Monthly Archives: October 2019

Ransomware attack against South Florida digital record storage entity block law firm’s access to electronic records

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss a recent Miami Herald article discussing a ransomware attack against a South Florida software company that manages electronic records for thousands of law firms nationwide in which digital legal documents have been held hostage.  The October 25, 2019 Miami Herald article is here:  https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/article236645058.html

According to the Herald article, “a Florida law firm was forced to request more time to meet a filing deadline in a gender-discrimination employment case in federal court because it could not access its electronic documents stored with TrialWorks.”  “The firm’s attorney representing the deputy (in the Citrus County federal gender discrimination lawsuit) cited the TrialWorks’ software problem, saying the company ‘has shut down access’ to critical documents in the case. The law firm needed the documents to address a dispute over the testimony of an expert witness for Citrus County. Its response was due Friday (October 25, 2019).”

“Since Oct. 11, 2019, plaintiff’s counsel, as well as other TrialWorks clients, have been unable to access documents,” says the law firm’s motion requesting more time. “As of Oct. 24, 2019, plaintiff’s counsel remains unable to access all the necessary documents required to respond.”  “The deadline issue was quickly resolved because attorneys for Citrus County did not oppose the law firm’s request. Melton’s firm has until Nov. 14 to respond, assuming it can gain access before then to crucial records at TrialWorks.”

The article also states:  “TrialWorks acknowledged it ‘was recently targeted by a ransomware incident that did not affect our software but did prevent approximately 5 percent of our customers … from accessing their accounts.’”  “In a statement, the company said it started an internal investigation and retained independent cybersecurity experts. “We have been working around the clock to restore normal operations for our customers as quickly as possible, and nearly all customers have had access restored within a week.”  “Company officials said they have not contacted federal authorities about the ransomware attack but plan to share information from the internal investigation with law enforcement.”

“Earlier this month, TrialWorks began alerting its customers about the security breach and initially indicated it was caused by a Microsoft service outage affecting Outlook desktop and mobile apps, according to court records. But the company’s customer alerts became more ominous over the past two weeks, including one that cited a ‘ransomware incident.’”

Bottom line:  This unfortunate ransomware incident highlights the vulnerability of digital information, including information stored digitally by litigation document assistance providers such as TrialWorks.

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.

2999 Alt. 19, Suite A

Palm Harbor, Florida

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 Attorney Ethics, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, fraud, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer competence technology, lawyer confidentiality, Lawyer digital document protection, Lawyer digital document security breach, Ransomware attack, Uncategorized

The client is missing and the statute of limitations expires soon:  what can or must a lawyer do?

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the ethics issues when a client is missing (or refuses to communicate) and the statute of limitations is about to expire.  I have been asked this question (or a variation of it) many times in my over 30 years of practice and I have provided guidance to lawyers.  Florida Bar Ethics Opinion 72-36 RECONSIDERATION) July 1, 1987 addresses this issue and the opinion is here: https://www-media.floridabar.org/uploads/2017/04/FL-Bar-Ethics-Op-72-36-Rec.pdf

In the initial Ethics Opinion 72-36 (published in 1972), the facts were that “the inquiring attorney was retained by his client under a contingent fee contract in a personal injury matter. The client disappeared sometime after retaining the attorney and before suit was filed. Two years passed and, despite his diligent efforts, the attorney was unable to locate the client. The attorney asked whether he was ethically obligated to file suit before the limitations period expired.”

The initial opinion stated that “the attorney’s duty of zealous representation required him to take whatever action was necessary to prevent loss of the client’s rights due to the passage of time. Specifically, the attorney was obligated to file suit unless he could obtain the opposing party’s agreement to waive the statute of limitations.”  Emphasis supplied.

After the Florida Ethics Opinion was published in 1972, ABA Informal Opinion 1467 was published, which stated that the ABA Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility had determined that an attorney has no duty to file suit to toll the statute of limitations if the client’s unavailability was not caused by the attorney’s neglect.

After the ABA Informal Opinion was published, the Florida Bar’s Professional Ethics reconsidered Ethics Opinion 72-36.  After reviewing the facts and Informal Opinion 1467, the committee stated:

“The Committee is now in accord with the conclusions reached in ABA Informal Opinion 1467. There, the attorney’s reasonable efforts to locate the client had been unsuccessful and the attorney believed there was no reasonable likelihood that the client would return. The ABA Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility determined that the attorney had no duty to file suit to toll the statute of limitations if the client’s unavailability was not caused by the attorney’s neglect. The ABA committee further stated that it was not improper for an attorney to include in his employment agreement a provision requiring the client to promptly notify the attorney of any change in address and providing that, if the client failed to so notify the attorney, the attorney was not obligated to proceed with the case.

In view of ABA Opinion 1467, the Professional Ethics Committee is now of the opinion that an attorney whose client cannot be located despite the attorney’s reasonable efforts is not obligated to file suit to toll the running of the statute of limitations if the client’s unavailability is not caused by the attorney’s neglect or inaction (see Rule 4-1.3, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, requiring an attorney to act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client) and: (1) the attorney believes there is no reasonable chance the client will return; or (2) the client’s unavailability is a breach of the attorney-client employment agreement. However, even in these situations it would not be unethical for the attorney to file suit in order to toll the statute of limitations.”

The executive summary of Ethics Opinion 72-36 (RECONSIDERATION) states:  “A lawyer retained for litigation by a client who has since disappeared is not obligated to file suit to toll the running of the statute of limitations if the lawyer has made a reasonable effort to locate the client and the client’s unavailability is not the result of neglect on the part of the lawyer.”

