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The Dangers of Hiring Disbarred Lawyers: What Businesses and Law Firms Need to Know

Credential Sentry's Communication Team2/10/2023
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With license verification procedures in place, businesses and law firms can be confident that they are hiring credible and qualified attorneys who will contribute to the success of their organization.

A professional license demonstrates an attorney's skills, experience, knowledge, and approved training in their field, instilling confidence in their colleagues and clients.

When businesses and law firms hire attorneys, they anticipate that they have all the credentials required to practice in their field, as the license gives them confidence that service quality standards will be exceeded. Consequently, license credentials serve as a vital safety net to ensure that projects or tasks are executed as intended and even better.

However, presumption is not enough;

whenever companies hire, collaborate with, or use the services of an attorney, they must check their licenses and qualifications to ensure that they possess all necessary credentials at the time of hiring and throughout the duration of the collaboration.

This is the only way to protect the company and its customers from the possibility of doing business with fraudulent attorneys who have been disbarred.

What are the repercussions of hiring or using the services of a professional whose license has been suspended or revoked? Let's look into not only the potential dangers, but also the factors that led to the occurrence of this event.

New York Lawyer Bars Hopeful Immigrants

Law firms are extremely tight knit companies that build their success on reputation for winning cases, and in effect the reputation of their lawyers on board.

Take the case of Owolabi Salis, a New York attorney with a criminal record for engaging in unlawful practices. According to documentation submitted in New York's First Appellate District, he was a New York attorney accused of submitting more than 1,000 "fraudulent and frivolous" immigration petitions and was disbarred for six years.

In 2022, New York's Attorney Grievance Committee, which probes attorneys' professional behavior, accused Owolabi Salis of filing 1,185 frivolous green card petitions over the course of eight years. This was not Salis’ first run-in with the law. In 2016, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office accused him of tricking more than thirty customers into believing they were eligible for green cards while receiving over $5,000 from each of them.

Even though he was exonerated in his first case, it should have raised red flags for future employers, business partners and clients. Wherever possible, a lawyer’s credentials should be monitored in real-time. When disciplinary action such as disbarment occurs, it should be learned of in an instant.

The Repercussions of Hiring Without a Background Check

In the case of Salis, there is the potential for a great deal of harm and/or liability to stakeholders flowing from the criminal charges and the revocation of Salis’ license to practice law. Continuing to work or do business with Salis after his disbarment could have resulted in more than just damage to a lawyer’s or a law firm’s reputation; it could also have resulted in harm to clients. Salis had clearly demonstrated a willingness to engage in dubious legal practices irrespective of what the law or code of ethics requires of him, and thus it would not have been surprising if Salis continued to practice law in some form even after his disbarment.

If Salis had been a member of a law firm, the whole situation could have drawn his firm into the specter of legal liability. Although acquitted for his 2016 transgressions, this run-in alone should have been a red flag during the hiring process and should have been cause for close watch of Salis in the course of his relationship with any employer-law firm. As a general statement, a firm that employs or partners with disbarred attorneys or practitioners with previous criminal charges could accrue a heightened responsibility and may be more likely to incur liability for the actions of a lawyer associated with the firm (and who is held out to be a lawyer of that firm or employer to the public).

The Importance of License Verification

Verification of licensing credentials is essential for establishing the legitimacy of a professional in regulated sectors and of a company that employs such specialists. A license verification can offer information about the history and credentials of a professional, in addition to assisting in the identification of any lapses in judgment or integrity that may pose a risk to the company as well as to the customers it serves.

Verifying a license prior to beginning a business arrangement and throughout an employment agreement is essential for preventing a variety of future complications for the company. These issues may include:

  • Financial losses,
  • Legal disputes,
  • Customer loss,
  • Loss of trust,
  • And long-term reputational damage.

This is especially true within the legal field. When attorneys work with sensitive topics, such as immigration regulations or other similar legal issues, businesses have a responsibility to conduct license credential checks on their employees and partners to ensure that their clients are not put in any further danger. These customers have already been through a lot, and they are looking for assistance from someone trustworthy and reputable because they do not want to put themselves in any additional precarious situations.

With both a license verification and a background check, the individual is evaluated for any additional potential red flags, such as a criminal record or other professional misconduct. Therefore, businesses must take this important precaution to protect themselves and their customers. Credentialing not only increases consumer trust, but also serves as an indicator for determining the quality of services.

Including license verification as part of every organization's risk management strategy serves the dual purpose of protecting consumers' interests and instilling confidence in professionals working in their respective fields, such as attorneys and law firms.

This strategy indicates that the organization has been employing individuals who are qualified to complete the task at hand due to their education, experience, expertise, and credibility. This may open the door to ongoing business opportunities and reputational and financial success.

Furthermore, it is equally important to continuously review license credentials and conduct routine checks on the certifications and licenses throughout the duration of employment. This is another essential element of any risk mitigation strategy, and it can help businesses avoid the previously mentioned potential consequences of hiring disbarred attorneys or failing to understand the license status of their specialists.

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Using the example of the fraudulent and disbarred New York attorney who was a known potential risk to unwitting clients as early as 2016, businesses should confirm the license status of all prospective employees in order to protect their brand and ensure customer satisfaction.

In this case, businesses could have leveraged previous information about licensure disciplinary activity to maintain a closer watch on the conduct of one of their own lawyers to guard the public from future risk.

When it comes to overall risk management, businesses that operate in regulated sectors are required to perform the necessary due diligence as well as include regular license verification as part of their overall strategy.

Sign up for an automated licensing check with Credential Sentry to receive daily updates on the license status of every professional in your database, allowing you to verify licenses much more efficiently. While you focus on expanding your business, you can rest assured that we are monitoring an unlimited number of entries in the United States and Canada on a daily basis, giving you the peace of mind and confidence required in your industry. Start verifying now.

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