Tag Archives: Florida Bar

Florida woman who failed Florida Bar examination and started fictitious law firm charged with federal felonies

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss federal criminal charges filed against a woman who failed the Florida Bar examination, started a fraudulent law firm, engaged in the unlicensed practice of law, and committed aggravated identity theft and mail fraud.

According to the federal charges and Florida Bar records, Roberta Guedes attended Stetson law school with Agnieszka Piasecka and both graduated in 2014. They had planned to open a law firm together; however, Guedes did not pass the Florida Bar examination.  Piasecka passed the Bar examination and opened her own law firm, which handled wills and trusts, immigration, and dissolution matters.  Guedes offered Piasecka the free use of an office in Tampa and Piasecka used the office a few times to meet with clients.

According to court records, in September 2014, Guedes incorporated an entity she called Ferguson and McKenzie LLC and listed Piasecka as a registered agent without her knowledge. She also listed another individual, Arlete Chouinard, as a vice president and manager for the business without her knowledge.

In November 2014, Guedes incorporated another entity, Immigration and Litigation Law Office, Inc., and again listed Piasecka and Chouinard as officers. The incorporation documents listed a Tampa address.  Guedes used Chouinard’s name, social security number and other personal information to open bank accounts and multiple lines of credit and used the accounts for personal and business expenses for the two “firms”.

Guedes advertised the “firm’s” legal services, printed and handed out business cards bearing Piasecka’s name and her own, and created a website for the immigration “firm” which falsely listed Piasecka as an attorney.  Guedes also accepted fees to represent clients in legal matters.

An individual retained Guedes to assist her to bring her Brazilian daughter to the U.S.  The records related to the immigration matter had Guedes’ name and signature; however, it listed Piasecka’s Florida Bar number.

Another individual hired Guedes to help with a divorce from his Brazilian wife and she traveled with the man to an immigration hearing in Orlando and appeared before Immigration Judge Daniel Lippman.  Guedes represented herself as Piasecka at the hearing and also posed as Piasecka in a telephone call with the judge a few weeks later.

Guedes also appeared in a Hillsborough courtroom in December 2015 with a Tampa man who had sought her help in filing a domestic violence petition and who did not know she was not a lawyer.  She attempted to contact Judges Frances Perrone and Chet Tharpe requesting that his two cases be heard on the same day.

Judge Perrone granted this individual’s request for a temporary injunction and directed her judicial assistant to give his “lawyer” a courtesy call.  The judge and her judicial assistant could not find Guedes name listed as a Florida lawyer.  The judge’s office found Guedes’ telephone number through an internet search and, when the judge’s judicial assistant asked Guedes if she was a lawyer, she replied: “You can just scratch through that part (her signature on the court document).

The Florida Bar filed a 6 count petition with the Florida Supreme Court on May 14, 2018 alleging that Guedes engaged in the unlicensed practice of law.  The petition alleged that “Guedes accepted money and purported to represent “clients” in immigration and family law cases and failed to disclose that she was not licensed to practice. The Bar’s petition is here: https://efactssc-public.flcourts.org/CaseDocuments/2018/728/2018-728_Petition_69809_PETITION2DUPL.pdf.

Guedes initially denied the allegations in the Bar’s petition and claimed that she had only assisted clients with court paperwork and translation services; however, in a Stipulation for Permanent Injunction filed with the Florida Supreme Court on March 22, 2019, Guedes agreed to refund the money that she had taken from the “clients” and a permanent injunction prohibiting her from holding herself out as a lawyer in the future.

The Florida Supreme Court issued an Order on May 2, 2019  permanently and perpetually” enjoining Guedes from engaging in the practice of law and requiring restitution in the amount of $3,782.00 as well as a $6,000.00 civil penalty.

Guedes signed a plea agreement on October 30, 2019 admitting to the federal charges of mail fraud and aggravated identity theft and a sentencing hearing has been scheduled for December 2019 in Tampa.  She faces a minimum of two years in prison.

Bottom line:  This lawyer completed law school and failed the Florida Bar examination; however, she was able to engage in the unlicensed practice of law in both state and federal immigration courts beginning in 2014.  The unlicensed practice of law was discovered by a Hillsborough County Circuit Court judge and was reported to The Florida Bar.  She was also investigated by federal prosecutors and charged with criminal fraud and identity theft and she will be sentenced on those charges in federal court in Tampa in December 2019.

