2

I heard about this idea on Reddit. To intimidate someone, send them an email and CC (copy) a lawyer with their business email address with the name of the law firm they work for.

Also, you can purchase a domain name that sounds like it's a law firm. Then have it redirect to an actual law firms website. However you can set it up so the emails still are recieved by your own website.

Is any of this illegal?

Here is an example:

Joe's landlord isn't returning his damage deposit after Joe moved out. Joe buys the domain "newintownlawyers.com" and sets it up to redirect to a real website belonging to a law firm e.g. "bobslaw.com". Joe then emails his ex-landlord demanding his damage deposit back with a CC on "bill@newintownlawyers.com". His ex-landlord reads the email, sees the CC, types in newintownlawyers.com and visits bobslaw.com, thus thinking it's a real law firm that he's in trouble with.

Would it make a difference if an email from "@newintownlawyers" is sent to the ex-landlord to further intimidate him?

To my understanding simply setting up a new domain and having it redirect to another is legal even if you don't have anyone's permission.

3
  • Bob's Law was recently renamed Bob Lob Law.
    – 608
    Nov 8, 2021 at 0:02
  • 2
    Would any mentally stable person really be intimidated by that, given that the "lawyer" themselves remains quiet?
    – Greendrake
    Nov 8, 2021 at 9:21
  • 1
    All of my cease and desist letters are cc'ed to "Vito Corleone"
    – Cicero
    Nov 8, 2021 at 18:39

4 Answers 4

7

A standard common law fraud analysis applies to the person to whom the representation was made. Is it a misrepresentation of a material fact, made with the intent that it be relied upon, which is justifiably relied upon, and the reliance causes damages?

Usually, the answer will be "no." Being represented is not a material fact to a disputed issue.

In the case of criminal mail and wire fraud in the U.S actual reliance and damages are generally not necessary. But materiality is still required.

Arguably there is a Lanham Act violation for deceptively using the tradename or trademark of a firm in a manner that is misleading. The trouble here is "use the information for what?"

This said, it is a bad idea as a tactic to use.

For example, I was a lawyer in a fraud case where a defendant we were suing for fraud did something very similar to this (not as an email cc, but representing that they had a lawyer when they didn't). The misrepresentation that they were represented by counsel (for reasons similar to those described) wasn't itself actionable. But being forced to go on the stand and testify under oath that you lied about someone being your lawyer in the middle of a fraud case where you are also accused of lying about other things powerfully destroys your credibility in general with a jury.

5

Is it legal to CC a real or fake lawyer on an email as an intimidation tactic? What if this is combined with registering a new domain?

Yes, it is lawful. The sender is not misrepresenting that he is licensed to practice law. Nor does CCing a real or imaginary lawyer have any implications on the legal relation between the parties. From a legal standpoint, acquiring a domain for purposes of intimidation is irrelevant.

Would it make a difference if an email from "@newintownlawyers" is sent to the ex-landlord to further intimidate him?

Regardless of what domain is used for sending an email, what matters is whether the email amounts to misrepresenting that the sender is a lawyer licensed to practice law.

14
  • Is it actually illegal to say to another person "I'm a lawyer and we're going to sue you", when you are not? Does that actually count as practicing law? It seems different than impersonating, which is illegal for police and soldier occupations. It would be practicing if you actually submitted the forms to the court, clearly.
    – 608
    Nov 8, 2021 at 3:07
  • @608 yes, the first 4 words are damning: you claim to be a licensed attorney. Which could be the first step to fraud and is clearly misrepresentation that you are a lawyer - which is illegal. Just like you may not impersonate a medical professional, you may not impersonate a lawyer.
    – Trish
    Nov 8, 2021 at 5:25
  • @608 This is what the SC law banning claiming to be a lawyer looks like: It is unlawful for a person other than a lawyer, [...], to represent to any person that he is a lawyer for the purpose of [...], obtaining anything of value, or providing legal advice or assistance. - Sending an e-mail on behalf of a client to get something done is to obtain something of value and legal assistance.
    – Trish
    Nov 8, 2021 at 5:31
  • 1
    @608 "Does that actually count as practicing law?" No. Falsely stating "I'm a lawyer" does not constitute practicing law, but the point is that making such false statement is unlawful. Nov 8, 2021 at 15:35
  • The sticky part is that it says "for the purposes of obtaining anything of value." Which is broader than "for the purposes of obtaining something of value in exchange for practicing law" would have been. Having said that, I would love to see how anyone can show that an attempt to be taken seriously fits within the scope of "attempting to obtain something of value."
    – grovkin
    Nov 10, 2021 at 0:32
5

For a private individual: yes. For a business: no

There is no doubt that not only is this misleading, but it is also intentionally misleading: the purpose is to create the belief in the recipient that you are in contact with a law firm over the matter in the email and that is not true.

In general, there are no laws that prevent this sort of deception from an individual.

However, many jurisdictions have laws that prohibit misleading or deceptive conduct in trade or commerce. If a business were to do this, they would be in breach of these laws.

3
  • In South Carolina, even a private person can't claim to be a lawyer if it is to obtain something of value. scstatehouse.gov/sess122_2017-2018/bills/3215.htm ; likewise in texas if you attempt to submit someone under your perceived authority, and texas also makes impersonating someone online to intimidate a possible felony
    – Trish
    Nov 8, 2021 at 5:34
  • 1
    @Trish The OP is not impersonating a lawyer (or anyone else) they are giving the impression they are communication with a lawyer when they aren't
    – Dale M
    Nov 8, 2021 at 5:41
  • true - that is just shy of the line. A little note that crossing that line would make one impersonate a lawyer would be nice.
    – Trish
    Nov 8, 2021 at 5:46
0

In case the rental agreement is a contract (written) between Joe and landlord, no.

Depending on the specific facts, for example, if there is a substantial track record that would show that Joe was unable to compel the landlord to pay up after several notices, and paid up immediately once a faux lawyer email was CC’d, the landlord could reasonably argue that the reason was merely to settle a potential dispute without actually admitting to the merits of the demand.

Joe could breach the covenant of good faith and fair dealing which requires no extra contractual affirmative action of any parties to an agreement, but it does require that no unfair action be taken to gain the advantages of the agreement. A misrepresentation can be material if landlord can prove it, and Joe may be liable for the bad faith action.

This is not applicable if there is no written contract; there is no implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in oral agreements, and rental agreements absent a contract should be no exception to this.

Sources

“There is an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in every contract that neither party will do anything which will injure the right of the other to receive the benefits of the agreement.” (Comunale v. Traders & General Ins. Co. (1958) 50 Cal.2d 654, 658 [328 P.2d 198], internal citation omitted.)

“The covenant of good faith and fair dealing, implied by law in every contract, exists merely to prevent one contracting party from unfairly frustrating the other party’s right to receive the benefits of the agreement actually made. The covenant thus cannot ‘ “ ‘be endowed with an existence independent of its contractual underpinnings.’ ” ’ It cannot impose substantive duties or limits on the contracting parties beyond those incorporated in the specific terms of their agreement.” (Guz v. Bechtel National, Inc. (2000) 24 Cal.4th 317, 349–350 [100 Cal.Rptr.2d 352, 8 P.3d 1089], internal citations omitted, italics in original.)

“There is no obligation to deal fairly or in good faith absent an existing contract” (CACI No. 325)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.