Monthly Archives: April 2018

ABA Formal Opinion 481 states that lawyers have an obligation to inform current clients of material errors

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss ABA Formal Opinion 481, which addresses a lawyer’s obligation to promptly inform a current client if the lawyer believes that he or she has made a material error.  ABA Formal 481 Opinion is here: http://www.abajournal.com/files/Formal_Opinion_481_FINAL_formatted_04_16_2018(2).pdf

The formal opinion states ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.4 governs a lawyer’s duty of communication and requires lawyers to promptly inform clients of any decision or circumstance for which a client’s informed consent is needed and also requires a lawyer to “reasonably consult” with the client about the means of achieving the client’s goals during representation and keep the client “reasonably informed” about the progress of the case.

The formal opinion further states that an error is material if “a disinterested lawyer would conclude that it is (a) reasonably likely to harm or prejudice a client; or (b) of such a nature that it would reasonably cause a client to consider terminating the representation even in the absence of harm or prejudice” and if there has been such a material error, the attorney must inform the client promptly. Whether an attorney can correct the error before telling the client depends on the individual facts.

According to the opinion, there is no duty to inform former clients since “(n)owhere does Model Rule 1.4 impose on lawyers a duty to communicate with former clients (and)  (h)ad the drafters of the Model Rule intended Rule 1.4 to apply to former clients, they presumably would have referred to former clients in the language of the rule or in the comments to the rule.”

The formal opinion concludes:

“The Model Rules require a lawyer to inform a current client if the lawyer believes that he or she may have materially erred in the client’s representation. Recognizing that errors occur along a continuum, an error is material if a disinterested lawyer would conclude that it is (a) reasonably likely to harm or prejudice a client; or (b) of such a nature that it would reasonably cause a client to consider terminating the representation even in the absence of harm or prejudice. The lawyer must so inform the client promptly under the circumstances. Whether notification is prompt is a case and fact specific inquiry.

No similar duty of disclosure exists under the Model Rules where the lawyer discovers after the termination of the attorney-client relationship that the lawyer made a material error in the former client’s representation.”

Bottom line:  This ABA opinion may be the first to address a lawyer’s affirmative obligation to tell a current client when he or she has made a material error, which the opinion states is one which is “(a) reasonably likely to harm or prejudice a client; or (b) of such a nature that it would reasonably cause a client to consider terminating the representation even in the absence of harm or prejudice.”

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert blog is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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Filed under ABA Formal Ethics Opinion 481- advising clients of material errors, ABA formal opinions, Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer required to advise client of material errors

Florida Supreme Court rejects Bar proposed rule amendment on resolution of extraordinary liens in contingency matters

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert update blog which will discuss the Florida Supreme Court’s rejection of a proposed amendment to Florida Bar Rule 4-1.5(f) which would have permitted a lawyer to retain and pay another lawyer (or non-lawyer entity) to resolve extraordinary liens in contingency matters and pay that lawyer’s fee from the settlement proceeds.  I previously blogged about the proposed revisions to Rule 4-1.5(f) in my 6/6/13, 9/5/13, and 12/14/15 Ethics Alerts.

The October 6, 2016 Florida Supreme Court opinion rejected the Bar’s proposed amendment to Rule 4-1.5(f) which would have specifically permitted the lawyer/client to retain an “extraordinary lien and subrogation lawyer” to resolve extraordinary liens and be paid a fee by the client beyond the contingent fee.  The Florida Supreme Court opinion is here:  http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2016/sc16-104.pdf

In rejecting the Florida Bar’s proposed amendment to 4-1.5(f), the opinion stated:

On balance, we wish to reemphasize that lawyers representing clients in personal injury, wrongful death, or other cases where there is a contingent fee should, as part of the representation, also represent those clients in resolving medical liens and subrogation claims related to the underlying case. This should be done at no additional charge to the client beyond the maximum contingency fee, even if the attorney outsources this work to another attorney or non-attorney.

Although it may be true that, given the increased complexity of modern litigation, there will be some cases where the amount of work required to resolve a lien is more than initially anticipated, the notion of the percentage fee contract contemplates that there will be some cases that are profitable for the lawyer handling the claim and others that are unprofitable. That risk and reward is built into the contingency fee contract. 

If the circumstances of a particular case are such that the fee generated under the contingency fee agreement is expected to be insufficient for the work of resolving any outstanding lien, the attorney and client can seek leave of court pursuant to rule 4-1.5(f)(4)(B)(ii) of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar to obtain an increased fee appropriate for the circumstances of the specific case.  (emphasis supplied).

