Category Archives: Uncategorized

Florida UPL Committee will consider New Jersey lawyer’s request for formal advisory opinion regarding remote practice from Florida

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss a New Jersey lawyer’s request for formal advisory opinion regarding remote practice related to non-Florida matters from his Florida home.  The lawyer’s request for the formal UPL opinion is here: https://www-media.floridabar.org/uploads/2019/12/Restaino_Request.pdf

The Florida Bar has provided notice that the Bar’s UPL Standing Committee will consider a New Jersey lawyer’s request for a formal advisory opinion on whether it constitutes the unlicensed practice of law for the lawyer, who is a Florida resident employed by a New Jersey law firm which has no place of business or office in Florida, to work remotely from his Florida home only on matters that concern federal intellectual property rights not Florida law) and without any public presence or profile in Florida as an attorney.

The Bar’s UPL Committee will hold a public hearing on February 7, 2020, at the Hyatt Regency Orlando Hotel, 9801 International Drive, Orlando, FL 32819 beginning at 9:00 a.m., to receive input on the question and testimony from interested individuals.  Written testimony can also be sent to The Florida Bar, UPL Dept., 651 E. Jefferson St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-2300, or by e-mail before the hearing.

The February 7 hearing is the first step in the UPL formal advisory opinion process and, after the hearing, the committee will decide whether to issue a proposed opinion.  The committee has not previously considered the question and is not required to issue an opinion after the hearing.

Bottom line:  If the Florida Bar’s UPL Committee renders a formal opinion, it should provide guidance on the issue and any proposed opinion by the committee will be advisory only.

I will follow the issue and 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 34683

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

Leave a comment

Filed under Attorney Ethics, Florida Bar, Florida Bar rules remote practice by out of state lawyer, Florida Supreme Court, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Uncategorized, UPL Committee opinion re remote practice from Florida

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

Leave a comment

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

Referee recommends dismissal of Florida Bar UPL Petition against TIKD and oral argument has been scheduled before Supreme Court

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert with an update on the status of The Florida Bar’s Petition alleging that the TIKD business model constitutes UPL and discuss the referee’s report recommending dismissal of the petition and the oral argument scheduled for March 2020.  The case is: The Florida Bar v. TIKD Services LLC and Christopher Riley, Case No.: SC18-149, Lower Tribunal No(s).: 20174035 (11B); 20174045 (11B).  The January 19, 2019 report of referee recommending dismissal is here: https://www.responsivelaw.org/uploads/1/0/8/6/108638213/report_of_referee.pdf and the Florida Supreme Court’s Order scheduling oral argument for March 4, 2020 is here: https://efactssc-public.flcourts.org/casedocuments/2018/149/2018-149_order_239445_a01g.pdf

As I 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.

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 alleged, 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 Bar’s 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 filed an Answer and motions and a referee was assigned.

On January 24, 2019, after the parties filed motions and a status hearing was held, the referee issued her report.  The report of referee states:

“After a careful review of the portions of TIKD’s website submitted by The Florida Bar and TIKD’s Terms of Service, including the FAQ’s and the prominent disclaimers in the Terms of Service, I find that the materials do not constitute legal advice, and do not represent that Respondents are attorneys or competent to handle legal matters. TIKD provides a service and its customers pay for the convenience

the service offers. No reasonable person could conclude, based on the evidence submitted to the Referee, that TIKD or Riley hold themselves out as providers of legal services.”

“Based on the above Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, the Referee recommends that the Supreme Court of Florida dismiss all claims alleged against Respondents with prejudice, enter judgment in favor of Respondents.”

TIKD also filed a lawsuit against The Florida Bar 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 has been settled.

The Florida UPL matter will now be reviewed by the Supreme Court of Florida and the Court will issue an opinion after the March 4, 2020 oral argument.

Bottom line:  The TIKD business model implicates the traditional and longstanding prohibitions against the unlicensed practice of law and lawyers splitting fees with non-lawyers.  The referee did not agree that the model constituted UPL or fee splitting we will see what the Florida Supreme Court says after the March 4, 2020 oral argument.  I will be watching it.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Florida Bar, Florida Bar TIKD antitrust lawsuit, Florida Bar v. TIKD - Florida Supreme Court oral argument, Florida Bar v. TIKD- referee report recommending dismissal of Bar UPL Petition, Florida Supreme Court, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, TIKD -Florida Bar UPL petition w Florida Supreme Court, TIKD UPL, TIKD UPL Bar request for Florida Supreme Court injunction, TIKD US DOJ Statement of Interest no Bar immunity, Uncategorized

Illinois disciplinary complaint alleges that law firm partner double billed clients and charged personal expenses to firm

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Illinois disciplinary complaint which alleges that a now former law firm partner double billed clients more than $108,674.00 and improperly charged personal expenses of $78,790.43 to the law firm. The case is Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission v. Robert John Hankes, Commission No. 2019PR00102, and the complaint is here:  https://www.iardc.org/19PR0102CM.html

According to the complaint, “In 2009, the firm performed services for a separate client (a construction company) in connection with a contract dispute. The firm assigned that matter an internal number that it used for billing purposes, and Respondent was aware of that number because he was the billing attorney responsible for the matter. That billing number became dormant in 2011, about two years after the firm’s involvement in the contract dispute ended.”

