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