Category Archives: Florida Bar Rules

Florida Bar Ethics Committee votes to publish proposed opinion providing guidance in responding to negative online reviews

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent vote by the Florida Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee (PEC) to publish a proposed ethics advisory opinion providing guidance to lawyers in responding to negative online reviews and complaint for comment.  Proposed Ethics Advisory Opinion 20-1 is here: https://www.floridabar.org/the-florida-bar-news/committee-adopts-ethics-opinion-regarding-online-reviews/

The PEC voted at its February 7, 2020 meeting to publish formal Ethics Advisory Opinion 20-1, which provides guidance to lawyers in responding to negative online reviews for comment by Florida Bar members.

The Florida Bar ethics staff previously issued Florida Bar Staff Opinion 38049 in 2018 in response to a lawyer’s inquiry.  The BOG approved the staff opinion on June 15, 2018; however, since the opinion was a reply to a single lawyer, it was not published.  I discussed  Florida Bar Staff Opinion 38049 provided a link to that opinion here: https://jcorsmeier.wordpress.com/2018/08/01/florida-bar-professional-ethics-committee-approves-staff-opinion-addressing-lawyer-responses-to-negative-online-reviews/

That staff opinion was minimally revised by the PEC and will be published online and in print in The Florida News for Bar member comments. The proposed formal advisory opinion concludes:

“Therefore, if the inquirer chooses to respond to the negative online review and the inquirer does not obtain the former client’s informed consent to reveal confidential information, the inquirer must not reveal confidential information regarding the representation, but must only respond in a general way, such as that the inquirer disagrees with the client’s statements. The inquirer should not disclose that the court entered an order allowing the inquirer to withdraw because that is information relating to the client’s representation and the client did not give informed consent for the inquirer to disclose.”

The proposed advisory opinion states that Florida Bar Rule 4-1.6(c) provides 6 exceptions permitting or mandating that a lawyer reveal confidential client information; however, none of the exceptions addresses online reviews.  The proposed opinion also refers to the comment to Florida Bar Rule 4-1.6, which states:

“A fundamental principle in the client-lawyer relationship is that, in the absence of the client’s informed consent, the lawyer must not reveal information relating to the representation….(t)he confidentiality rule applies not merely to matters communicated in confidence by the client but also to all information relating to the representation, whatever its source.”

The proposed opinion states that the language in Texas Ethics Opinion 622 “would be an acceptable response” to negative online reviews:

“A lawyer’s duty to keep client confidences has few exceptions and in an abundance of caution I do not feel at liberty to respond in a point by point fashion in this forum. Suffice it to say that I do not believe that the post presents a fair and accurate picture of the events.”  “The (lawyer) also may state that the (lawyer) disagrees with the facts stated in the review.”

According to the Bar’s Notice, the PEC will consider any comments received at their meeting on Friday, June 19, 2020 in Orlando.

“Comments must contain the proposed advisory opinion number and clearly state the issues for the committee to consider. A written argument may be included explaining why the Florida Bar member believes the committee’s opinion is either correct or incorrect and may contain citations to relevant authorities. 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 March 31, 2020.”

Bottom line:  Lawyers must be aware that negative online reviews do not fall within any of the exceptions which permit or require revealing confidential client information and, absent client informed consent, lawyers are not permitted to reveal confidential information in responding to the negative review.  In our digital and social media age, perhaps a change in the Bar Rule permitting such responses would be appropriate.

I will keep you 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.

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, Attorney/client confidentiality, Attorney/client privilege and confidentiality, Confidences and negative online client review, Confidentiality, Florida Bar, Florida Bar ethics opinion responding to negative online review, Florida Bar Rules, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Florida proposed ethics opinion 20-1- response to negative online reviews, Florida Supreme Court, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, lawyer confidentiality, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer ethics opinions, Lawyer ethics responding to negative online review complaint confidentiality, Uncategorized

Florida Bar’s Board of Governors approves proposed Bar rule amendment to pay inventory attorneys

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss recent Florida Bar Board of Governors (BOG) approval of proposed amendments to Florida Bar Rule 1-3.8, Right to Inventory, which would authorize payments to designated inventory attorneys to assist and wind up law practices of lawyers who die, disappear, or are otherwise unable to practice law.  The inventory attorney is also permitted to take over the representation of the previous lawyer’s clients if those clients consent.

The BOG voted to support the BOG Disciplinary Procedure Committee’s proposal at its December 6, 2019 meeting in Orlando.  The proposed rule revision has been under consideration since 2017 and had a first reading at the BOG’s December 2018 meeting; however, it was deferred for further review.

