Is Elizabeth Wurtzel Breaking the Law By Calling Herself a Lawyer?

As we've noted before, Elizabeth Wurtzel, the Prozac Nation author who graduated from Yale Law School last year, hasn't passed the bar exam yet. But that hasn't stop her from pretending to be a lawyer! Which might be illegal.

Wurtzel granted an interview recently to Bitter Lawyer, talking about how much she loves the law and how awesome it is being a lawyer and working at David Boies' law firm. Except she's not a lawyer! At least not in New York, where it seems to be unlawful to claim to be a lawyer if you haven't passed the bar exam. Which she hasn't.

From the interview:

Did you want to practice law?

I thought I might want to teach. Yale Law is kind of like a mini Ph.D in a lot of ways, so I thought maybe I'd become a professor.

That was close. Wurtzel didn't quite claim to be practicing law in answering that question—she just let it slide. But then:

What's been your best professional moment since graduating law school?

I don't know if there is one that I can really point to. I'm working on the Prop 8 case right now, and I'm very proud of that. But mostly, like a lot of young lawyers, I think I'm just happy when I do something that's valuable to somebody.

Whoops! It sounds to us like you just called yourself a lawyer, Elizabeth. Let's have a look at the law, shall we?

Part 520.1 of the Rules for the Court of Appeals for New York says, "A person shall be admitted to practice law in the courts of the State of New York only by an order of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court upon compliance with these rules." Among those rules is this, Part 520.7, which says "no applicant for admission to practice in this State shall be admitted unless the New York State Board of Law Examiners shall have certified to the Appellate Division of the department...that the applicant (1) has passed the written bar examination prescribed in section 520.8."

Is Elizabeth Wurtzel Breaking the Law By Calling Herself a Lawyer?

OK! So that means that you haven't been admitted to practice law in the state of New York unless you've passed the bar. (There are other ways for career attorneys to get admitted that don't involve passing the bar, but they don't apply to you, Elizabeth.) So, have you passed the bar? There have been two New York bar examinations since you graduated last summer: One in July of 2008 and one in February 2009. Your name doesn't appear in the published list of those who passed either test. Nor does it appear in the New York Bar Association's list of members.

So: You haven't passed the New York bar exam. Which means you haven't been admitted to practice law in the state of New York. And according to Section 478 of New York Judiciary Law, that means you can't claim to be a lawyer:

It shall be unlawful for any natural person to practice or appear as an attorney-at-law or as an attorney and counselor-at-law for a person other than himself in a court of record in this state...or to hold himself out to the public as being entitled to practice law as aforesaid, or in any other manner, or to...assume, use, or advertise the title of lawyer, or attorney or...equivalent terms in any language, in such manner as to convey the impression that he is a legal practitioner of law...without having first been duly and regularly licensed and admitted to practice law in the courts of record of this state, and without having taken the constitutional oath.

We're no lawyers, but that sounds like you shouldn't go around giving interviews about how awesome it is being a lawyer until you pass the bar. The next one is next week. Good luck!