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Unlawfully practicing law will be a felony

Practicing law without a license will become a felony offense next year under new legislation signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

“We have no tolerance for scam artists who pose as lawyers and deceive New Yorkers in need of legal help,” Cuomo said. “This new law will help hold accountable individuals who defraud New Yorkers by offering services they are not licensed to provide accountable.”

For most professions licensed by New York state, unlicensed practice constitutes a class E felony but under current law, unlicensed practice of law constitutes a misdemeanor. The new law takes effect Nov. 1, 2013.

The move was praised by New York State Bar Association President Seymour W. James Jr. who said New Yorkers deserve a real attorney when they have legal problems.

“Unscrupulous individuals pretending to be lawyers often prey on immigrants and the poor,” added James (The Legal Aid Society in New York City). “The consequences of their bad advice can be life altering for their victims, resulting in jail time, loss of child custody, deportation and financial hardship.”

The new measure makes it a Class E felony for anyone presenting themselves as an attorney that causes another person to lose $1,000 or more, or material damage resulting in the impairment of a legal right.

The legislation incorporated language developed by the state bar association and approved by its Executive Committee earlier this year.