those documents? What was her intention, then? I’d check Roberto’s credentials after that ridiculous statement. As for saying she did a good job as a fake lawyer, that is like arguing that it doesn’t matter if the fake heart surgeon shouldn’t have been performing the transplant, since the patient survived.

I do have some questions though…

  • How did the firm allow this to happen? Was there no vetting in the hiring process at all?
  • Did her husband know that she was pretending to be a lawyer? How could he not know?
  • How many other fake lawyers like Kitchen are there around the country? If she could do this, so could others.
  • If someone with no training could effectively practice law and lead a bar association without anyone noticing for ten years, what does this say about the current requirements to practice law?

9 thoughts on “Now THAT’S The Unauthorized Practice Of Law!

  1. That’s… crazy. But in a case like this, where there’s no license to sanction… Could it be argued that not being a lawyer, she didn’t fully understand the ramifications of her actions? It wouldn’t be a defense, but could it be used in mitigation?

    And what on Earth happens to her clients? Will the state treat her work as valid up to this point?

  2. Good thing she didn’t set up as a criminal lawyer. I’m assuming there would have had to be reviews? overturns? retrials? What happens to the estate contracts she drew up (that’s not part of her trial, is it?).

  3. President of the county bar was what killed me when I saw this in the news. Tells you all you need to know about bar associations and the people who head them up.

    • I think your average high school student counsel has more legitimacy than most bar associations. (Probably because only at most a relatively few kids in any high school become lawyers.)

  4. Believe it or not, this happens ALL the time. I even know of prestigious New York and DC firms where it turned out that associates had never graduated law school or taken the bar. Law firms are starting to get smarter about checking credentials, but it happens.

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