In 2013, I was served with a complaint and summons.
I realized that it was me who was sued, by a name I did not recognize. I also noticed that I was a co-defendant; one of the other defendants was a business that had office space in the same shared executive office suites building I had my law office when I was a new lawyer. Let’s call them “Company XYZ”. I reviewed the allegations in the complaint and realized this plaintiff – who I did not know – was suing me for fraud and misrepresentations for a loan modification/bankruptcy done by Company XYZ. He alleged that I was the attorney for Company XYZ.
I learned in the status conference that the plaintiff had correspondence with my name and law firm information on it that was addressed to him – which was NOT on my official letterhead – and also my business card – which was my official business card that I passed out to everyone. I realized – at that moment – that Company XYZ represented to this man that I was its attorney, had stolen my law firm/personal identity, and created a letterhead with my contact information to correspond with their clients fraudulently!
It took TWO YEARS of litigation, but in June 2015, I finally heard the jury say that I was not liable for any of the allegations against me. It was a long fight for my name and reputation. After this experience, I want to share some tidbits of wisdom that I gained.
- Pro Se Litigation isn’t Smart: Representing yourself is never a good idea. It isn’t about intellectual ability and knowledge. It’s about the emotional involvement and distress of being a defendant.
- Watch for the “Bad Apples”: Everyone you meet in a “business suit” or business setting is not about legitimate business.
- Guard Your Surroundings: Secure your important paperwork and make sure your office is secure, especially if you rent in executive office suites. Be aware of your surroundings in your office, and be careful of the people you encounter in business.
- Protect your Business License(s): I realize that had I not fought this civil case to the end and a jury found me liable, I could have found myself fighting to keep my license to practice law with the Georgia State Bar. Depending on the type of business you’re in, you may have to have a license from the state to do your job. Do all you can to guard any business licenses you have. Take issues seriously so they do not blow up and land you in front of a licensing board fighting for your right to earn a living.
- Fight for Your Reputation. It was a tough decision to fight this case in court and to have to fight the concerns of public shame. Although I felt empathy for the innocent plaintiff, I knew I was innocent and had to fight to the end for my own name.