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 .S. Supreme Court, deceit, dishonesty, Federal felonies- UPL and federal U.S. mail identity fraud, Florida Bar, Florida Supreme Court, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Non-lawyer unlicensed practice of law creation of false law firm, Uncategorized, Unlicensed practice of law, UPL fraud impersonating lawyer

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

 

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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

Florida Supreme Court approves revised Bar advertising rule with requirements for lawyers to call themselves “experts” or “specialists”

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Florida Supreme Court opinion approving (with minor revisions) Bar Rule 4-7.14, which sets forth the requirements for Florida  lawyers to call themselves “experts” and “specialists”  in advertisements and other documents.  The case is In re: Amendments to Rule Regulating The Florida Bar 4-7.14., Case No. SC18-2019.  The June 27, 2019 Supreme Court of Florida opinion is here: https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/content/download/527989/5865891/file/sc18-2019.pdf.  The rule revisions become effective on August 26, 2019.

As I blogged previously here: https://jcorsmeier.wordpress.com/2015/10/02/federal-district-judge-enjoins-the-florida-bar-from-enforcing-rule-prohibiting-truthful-claims-of-expertise/, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle found in 2015 that non-certified lawyers could have the skills and experience of certified lawyers and held that the Florida Bar Rule restricting the use of “expert” and “specialist” to lawyers who were certified by The Florida Bar (or its equivalent) was unconstitutional and he enjoined the Bar from enforcing it.  The Florida Bar did not appeal.

The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors (BOG) imposed a moratorium on enforcing the rule as written and proposed rule amendments to comply with Judge Hinkle’s ruling; however, the Florida Supreme Court rejected them.  The BOG revised the proposed rule amendments and filed them in 2018.  The opinion approved the revised rule with minor revisions.

The revised Florida Bar Rule 4-7.14 states that lawyers may not claim to have specialization or expertise in an area of law unless they are certified by the Florida Bar, the American Bar Association, another Bar’s accredited plan, or “can objectively verify the claim based on the lawyer’s education, training, experience, or substantial involvement in the area of practice in which specialization or expertise is claimed.”  The Bar’s proposed draft rule stated “and substantial”; however, the court changed the “and” to “or”, which is an important revision.

In addition, a law firm may make that claim of expertise in an area of practice if it can show that at least one of its lawyers can meet those standards and if all firm lawyers cannot meet those standards, it must have a disclaimer that not all of its lawyers specialize or have expertise in that area of practice.  Revisions were also made to the rule comments stating that a lawyer who is “of counsel” to a law firm would permit the firm to claim specialization and expertise if the “of counsel” practices solely with that firm.

Bottom line: The revised Florida Bar rule has been in development since 2015 and the Supreme Court rejected a previous version of the proposed rule.  The rule will now permit lawyers to call themselves “experts” or “specialists” if they are certified by the Florida Bar, the American Bar Association, another Bar’s accredited plan,  if the lawyer “can objectively verify the claim based on the lawyer’s education, training, experience, or substantial involvement in the area of practice in which specialization or expertise is claimed.”

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 Supreme Court permanently disbars lawyer for, inter alia, breaking into former law firm, creating parallel firm, and filing multiple improper fee liens

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the recent Florida Supreme Court Order permanently disbarring a Florida lawyer for, inter alia, breaking into his former law firm and the firm’s storage unit, creating a parallel law firm, and filing multiple improper fee liens.  The case is The Florida Bar v. Christopher Louis Brady, Case No.: SC19-39, TFB No. 2019-10,127(12B)(HES).  The July 11, 2019 Florida Supreme Court Order is here: https://lsg.floridabar.org/dasset/DIVADM/ME/MPDisAct.nsf/DISACTVIEW/2A42CACF97608E7785258439000C41B7/$FILE/_11.PDF 

According to the referee’s report, the lawyer was employed as an associate at a law firm and was fired in July 2018 after missing hearings and for exhibiting “odd and concerning behavior.”  Almost immediately after his firing, the lawyer began holding himself out as the owner of the former law firm even though there was one sole owner.  The Report of Referee is here: https://lsg.floridabar.org/dasset/DIVADM/ME/MPDisAct.nsf/DISACTVIEW/32070D97303477DA852583DF000AB0F1/$FILE/_19.PDF.  The lawyer justified his actions by claiming that the former law firm’s failure to use periods in “PA” when created as a professional association gave him the right to create a new firm of the same name by filing as a professional association with periods, so that it read “P.A.”.

