Beware the fake China attorney
Beware the fake China lawyer

American Lawyer Magazine recently did an article, That Law Firm’s Website Might Not Be for a Real Law Firm on “a new white paper [that] examines a growing trend of fraudsters posing as attorneys or legal consultants online to exploit those seeking legal services.”  To which I can only say, well yeah.

To which I can only say, well yeah.

We actually first wrote about the fake lawyer phenomenon way back in 2006, in China: Where Even The “Law Firms” Are Fake (2006). In that post I talked about fake Chinese lawyers taking money from American companies for trademark registrations:

There are those who take money to file trademarks in China and then simply run away. A new client told me he had sent about $750 to what he thought was a legitimate China law firm to have his company’s brand name registered. As soon as the first $750 hit Shanghai, he was asked to send an additional $600 to “cover the filing fees,” which he did.

A week later the website was down and the Shanghai “firm” was gone.

It turns out this scam is actually pretty common and it also turns out that in every case of which I am aware the scammers were neither licensed Chinese lawyers nor licensed Chinese trademark agents. In other words, they are just people who run China trademark registration scams.

Since 2006 I have heard multiple accounts of foreign companies that paid for trademarks or employment contracts or manufacturing contracts  or company registrations or various other things China lawyers typically do for their clients, only to receive nothing in return and only to learn that the “Chinese law firm” or the “Chinese lawyer” they paid for their legal work never even existed. How many foreign companies believe their trademarks are registered in China when in fact they never were? How many think they have registered companies in China when they don’t? I don’t know the numbers, but I do know that the number of these fake law firms is on the rise, fueled in large part by foreign companies seeking to reduce their costs wherever they can.

In addition to fake law firms that simply steal your money, there are also a whole host of companies with no lawyers who advertise their China legal services on the internet. These companies (at least as far as I know) do not flat out steal your money but what they do can in some cases be almost as harmful. These companies lead their clients to believe they are communicating with lawyers when in fact they are not. This means that there is no attorney-client privilege and that the odds of whoever does your legal work knowing your situation and your goals and having the capability to draft a cross-border document that will work for you are about 1,000 to 1. Be careful of these companies as well.

So how can you avoid these things happening to you? Do some due diligence before you pay/hire a China lawyer, especially if you will be paying upfront for something like a China trademark or a China company registration where it may take you years to realize that you have been had. There are, for instance, some fast and easy steps you can take to confirm that your lawyers actually have a law license. I believe every U.S. state lists its licensed practitioners online and avvo.com also lists all or nearly all licensed lawyers. Here is my proof on Avvo that I am a real lawyer, licensed in Alaska, Illinois, and Washington. Most countries have something similar. Check to see how long they claim to have been in business as compared to how long they have had their website. One fake China attorney claimed to have more than 20 years experience but his website appears to have been online for a total of only 5 months.

Anyway, just be careful out there.

 

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Photo of Dan Harris Dan Harris

Dan is a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

He primarily represents companies doing business in emerging market countries, having spent years building and maintaining a global, professional network. 

Dan is a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

He primarily represents companies doing business in emerging market countries, having spent years building and maintaining a global, professional network.  His work has been as varied as securing the release of two improperly held helicopters in Papua New Guinea, setting up a legal framework to move slag from Canada to Poland’s interior, overseeing hundreds of litigation and arbitration matters in Korea, helping someone avoid terrorism charges in Japan, and seizing fish product in China to collect on a debt.

He was named as one of only three Washington State Amazing Lawyers in International Law, is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (its highest rating), is rated 10.0 by AVVO.com (also its highest rating), and is a recognized SuperLawyer.

Dan is a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and constantly travels between the United States and Asia. He most commonly speaks on China law issues and is the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog. Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Business Week, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The ABA Journal, The Economist, Newsweek, NPR, The New York Times and Inside Counsel have all interviewed Dan regarding various aspects of his international law practice.

Dan is licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at his firm, Dan focuses on setting up/registering companies overseas (via WFOEs, Rep Offices or Joint Ventures), drafting international contracts (NDAs, OEM Agreements, licensing, distribution, etc.), protecting IP (trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and patents), and overseeing M&A transactions.