Shlomo, JD, LLM, Esq.

In a way, the story of the guy who called himself Stephen G. Dickerman, lawyer, and took a $10,000 retainer and charged $400 an hour is pretty funny.  He managed to convince clients in his Brighton Beach office that he was a lawyer. He managed to get himself admitted to practice in the Eastern District of New York as a lawyer. He managed to glom a profession by usurping the name of a lawyer who ceased practicing in 2008, and nobody knew.

What does that tell you about lawyers?  What does that tell you about judges?  What does that tell you about the people who hand over money to lawyers?

The New York Times article offers little insight into what gave him away, but lauds his “skill” at impersonation. Until he got caught.

Law enforcement officials say they are not certain who the accused man is; they only know that he is not Mr. Dickerman. The actual Stephen G. Dickerman was a lawyer for more than 40 years, but has not renewed his license since 2008. Court papers say the impostor then used the real Mr. Dickerman’s attorney registration number to set up shop for himself, charging $400 an hour for legal advice.

But he had bigger ambitions. In 2012, the man decided to try his hand in federal court, going to the United States courthouse in Brooklyn where he was sworn in to practice as Stephen G. Dickerman, according to an affidavit.

He has represented clients in at least 12 federal lawsuits, arguing cases in the same federal court where, on Thursday, he was arraigned on charges of identity theft and making fraudulent statements.

According to the story, the scheme began in 2009, and ended when he was marched into arraignment, the government still unclear who they were hauling before the court, except that he wasn’t Stephen G. Dickerman, or Shlomo has he preferred to be called. Or a lawyer.

He handed over his business card; it read “Shlomo G. Dickerman, JD, LLM, Esq.”

Most lawyers will see this and start rolling their eyes.  Real lawyers don’t do this, put silly initials after their name as if to impress the clients with their very important degrees.  Indeed, anyone who uses “JD” after their name does so to cover up the fact that they aren’t admitted to practice law. It’s kinda the secret hidden sign of failure within the guild.

But then, in the internet age, the normal protocols have gone the way of telephones with cords that provide excellent sound.  It’s a free-for-all, with people presenting themselves in all manner, puffing, hyping, adding anything they can to make themselves stand out.  Sure, it’s laughably undignified to the dinosaurs, but such old-school concerns as dignity are now the source of much hilarity.  If they think it will sell, they’ll do it. Just like Shlomo.

But how, one necessarily wonders, does a non-lawyer pull off being sufficiently lawyerish to get away with it?

Lawyers who had dealt with him — he has several continuing federal cases, the most recent filed on Tuesday — said they were shocked.

“He did not appear, necessarily, to be a good lawyer; he didn’t appear to be a nonlawyer,” said David S. Stone of Stone & Magnanini, who dealt with Shlomo last year.

This raises a sorry and scary reality of the legal profession.  It’s just not very hard to appear to be a lawyer.  There are forms aplenty out there to copy from, to file suit, to make motions, to do the pedestrian tasks that lawyers do in the ordinary course of their work.  Any fool can give the shallow appearance of an admitted attorney, mostly because far too many admitted attorneys provide shallow representation.

While cheerleading for greater effort, competence, skill, and most of all, thinking, may be my way, most just do the least amount possible.  On their best day, they’re mediocre and, frankly, just don’t care enough to put in the effort to do good work, no less great work.  They’re probably too tired to work hard at law after a long day of selling their greatness to clients to get that check passed across the desk.

But what of the clients?  How is it possible that potential clients didn’t realize that the fellow sitting across the desk wasn’t real, was a phony, a liar, a fraud?  Surprise!  As I’ve tried so many ways to explain, clients don’t have a clue what they’re seeking in a lawyer. Hell, they couldn’t tell a lawyer from a guy named Shlomo, Esq.  The guy talks nonsense to them, strokes their hand a few times and tells them how much he cares, and clients pass that check across the desk.

Shlomo, Esq., is hardly the first person to fake being a lawyer.  Indeed, I still chuckle at Dan Penofsky, once a major leaguer in Morgenthau’s New York County District Attorney office.  But at least Dan went to law school. Maybe Shlomo did, but since nobody even knows who he is at the moment, that’s impossible to say.

With all the hootin’ and hollerin’ going on to market and sell lawyers these days, it’s hard, if not impossible, to offer some hook that will help non-lawyers distinguish real lawyers from phonies.  As there are now industries being built to syphon off clients from real lawyers to non-lawyers, and nobody seems terribly concerned about the fact that there are guys taking money to practice law who aren’t lawyers, maybe Shlomo is just cutting edge?

There’s no obvious answer for how to tell Shlomo, Esq. from a real lawyer.  In the gutter, everybody looks the same.  Except the real lawyers, the ones who work hard, know their stuff, spend their days trying to figure out ways to save their clients’ lives and conduct themselves in a way that preserves their dignity and integrity, can’t be found in the gutter.

