Larry Levine is hard at work in a sketchy apartment complex in Canoga Park, a noisy and joyless place with an enclosed courtyard that resembles a prison cellblock.
Upstairs in the back, behind a blanket blocking the light of day, Levine paces his cramped one-bedroom. Stacks of law books purchased on EBay crowd the floor. Levine is wearing a Hawaiian shirt stretched across his belly and an L.A. County Sheriff’s cap. From his cellphone spills the complicated complaint of a potential client, a man injured in federal prison who believes he was entitled to physical therapy upon release.
“You know I’m not a lawyer, right?” Levine says. He then dispenses some free legal advice: “Have you filed a tort claim? You need to find out who is negligent.”
At a time when no job is safe, Levine is among a small but growing number of consultants who are poised to find work in the economic meltdown as prison life coaches to the perpetrators of Ponzi schemes, mortgage scams and financial swindles.
White-collar criminals have long employed coaches to prep them on what to expect when they trade in their designer clothes for institutional khaki. Past students include Martha Stewart (securities fraud), Leona Helmsley (tax evasion) and financier Ivan Boesky (insider trading).
Now a new crop of consultants is using the Web to democratize this rarefied service, reaching out to small-time hustlers who saw the opportunity of a lifetime and seized it, regardless of the consequences.
Among these self-styled gurus are former prison staffers, disbarred lawyers and self-trained former jailhouse lawyers who’ve hung their shingles on the outside.
“We like to use the phrase ‘jailhouse litigator,’ ” says Levine, 47. “Jailhouse lawyer sounds cheap.”
Photo by Anirudh Koul