The financial institution’s agreements with the customer companies permitted them to be billed directly by the law firm for legal services in certain matters.  The complaint alleges that in one matter, the lawyer billed both the financial institution client and one of its lessees $23,782.50 for the same legal services related to a lease. The lawyer applied the double payment to the dormant law firm account that he reactivated and controlled.

According to the complaint, between January 31, 2018 and September 27, 2019, the lawyer sent eight more false invoices to the financial institution’s customer companies, receiving $108,674.00, which he deposited into the reactivated account. He also allegedly billed the financial institution for those same services.

During that same time, the lawyer allegedly also charged his business and personal expenses to the dormant account, receiving $78,790.43, including golf fees, dining, and travel expenses.  The lawyer was terminated in October 2019 after the alleged misconduct was discovered.

Bottom line:  If the allegations in this Illinois disciplinary complaint are true, this lawyer was greedy and believed that his surreptitious actions would keep his misconduct from being discovered.  He was wrong.

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 discipline, Attorney Ethics, Attorney misrepresentation, dishonesty, double billing, false statements, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer bad conduct, Lawyer conduct adversely affecting fitness to practice, Lawyer criminal conduct, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, lawyer false billing, Lawyer misappropriation, Lawyer misappropriation of fees, Lawyer misrepresentation, Lawyer misrepresentations to law firm re billings, Lawyer overbilling excessive fees, misrepresentations, Uncategorized

Florida Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission approves “Advanced Registered Paralegal” program which would permit the limited practice of law

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Florida Supreme Court Commission on Access to Civil Justice’s approval of a proposal to create an “Advanced Florida Registered Paralegal” designation as part of the Florida Registered Paralegal Program in Chapter 20, the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar.

The Access Commission voted to approve the proposal to create the Advanced Florida Registered Paralegal designation and program and forwarded the proposal to the commission’s Executive Committee.  The Executive Committee’s chair forwarded the proposal informally to the Florida Bar Board of Governors (BOG) for review and input and it has been placed on the agenda of the BOG’s January 31, 2019 meeting.

Under the proposal, Advanced Registered Paralegals would be required to have additional education and work experience than is required to become a Florida Registered Paralegal.  Advanced Registered Paralegals would also be required to be aware of “lawyer’s protocols” in performing authorized services.

Importantly, the proposal would also permit Advanced Registered Paralegals to engage in the limited practice of law under a lawyer’s supervision in family law, landlord tenant law, guardianship law, wills, advance directives, and debt collection defense.

The proposed rule revisions also set forth a licensing and disciplinary process, lists that duties that may not require “independent professional legal judgment,” and states that the Advanced Registered Paralegals must be supervised by a lawyer who “maintains a direct relationship with the client and maintains control of all client matters.”

Bottom line:  This is an early proposal for a Florida limited licensing and practice of law program for paralegals.  Various other states, including Utah, Washington, Oregon, and California already have limited licensing programs in place.

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 Advanced Registered Paralegal program 2020, Florida Advanced Registered Paralegal program- limited practice of law, Florida Bar, Florida Supreme Court, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Limited Practice of Law, Uncategorized

Florida Bar files Petition with Florida Supreme Court for approval of “Registered Online Service Provider Program”

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Petition filed by The Florida Bar with the Supreme Court of Florida for approval of an “Registered Online Service Provider Program”.  The case is In Re: Amendments to Rules Regulating The Florida Bar-Chapter 23 Online Service Provider Program and the Supreme Court case docket is here:  http://onlinedocketssc.flcourts.org/DocketResults/CaseByYear?CaseNumber=2077&CaseYear=2019

On December 12, 2019, The Florida Bar filed a petition with the Florida Supreme Court requesting the court to approve the creation a voluntary registration program designed to address individuals are increasingly using the internet for their legal needs.  The petition proposes the creation of new Chapter 23 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, which would be called the “Registered Online Service Provider Program”.  The program permits the voluntary registration of qualified online legal service providers and, according to the Bar, it ii an effort to assure greater access to legal services to better protect the public.

The proposed program was approved by the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors in September 2019 and would permit online legal service providers to market themselves as “Registered with The Florida Bar” if they agree to comply with various regulations, including submitting to the jurisdiction of Florida for the resolution of consumer complaints.

