Howard Kieffer practiced law for years in at least ten different states, specializing in federal criminal defense. That seems like an impressive number of states until you learn that he did not all get bogged down in taking the bar exam in any of them.
Kieffer was convicted in April on charges of mail fraud and making false statements (i.e., not-mail fraud) after a North Dakota jury found he had lied on his application to practice in federal court as well as to numerous clients. Kieffer had defended a number of clients on charges as serious as attempted murder despite not actually being a lawyer. (One such client, who was convicted of hiring a hit man to kill her husband, is now appealing on this basis.) On Friday, he was sentenced to four years in federal prison.
According to the report, Kieffer's colleagues (if that's the right word) said they were surprised that he did not have a license to practice law because he "seemed to know about" federal prison and sentencing issues. They said Kieffer had been "quoted in publications as an expert" and that they had seen him at CLE seminars, at some of which he was a presenter. Most of Kieffer's business allegedly came from referrals by legitimate attorneys based on these credentials, according to authorities.
Kieffer, in fact, may actually have known what he was talking about on these topics, but if so it was at least partly because he had actually been in federal prison, having served at least three years for tax fraud from 1989-92. So, let this be a lesson about people who "seem to know" what they are talking about: it is often a good idea to find out how they know it.
Why didn't Kieffer just take the bar exam if he knew what he was doing? The answer is likely that the prior tax fraud convictions probably would have kept him from getting a license, since there is, you may be surprised to learn, a background check of some sort that one must pass before one practices law. That doesn't mean everybody with a license should have one, but it was probably enough to scare Kieffer off from actually applying. Why ruin a perfectly good business by going out and trying to get a license for it?
In other posing-as-a-lawyer news, on Monday a Southern California man got two years in prison for violating his parole, after he also committed fraud by falsely posing as a lawyer. Bonus points: he was on parole from a seven-year term for doing the same thing. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office said that Harold Goldstein had again started claiming to be a lawyer just days after his release in May.