Florida Bar Rule 1-3.8 currently requires Florida Bar members to designate an inventory attorney to wind down the practices of lawyers who die, disappear, or are otherwise unable to practice law.  According to a Bar staff report, the Bar opened an average of 41.4 inventory cases each year during the past five years and each of the Bar’s five branch offices spend approximately 120 hours per year searching for inventory attorneys.

Under the proposed Bar rule revisions, an inventory lawyer who pursues payment for work performed would be required to submit an application detailing the work performed along with other information and request the payment.  The Executive Director of the Florida Bar would set the amount of payment with the approval of the BOG and the Bar would administer the payments.  The initial cost of the payments to inventory attorneys was estimated to be $100,000.00; however, the costs are expected to rise.

Proposed Rule 1-3.8(e) states:

(e) Payment of Inventory Lawyer. The Florida Bar may pay a fee set by the bar’s executive director as approved by the board of governors and within the bar’s annual budget for that year to a lawyer who agrees to conduct an inventory under this rule. Payment by The Florida Bar to an inventory lawyer will be made only with prior approval by the bar, on an application approved by the bar, and under parameters set by the bar.

The proposed Rule 1-3.8 amendments will be sent to the Florida Supreme Court for final review and potential implementation.

Bottom line:  This Bar Rule amendment is designed to address issues related to inventory attorneys and pay them for their work, presumably to encourage lawyers to become inventory attorneys.  I will follow this proposed Bar Rule amendment and keep you advised.

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 34683

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 Florida Bar, Florida Bar Rule 1-3.8, Florida Bar Rule 1-3.8 inventory attorney, Florida Bar rule revision to pay inventory attorneys, Florida Bar Rules, Florida Supreme Court, Inventory attorneys, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Uncategorized

Proposed Comment to Florida Bar Rule 4-7.18 would permit exchange of contact information at business events and on business related social media

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the proposed revisions to the Comment to Florida Bar Rule 4-7.18 which would permit the exchange of contact information at business events and on business-related social media, with caveats. The proposed revised language is on the agenda for review and final approval by the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors (BOG) at its meeting on January 31, 2020 in Tallahassee.

The BOG’s Professional Ethics Committee proposed additional language in the Comment to Bar Rule 4-7.18, Direct Contact With Prospective Clients which would specifically permit the exchange of contact information at business events and on business-related social media.  The proposed Comment language also cautions that lawyers should not discuss a specific legal matter if the prospective client initiates it, “and defer further discussion to a more appropriate location” if the discussion would “endanger” a prospective client’s confidentiality.

According to the BOG meeting agenda, the justification for the amendment is that “(t)he proposed commentary recognizes that lawyers frequently exchange contact information at business-related events and on business-related social media platforms. These events are usually at least in part to facilitate networking, the initiation of the exchange of contacted information is expected at these events, the lawyer normally would not know the prospective client has the need for specific legal services, and the prospective client would normally be a sophisticated user of legal services and less likely to be unduly influenced by the request.”

The complete proposed Comment language is below:

Permissible Contact

A lawyer may initiate the routine mutual exchange of contact information with prospective clients who are attending the same business or professional conference or meeting or business-related social gathering if the lawyer initiates no further discussion of a specific legal matter. Similarly, a lawyer may initiate the exchange of contact information and profiles via a specific social media platform that is established for the purpose of businesses and professionals exchanging this type of information if the lawyer initiates no discussion of specific legal matters. If a prospective client then initiates discussion of a specific legal matter, the lawyer should decline to discuss the matter at the initial contact and defer further discussion to a more appropriate location when the discussion would endanger a prospective client’s confidentiality. Lawyers should not interpret the above to allow a lawyer who knows a person has a specific legal problem to go to a specific conference or meeting where that prospective client will be in attendance in order to initiate the exchange of contact information. An accident scene, a hospital room of an injured person, or a doctor’s office are not business or professional conferences or meetings within the meaning of the discussion above.

Bottom line:  If implemented, the additional language in the Comment would clarify that lawyers can exchange contact information with potential clients at business events and on business-related social media however, it will caution that lawyers should not discuss a specific legal matter if the prospective client initiates it and if the discussion would compromise a prospective client’s confidentiality, the lawyer should defer discussion of the matter to a more appropriate location”.

Stay tuned…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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Filed under Communication with clients, Confidentiality, Florida Bar, Florida Bar Rule 4-7.18 Comment- communication with potential clients business meetings and business social media, Florida Bar Rules, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer advertising rules, Lawyer communication with potential clients, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Uncategorized