The proposed program would apply to entities which are already operating in a largely unregulated area and would specifically require the registered online providers to provide the Bar with copies of all consumer complaints and state how they were resolved, and agree that “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 are approved by the Florida Supreme Court, or have been reviewed and approved by Florida Bar attorney. The providers would also be required to notify consumers which form they are providing.  The deadline for comments is January 13, 2020 and any comments must be filed directly with the clerk of the Florida Supreme Court, and a copy served on the executive director of The Florida Bar.

Bottom line:  This is an early attempt by The Florida Bar to regulate “online service providers” and with the incentive that those which voluntarily comply can state that they are “Registered with The Florida Bar”.  We will see if the Supreme Court approves the program and, if so, whether the service providers choose to voluntarily register and comply.

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 2020 Florida Bar non-lawyer Registered Online Service Provider Program, Florida Bar, Florida Bar Board of Governors online legal provider registration program, Florida Bar Chapter 23, Registered Online Services, Florida Bar non-lawyer Registered Online Service Provider Program, Florida Supreme Court, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Uncategorized

Illinois lawyer who electronically signed an “incoherent” appeal brief written by his client is sanctioned by U.S. Seventh Circuit

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which discusses the recent sanctions imposed by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on an Illinois lawyer who electronically signed an appellate brief which was “incoherent and filled with utterly baseless factual assertions.” apparently drafted by his client.  The case is Edith McCurry v. Kenco Logistics Services,  No. No. 18-3206.  The November 7, 2019 opinion with an Order to Show Cause what sanctions should be imposed is here:  http://media.ca7.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/rssExec.pl?Submit=Display&Path=Y2019/D11-07/C:18-3206:J:Sykes:aut:T:fnOp:N:2426737:S:0 and the December 16, 2019 Order imposing sanctions on the lawyer is here:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1bB6rl4nyIbhBPMUGAHYjov1t3ez5cpWW/view

The November 7, 2019 opinion upheld the dismissal of a discrimination lawsuit filed by the client stating “(t)his appeal represents a shameful waste of judicial resources.  The opinion also ordered the lawyer to show cause as to why he should not be sanctioned.  According to the opinion, “(t)he hopelessness of (the plaintiff’s) cause didn’t deter her lawyer, Jordan Hoffman, from signing and submitting a bizarre appellate brief laden with assertions that have no basis in the record and arguments that have no basis in the law.  In so doing, Hoffman violated Rule 28 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.”

The opinion also stated that the “monstrosity of an appellate brief” was “incoherent,” and the appeal was “utterly frivolous.”  The brief “spans 86 interminable pages”, is “neither concise nor clear,” and “is chock-full of impenetrable arguments and unsupported assertions, and it is organized in ways that escape our understanding.” In a footnote, the opinion also stated that the brief was “a typographical nightmare” that “uses five different fonts and various font sizes, including three different fonts in one sentence, and capitalizes words seemingly at random.”

The lawyer, who had been practicing for over 30 years, responded to the Order to Show Cause stating that he did not have time to write an appellate brief or review the lower court record and did not recognize that it was “a hopeless case.” He also said that the client was a friend who had filed the discrimination lawsuit without a lawyer and that he agreed to appear on her behalf at oral argument.  He also admitted that he had permitted her to submit the brief under his name using his electronic filing credentials.

The lawyer stated that “these were all grave errors of judgment, and I can only apologize to the court and promise that I will never allow this occur again.”  “I have suffered through the most embarrassing and stressful moments of my legal career and perhaps my life during the oral argument and after the publication of the court’s opinion, and my reputation has been tarnished at the highest level as a result of my actions that caused such a scathing opinion in this matter.”  He further stated that he “embarrassed the venerable profession of law and the bar to which I have enjoyed the privilege of being a member for over 32 years during which time my competence has not been called into question.”

In the December 16, 2019 Order, the court stated that “Hoffman’s acceptance of responsibility is appropriate. Still, judicial resources were needlessly consumed, and the defendants were put to the burden and expense of sorting through and defending against a patently frivolous appeal. Sanctions are therefore warranted. Accordingly, pursuant to Rule 38, we order Hoffmann to pay the defendants a reasonable attorney’s fee incurred in the defense of this appeal, plus double costs. The defendants shall submit a statement of their fees and costs by January 3, 2020.”

Bottom line:  This is an example of what can go horribly wrong if a lawyer agrees to represent a “friend” as a client, fails to competently represent that client, and allows the client to draft and use his credentials to electronically file a “monstrosity” of a brief.  This lawyer was embarrassed professionally and was required to pay the opposing party’s attorney’s fees and double costs under the federal rules.  Don’t do it…

…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

 

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 discipline, Attorney Ethics, competence, Federal Court Sanctions incoherent brief, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, lack of diligence negligence, Lawyer diligence, Lawyer discipline, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer negligence, Uncategorized