Bottom line:  Pursuant to the language in the Court’s opinion, lawyers should be wary of participating in an agreement with a third party in which the client would pay a percentage of any reduction in the lien amount or any other payment for the reduction/resolution of the lien.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert blog is for informational purposes only, is not an advertisement, and does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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Florida Bar’s Board of Governors will consider ethics opinion addressing fee arrangements of qualifying providers and participating lawyers

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the Florida Bar Board of Governor’s (BOG) direction to its ethics committee to prepare a draft advisory opinion addressing fee arrangements between qualifying providers and participating lawyers which comply with amended Florida Bar Rule 4-7.22, which substantially revises the requirements for qualifying providers.  The amended rule becomes effective on April 30, 2018.  The Supreme Court opinion implementing the amended rule (and others) is here: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2018/sc16-1470.pdf

The BOG directed its Review Committee on Professional Ethics to consider a proposed advisory opinion after receiving an inquiry by a Florida Bar member.  The BOG committee will consider the opinion at a meeting scheduled for May 18, 2018, from 1-3 p.m. at the Westin hotel in Key West and the draft opinion will be Proposed Advisory Opinion 17-2.

There is currently no draft opinion; however, the proposed advisory opinion will address different types of fee arrangements between for-profit qualifying providers and lawyer referral services who are otherwise in compliance with Rules Regulating The Florida Bar and participating lawyers. The Florida Bar rules prohibit lawyers from sharing fees with private for-profit qualifying providers.

The draft advisory opinion may address various fee arrangements, including:

  1. set fees paid to the qualifying provider on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis;
  2. set fees paid to the qualifying provider for each case referred to the participating lawyer;
  3. set fees paid to the qualifying provider for each case referred to a participating lawyer depending upon the type of matter (e.g., personal injury, family law);
  4. set fees paid to the qualifying provider for each case accepted by the participating lawyer;
  5. set fees paid to the qualifying provider for each case accepted by the participating lawyer depending on the type of matter (e.g., personal injury, family law);
  6. fees paid to the qualifying provider based upon the perceived value of the case referred to the participating lawyer;
  7. set fees paid to the qualifying provider depending upon the perceived value of a type of matter referred to participating lawyers; and
  8. fees paid to the qualifying provider which are a percentage of the recovery or percentage of the fee charged by the participating lawyer.

Pursuant to Florida Bar Procedures, Florida Bar members may comment on the proposed opinion.  Any comments must contain Proposed Advisory Opinion number 17-2, must clearly state the issues for the committee to consider, may offer suggestions for additional fee arrangements to be addressed by the proposed advisory opinion, and may include a proposed conclusion. Comments should be submitted to Elizabeth Clark Tarbert, Ethics Counsel, The Florida Bar, 651 E. Jefferson Street, Tallahassee 32399-2300, and must be postmarked no later than 30 days from the notice in the April 15, 2018 issue of The Florida Bar News.

Bottom line:  The amended rule substantially change the current rules related to lawyer referrals and the Board of Governors has now initiated the process of identifying various fee arrangements between lawyers and qualifying providers which may or may not comply with the new rules.  Any lawyers who participate in (or are considering participating in) referrals from a private entity should carefully review the new rules, since lawyers can be prosecuted if the referral service (qualifying provider) fails to comply with the amended Bar rule(s).

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

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Filed under 2018 Florida lawyer referral qualifying provider rule revisions, 2018 Florida lawyer referral service matching service rule revisions, Attorney Ethics, Florida Bar, Florida Bar ethics opinion qualifying provider- lawyer fees, Florida Bar matching services, Florida ethics opinion 17-2- lawyer referrals by private referral matching services, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer independent professional judgment- AVVO and matching services, Lawyer matching services Avvo, Lawyer referral fees, Lawyer Referral Services, Lawyer responsibilities AVVO and Linkedin

Florida Bar files Petition with Florida Supreme Court against TIKD alleging UPL; TIKD files Answer and Summary Judgment Motion

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the Petition filed by The Florida Bar on January 23, 2018 alleging that the services provided by the TIKD app constitute the Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL), TIKD’s April 4, 2018 Answer, and TIKD’s April 9, 2018 Motion for Summary Judgment.  The case is The Florida Bar v. TIKD Services LLC and Christopher Riley, Case No. SC18-149 (Supreme Court of Florida).  The Florida Bar’s Petition is here:  https://efactssc-public.flcourts.org/casedocuments/2018/149/2018-149_petition_69080_petition2dupl.pdf, TIKD and Riley’s Answer and Response to Order to Show Cause is here: https://efactssc-public.flcourts.org/casedocuments/2018/149/2018-149_response_50492_answer.pdf and the Motion for Summary Judgment is here:  https://efactssc-public.flcourts.org/casedocuments/2018/149/2018-149_motion_116248_motion2dother20substantive.pdf

As I have previously blogged, the TIKD internet application permits a ticketed person to upload a photo of the ticket and pay a fixed amount.  TIKD then retains an attorney to represent that person and, if he or she is ultimately is assessed with points against his or her license, TIKD refunds the payment and also pays the cost of the ticket.  The TIKD business model is based on the fact that contested traffic tickets are often dismissed or a lower fine is assessed and, since TIKD deals in volume, it can charge a lower price than a lawyer who is separately retained by an individual.

