By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim
A Queensland law graduate has been found guilty of engaging in legal practice without being entitled to do so after a Brisbane court heard he advised clients during police interviews, failed to correct police officers who referred to him as a solicitor, signed as a solicitor and helped an alleged sex offender with a sensitive police report.
And it’s not the first time Jacob Reichman, 24, has impersonated a lawyer either, and this time he may have jeopardised his career permanently.
Mr Reichman, who has completed a law degree at Bond University, pleaded ‘not guilty’ to the charge, saying he only ever referred to himself as a “legal representative”.
But Magistrate Noel Nunan found him guilty of acting in a legal capacity 12 times during visits to Gold Coast police stations and a watch house between September 2013 and September 2014.
The court heard that two of the instances occurred after he pleaded guilty in August 2014 to engaging in legal practice when he was not admitted as a lawyer.
During the defended hearing, Reichman testified that he was directed by his employer, Gold Coast barrister Chris Rosser, to call himself a “legal representative”.
“I was told you’re not their family representative, you’re not their social representative, you’re not their cultural representative,” he said.
Despite graduating with a law degree, Reichman has not been admitted as a solicitor.
Those who complete their law degrees are required to undertake an additional practical legal training course (eg a graduate diploma in legal practice), before being entered onto the roll of lawyers and then obtaining a practising certificate. This lengthy (and expensive) process also involves passing a ‘character test’.
‘You have the right to remain silent’
In court, the Legal Services Commissioner tendered recordings of Reichman advising clients not to answer questions.
Reichman also failed to correct a police officer who referred to him as a solicitor. He explained in court that he did not believe it was his responsibility to correct police. He also neglected to correct a form which stated that he was a solicitor, before signing it.
The court also heard that Reichman joked with police officers not to hurry because “we get paid by the hour”. In court, the graduate testified he wasn’t referring to himself when he made that comment.
The Magistrate found that Reichman’s conduct amounted to “misrepresentation by silence”, adding that:
“In doing these particular things, I’m satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that most of them … are usually done by a solicitor.”
“And the defendant engaged in those activities in such a way to justify the reasonable inference that he was doing it as a solicitor.”
Didn’t learn his lesson
In 2014, Reichman was fined $1000 and ordered to pay $1083.50 in costs to the Legal Services Commissioner after pleading guilty to six counts of the same offence. No convictions were recorded against his name on that occasion.
Instagram hashtags were part of Reichman’s undoing that time, when he boasted about his lawyer status on social media.
Reichman was only 22 when he lied about being a lawyer in front of three different magistrates in Beenleigh Magistrates Court between January and July, 2013.
When asked to attend court to face a Magistrate over the matter, the student said he could not make it because he was sitting his final law exams.
The Magistrate referred the matter to the Legal Services Commissioner, who examined Reichman’s social media accounts as part of the investigation. The inquiry revealed he had posted screen-grabs of himself acting in a legal capacity on Channel 9 News on his personal Facebook and Linked In pages, accompanied by the hashtags: #lawyer, #younglawyer and #criminallawyers.
Reichman’s criminal defence lawyer submitted that her client had moved to the Gold Coast from Melbourne to accept a scholarship at Bond University, and his social media postings were intended to impress his family and friends back home. She said her client was deeply ashamed and remorseful.
Lawyers for the Legal Services Commissioner told the court last week that Reichman should be given a criminal record and a suspended prison sentence this time, as he did not learn his lesson the first time. He will face his fate on September 7.
Is my “legal representative” a lawyer?
All Australian states and territories have legislation and codes of conduct designed to protect the community against unqualified and unscrupulous operators.
If you are concerned about whether your “legal representative” is a qualified lawyer in NSW, simply click on the Law Society’s ‘find a lawyer’ search and type in their name.
Or if you want to check whether your lawyer has been the subject of disciplinary proceedings, you can jump on the Legal Services Commissioner’s Disciplinary Register and ‘search by name’ – but be aware that a number of lawyers on the register are operating under different first names.