The unlicensed practice of law will become a felony in New York under a bill Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law yesterday. The measure, A5700/S1998, was developed in part with language proposed by the New York State Bar Association earlier this year. The bill will take effect Nov. 1, 2013.
Currently, the unlicensed practice of law is a misdemeanor. The bill will make it a Class E felony if offenders fraudulently hold themselves out as lawyers and their activities result in the monetary loss of $1,000 or more to victims. The current sentence of up to one year in jail will increase to up to four years in prison under the new statute.
"Unscrupulous individuals pretending to be lawyers often prey on immigrants and the poor," state bar President Seymour James Jr. said in a statement. "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."
Advocates of the bill said it will bring penalties for practicing law without a license in line with sanctions for the fraudulent practices of other professions in New York where a license is also required, including physicians, dentists, veterinarians, pharmacists, nurses, certified public accountants and architects. Assemblyman Edward Braunstein, D-Bayside, and Senator Charles Fuschillo Jr., R-Merrick, sponsored the bill.