TIKD subsequently filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Federal Court, Southern District of Florida, alleging conspiracy, restraint of trade, tortious interference with business relationships, and antitrust violations.  That case is ongoing.

The Florida Bar issued a staff opinion finding that lawyers who work with TIKD and similar programs could be (or were) in violation of various Florida Bar ethics rules, including fee splitting and interference with the lawyer’s independent professional judgment.  TIKD stated that its services fully comply with Florida Bar ethics rules and that lawyers who represent the individuals receive a flat fee and are independent practitioners “over whom TIKD does not exercise any direction or control.”

On January 23, 2018, The Florida Bar filed a Petition Against the Unlicensed Practice of Law against TIKD and its founder, Christopher Riley.  The Petition alleges, inter alia, that TIKD and Riley “advertise in a fashion which may lead a reasonable lay person to believe Respondents are qualified to offer legal services to the public”, “either personally or through advertisement offer traffic ticket defense legal services for a fixed price along with an offer to pay all fines and court costs with a money-back guarantee” and, “either personally or through advertisement offer traffic ticket defense legal services while suggesting that their services are the equivalent of or a substitute for the services of an attorney.”

The Petition requested the Court to find that the alleged conduct constitutes the Unlicensed Practice of Law and issue a permanent injunction “preventing and restraining Respondents from engaging in the acts complained of and from otherwise engaging in the practice of law in the State of Florida, until such time as Respondent Riley is duly licensed to practice law in this state.”  TIKD has now filed an Answer and Response to the Order to Show Cause as well as a Motion for Summary Judgment stating that it is not engaging in the practice of law and is merely providing a valuable service to its customers.

Bottom line:  This TIKD UPL matter is now being litigated before both the Federal Court and the Supreme Court of Florida.  The internet application business model implicates the traditional and longstanding prohibitions against UPL and lawyers splitting fees with non-lawyers.

I will keep everyone advised…and be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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Florida Bar’s Board of Governors considers Bar Rule amendment prohibiting lawyers from using Google AdWords to misdirect results

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent proposed amendment to Florida Bar Rule 4-7.13 which would prohibit a Florida lawyer from using the name of another lawyer or law firm to trigger a search result that includes an Internet advertisement of the first lawyer.  The Florida Bar Board of Governors Agenda Item Summary of the proposed rule amendment is  here: file:///C:/Users/jcorsmeier/Downloads/Board_Agenda_Item_20c_Board_Numbering_March_2018.pdf

The Board Review Committee of the Bar’s Board of Governors (BOG) is considering the amendment to Bar Rule 4-7.13 which would prohibit the unauthorized use of a lawyer’s name in metadata or Google AdWords to drive search results to a different lawyer’s website.  The BOG previously rejected a Bar Standing Committee on Advertising (SAC) opinion that reached the same conclusion, voting 23-19 to withdraw the opinion on December 13, 2013.

According to the Bar summary, the BOG voted to withdraw the SCA opinion “because the purchase of ad words (such as Google ad words or other search engines such as Yahoo or Bing) is permissible as long as the resulting advertisements or sponsored links clearly are advertising based on their placement and wording, and because meta tags and hidden text are outdated forms of web optimization that are penalized by search engines and can be dealt with via existing rules prohibiting misleading forms of advertising.”

The proposed amendment to Rule 4-7.13 and proposed comment are below:

(c) Using Names of Other Lawyers or Law Firms in Internet Advertising. It is inherently misleading or deceptive for a lawyer to intentionally use, or arrange for the use of, the name of a lawyer not in the same firm or the name of another law firm as words or phrases that trigger the display of the lawyer’s advertising on the Internet or other media. This prohibition applies regardless of whether the lawyer directly uses the other’s name or does so indirectly, such as through participation in a group advertising program.

Comment

Use of Other Lawyers’ Names

The reputation of a lawyer or law firm is valuable and is personal to that lawyer or law firm. A lawyer’s name and reputation may be the lawyer’s greatest professional asset. Principles of professionalism, as well as the bar’s interest in protecting the public by preventing deceptive advertising, dictate that a lawyer’s name should not intentionally be used by another lawyer in an Internet advertising scheme or campaign. A lawyer’s intentional use of another’s name as keywords or search terms in order to attract prospective clients to the lawyer’s advertising is a misuse of the other’s name and reputation and is inherently misleading or deceptive.

Bottom line:  The proposed amendment will again be on the BOG agenda at its next meeting in May 2018.  If approved by the BOG and implemented by the Florida Supreme Court, this Bar rule amendment would prohibit a lawyer from purchasing internet search engine or other key words which misdirect (or redirect) users who search for one lawyer’s name to another lawyer’s website.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

 

 

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