Maybe that’s the way for clients to tell the difference. The guys who walk down the boulevard in hot pants to coax you to hire them are the ones you need to stay away from. Maybe it’s the ones who are hardest to find that are the best, the real lawyers, the ones you want to entrust your lives to.


6 comments on “Shlomo, JD, LLM, Esq.

  1. John Barleycorn

    WTF, did Fridays replace Tuesdays now or am I tripping?

    You really can’t save the suckers esteemed one. Not even the “educated” naive. It’s sad but it’s true.

    I should shut up and enjoy your scolds but you are way to fun to mess with.

    From the cheap seats it seems true that your guild could floss more often than it does and slackers usually can’t be saved. Perhaps some PSA’s now and then might help but even then was your guild ever really engineered to save a naive client from incompetence? From a coke fiend or active ponzi scheme facilitator perhaps but garden variety incompetence or slackers I don’t think so.

    I disagree that finding competent and even the very, very competent in the pool is as challenging for the client as you sometimes portray while making your point even if there is an abundance of slackers in the pool.

    It isn’t necessarily as easy as it should be but hey, most guilds have a way of devolving over time if they aren’t disrupted by need or necessity.

    Pride just doesn’t have the staying power it once did. Who is to blame for that perplexing problem is a quandary indeed.

    IMHO finding a competent CDL, garden variety family lawyer, or business lawyer is still more than doable today.

    However, finding a lawyer who can nearly intuit the individual clients unique perspective via their particular situation is becoming a lost art amongst your trade and other trades. Go figure, who gives a shit if nobody gives a shit?

    Anyway from my cheap seat no matter the legal situation, if that situation is a predicament via criminal or civil acquisitions one finds themselves in, or just a goal via a contract or what have you the “art” for lack of a better word takes a bit of luck to find. More stoic sober hard work than art but there is some innate and learned art in there.

    Competent is one thing but finding a lawyer who is not only able to walk but skillfully walk, run, or skip and jump if need be to navigate a client through the initial mind field, then through the maze will always take a bit of luck and or experience on the part of the client when it comes to the choosing of lawyers.

    That’s just the way it is.

    Lawyers are unfortunately like lovers that way. All the competent ones can get the job done most of the time with acceptable results even, but when a client is lucky enough to find a lawyer who he/she can communicate with intuitively everything just rolls together on a different level especially when the client needs to hear what they don’t want to hear. Same thing could be said about most skilled trades though.

    Anyway, you have toyed around with this subject before from various intersections usually finding center on objective, mechanically sound hard work, and good faith efforts. I do think your CDL readers would be well advised to strive to achieve communication beyond the mechanics and good faith though and strive to always find that level of communication with their clients that takes it to a whole new level even if the client is kicking and screaming while throwing a tantrum the entire way. Pride alone should prevent any other path but it is a brave new world out there.

    And your non-CDL readers whom may at sometime find themselves in the market for, or already have, a CDL or garden variety family or business lawyer would also be well advised to keep shopping around until they get lucky enough to find the one or ones, even if they already have competent, before they really, need very, very competent in the lawyering department.

    Stop reading the NYT. I think it is starting to fuck your head up. And don’t forget even you can fall prey to a Saul Goodman even if only trying to make a point. Get over it, it’s sad but even bad work usually lasts awhile. Besides with enough experience luck usually appears even if it isn’t really luck. What-cha-ya-gonna-do?

    P.S. Relax, if The Millennials can’t amplify delayed comprehension into something special they won’t be the first generation to ride fantasy into a brick wall and then cry reform when they have past the prime of their building years. They are going to whine like stuck pigs or shine. I figure the odds be 50/50.

  2. st

    The problem is larger than lawyers; it extends (at least) to pretty much all professional services such as CPAs, doctors, and engineers. The problem is particularly acute in solo practices; larger firms tend to survive because they have SOMETHING on the ball.

    Like lawyers, a client hiring a consulting engineer isn’t that hard to fool. The client can rarely articulate what they want, and is easily satisfied/fooled by a bit of jargon.

    The advice of a lawyer, engineer, or doctor can have significant and often highly negative consequences. Engineers in particular can make mistakes that affect large segments of the population. Would you like to know how many licenses are required for an engineer to consult about the emergency cooling systems for a nuclear power plant? No, you probably would not.

    Very few people like to think. Those of us who work at thinking devise various strategies to insulate ourselves from the noise and distractions of the modern world. We have always been a tiny, shrinking minority.

    1. SHG Post author

      Let me guess, you’re an engineer?

      This, by the way, is a perfect example of a comment that would normally get tossed for straying off topic. Yes, the problem is larger than lawyers, but this post is about lawyers. Not about engineers. It’s not that you’re wrong (although the notion is obvious that it’s not just lawyers), but that this isn’t about your focus. It’s about mine.

  3. adam kadmon

    when caught did shlomo say
    “well i’m not jerry gallo I’m jerry Callo

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