Bottom line:  Although ethics opinions are for guidance only and are not binding, the Florida Ethics Opinion (and the ABA Informal Opinion) makes it clear that al lawyer is not required to file a lawsuit on behalf of a client when the client is unavailable and cannot be located, even if the statute of limitations will run; however, the lawyer is also not ethically prohibited from filing the lawsuit.

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.

2999 Alt. 19, Suite A

Palm Harbor, Florida

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Please note:  My office has moved and the new office address is 2999 Alt. 19, Palm Harbor, FL 34683.  All other contact information remains the same.

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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Filed under ABA Informal Opinion 1467- filing lawsuit when client is missing, Attorney Ethics, Florida Bar, Florida Bar Ethics Opinion 72-36 - filing lawsuit when client is missing, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer diligence, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer negligence, Uncategorized

Florida Bar Board of Governors finds that “Ambulances Chase Us” is improper and law firm can advertise “1-800-411-Pain”

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Florida Bar Board of Governors (BOG) decisions to uphold the Florida Bar Standing Committee on Advertising (SCA) decision that “Ambulances Chase Us” is deceptive or misleading and reverse an SCA decision that a law firm’s billboards advertising the telephone number “1-800-411-PAIN” are misleading.

At its September 20, 2019, the BOG voted to uphold an SCA decision that the slogan “Ambulances Chase Us ”is deceptive or misleading under Rule 4-7.13(a) because it is “both unethical and illegal for ambulance drivers to solicit cases for lawyers and because it is factually and legally inaccurate.”

The Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics (BRC) voted to uphold the SCA finding that the advertisement is impermissible.  The BOG voted 18-14 to uphold the SCA finding.

At the same meeting, the BOG also voted, without debate, to reverse an SCA determination regarding billboards that advertise the telephone number “1-800-411-PAIN.”  As background, the SCA had voted to find that billboards are misleading under Bar Rule 4-7.13(a) because the advertisements are on behalf of the private law firm but advertise the telephone number “1-800-411-Pain” in North and Southwest Florida which was used by the now-defunct lawyer referral service called 1-800-411-Pain.  The telephone number is also currently being used by a new qualifying provider/lawyer referral service called “Path” in Southeast and Central Florida.

The law firm had argued, inter alia, that the advertisements were not misleading because they clearly show the law firm’s name. The law firm also stated that, at the BRC’s request, it will answer the telephone with the law firm’s name.

Bottom line:  There was apparently some discussion at the BOG meeting that the “Ambulances Chase Us” slogan was just an attempt at humor and was not misleading and the final 18-14 BOG vote was very close.  The 411 Pain vote reverses the SCA determination that the use of the telephone number was misleading.

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.

2999 Alt. 19, Suite A

Palm Harbor, Florida

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Please note:  My office has moved and the new office address is 2999 Alt. 19, Palm Harbor, FL 34683.  All other contact information remains the same.

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Florida lawyer advertising "411-Pain", Florida lawyer advertising "Ambulances Chase Us", Florida Lawyer Advertising opinions, Florida Lawyer advertising rules, Lawyer advertising, Lawyer advertising rules, Uncategorized

The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors votes to recommend a voluntary registration program for online legal service providers

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Florida Bar Board of Governors (BOG) decision to recommend a voluntary registration program for online legal service providers.

The BOG voted unanimously at its meeting on September 20, 2019 to approve “Chapter 23, Registered Online Services”.  The program was first considered by the BOG Committee on Technologies Affecting the Practice of Law and, if implemented, would allow online legal service providers to market themselves as “Registered with The Florida Bar” if they agree to follow certain requirements, including submitting to the jurisdiction of Florida for the resolution of consumer complaints.

According to Florida Bar President, John Stewart, the proposed program would apply to entities that are “already operating in a largely unregulated environment”.  The program would also require online providers to provide The Florida Bar with copies of all consumer complaints, indicate how they were resolved, and provide a certification that the provider understands that the “registration and revocation of the registration . . . is solely at the discretion of The Florida Bar.”

The proposed program would also require that registered online providers use only forms that have either been approved by the Florida Supreme Court or reviewed and approved by lawyer and a member of The Florida Bar. The registered online legal service providers would also be required to advise consumers of the type of form that they are providing.

The BOG was scheduled to take final action on the proposal at the July 2019 meeting in Key Largo; however, this was postponed due to a lack of time. The proposed program was also publicly noticed multiple times and received no comments. The proposed program will now be sent to the Supreme Court for consideration and potential implementation.

Bottom line:  This proposed program to related “online legal service providers” is voluntary (and would presumably create a safe harbor if the requirements were followed); however, it may also be a step toward the actual regulation of such entities.  In addition, if the program is approved by the Florida Supreme Court, the online entities could market themselves as “Registered with The Florida Bar” if they follow the program requirements, including submitting to the jurisdiction of Florida for the resolution of consumer complaints  This may provide an incentive for such entities to participate in the program.

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.

2999 Alt. 19, Suite A

Palm Harbor, Florida

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Please note:  My office has moved and the new office address is 2999 Alt. 19, Palm Harbor, FL 34683.  All other contact information remains the same.

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Attorney Ethics, Florida Bar, Florida Bar Board of Governors online legal provider registration program, Florida Bar Chapter 23, Registered Online Services, Florida Supreme Court, Florida voluntary online legal providers program, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Uncategorized