How smart does one have to be to make it through law school and the Bar Exam?

Many, many moons ago when I was fresh out of law school and studying for the Colorado Bar Exam, we diffident ones would console our anxieties by telling ourselves that we all knew some pretty dumb lawyers. “Hey, if that guy passed why am I so worried?” was the thinking. This was pure narcissism, of course. It’s breaking down someone else’s intelligence to boost one’s own ego. Short term gains are offset by long term losses if one persists in such thinking.

So I am trying to put my ego in check as I read stories like this one: Unwitting lawyer is suspended for arranging client Loans to secure Nigerian inheritance.

The Nigerian scam is so obvious it’s tempting to believe that only the most stupidly credulous could possibly by fooled. You receive an email that says the sender has been given, inherited, or won a gazillion dollars but can’t get it released from the Nigerian bureaucracy unless he puts up the paltry sum of $25,000 or so to get through the red tape. If you will advance the necessary funds to release this magnificent fortune the email sender will most graciously split it with you. You will be rich!

One might think this scam is too pathetically transparent to ever work. But many a person, often elderly, have become the patsy and lost their life savings.

There’s a version of the Nigerian scam that is directed at lawyers. Now, it’s clear the scammer knows that the overwhelming majority of people who receive the email will immediately see through it and will not become a victim. The scammer is looking for the outliers. The one in a thousand or a hundred thousand who will be so tempted by the prospect of riches they will ignore that inner voice telling them they’re crazy. But lawyers would seem to be an unlikely group to be targeted by a scam that appeals only to the most unwary and trusting of people. Nevertheless, the story linked above is not the first one of its kind I’ve heard of.

In the lawyer version, the emailer seeks to hire the lawyer to help him get his inheritance. The scammer may be Nigerian but knows quite a lot about what gets an American lawyer’s pulse going. The ploy is that if the lawyer will represent him in his endeavor to claim his inheritance he will pay the lawyer a fat contingency fee. In the case above the bogus “inheritance” was to be $18.8 million. A third of that would be a pretty nice day’s work.

Another variant is where it is the sucker that becomes the lawyer’s client, and the scammer is a third party. That was how it worked in the case linked above.

Once the scammer is on board as a client it just so happens he will need some front money that he doesn’t have. Does the lawyer have any other clients that would like to make a killing? If the lawyer is still blinded by the prospect of a fat fee for little work, suspension or disbarment is probably not too far away. Criminal charges also become possible if the lawyer has allowed himself, even unwittingly, to become a joint venturer with the scammer.

In this case the Iowa Supreme Court said this lawyer was not the first one in the state to become entangled in the Nigerian scheme. If it’s true there’s a sucker born every minute, some of them become lawyers.