The lawyer and his twin brother were also criminally charged with burglarizing the former law firm’s office in August 2018.  A videotape of the burglary apparently showed the lawyer and his brother backing a truck up to the law firm, tying a rope from the truck to the front door and using the vehicle to rip the door open. The video also showed the lawyer and his brother removing a safe and the law firm’s computer server.  A few days later, the lawyer and his brother burglarized the law firm owner’s storage unit using keys which were taken from a safe that was stolen during the law firm burglary, according to the referee.  The lawyer also stole a firearm during the burglary.

The lawyer filed several documents on behalf of the law firm and its clients without their knowledge or authority, and filed a false confession of judgment in his own favor.  He also filed more than 100 notices of liens for fees in the law firm’s pending cases “in an attempt to grab fees from cases to which he was not entitled.”

The law firm owner obtained an injunction which barred the lawyer from harassing him or interfering with his business.  The injunction also prohibited the lawyer from contacting the firm owner, his employees, his clients or his attorney. The lawyer violated that injunction multiple times and a court order was issued holding him in contempt for violating the injunction three times.

The referee’s report cited the lawyer’s refusal to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his conduct as one of the multiple aggravating factors and recommended permanent disbarment.  According to the referee’s report, “(the lawyer’s failure to acknowledge the wrongful nature of his misconduct) is perhaps the most profoundly implicated aggravator in this case”.  The lawyer “clings to his justification for his actions with a ferocity that is quite disturbing.”

Bottom line:  This case is certainly very bizarre and the lawyer’s conduct as set forth in the report of referee is extremely disturbing.

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 final action on proposed rule revision prohibiting misleading law firm information in all advertisements

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert, which will discuss the potential final review of potential revisions to Florida Bar Rules 4-7.13 by the Florida Bar Board of Governors (BOG), which would prohibit misleading law firm information in advertisements.

The BOG’s agenda for its May 24, 2019 meeting includes final action on a proposed amendment to Rule 4-7.13 related to misleading digital advertisements.  As I previously reported, the BOG ethics committee previously voted down a proposal to add Bar Rule 4-7.13(c) which would have stated that “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, including directly or through a group advertising program.”

The revised proposed rule would prohibit all advertisements from stating or implying that a lawyer is affiliated with the advertising lawyer or law firm in a way that misleads a person searching either for a particular lawyer or law firm or for information regarding a particular lawyer or law firm, to unknowingly contact a different lawyer or law firm.  The proposed rule revision is below.

RULE 4-7.13 DECEPTIVE AND INHERENTLY MISLEADING ADVERTISEMENTS

(b) Examples of Deceptive and Inherently Misleading Advertisements. Deceptive or inherently misleading advertisements include, but are not limited to advertisements that contain:

(11) a statement or implication that another lawyer or law firm is part of, is associated with, or affiliated with the advertising law firm when that is not the case, including contact or other information presented in a way that misleads a person searching for a particular lawyer or law firm, or for information regarding a particular lawyer or law firm, to unknowingly contact a different lawyer or law firm.

Bottom line:  As I previously blogged, if the BOG takes final action on the proposed revised Rule 4-7.13 prohibiting all of these types of misleading advertisements (and if the Florida Supreme Court implements the revised rule), this would be consistent with other jurisdictions that have considered the issue.

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 Attorney Ethics, Bar rules deceptive and misleading advertisements Google AdWords, Florida Bar, Florida Bar rule using GoogleAds words to misdirect to another firm, Florida Bar Rule- lawyer misleading law firm information in all advertising, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer advertising, Lawyer advertising rules, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer misleading law firm information in advertising, Uncategorized

Florida Bar Supreme Court opinion provides guidance regarding ethical payments to fact witnesses in litigation

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent (December 28, 2018) Florida Supreme Court opinion which discusses the ethical requirements surrounding witness fees and guidance lawyers regarding Florida Bar Rule 4-3.4(b) which prohibits inducements to fact witnesses to testify.  The case is: Trial Practices, Inc. v. Hahn Loeser & Parks, LLP etc. No. SC17-2058 and the opinion is here: https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/content/download/425462/4585484/file/sc17-2058.pdf

The underlying case involved a dispute between two business partners.  One of the partners hired Trial Practices, Inc. (TPI) for consulting services in the litigation, which ended in a mistrial and was later settled.  After the settlement, TPI claimed the 5% fee based on the value of certain transferred property and the settlement of related litigation involving the partners.

The partner denied owing TPI the 5% fee and claimed that the settlement agreement was a “walk away” agreement with no “gross recovery” to either side.  TPI then sued the partner for breach of the consulting agreement and, in the trial that followed, the jury found for the partner on all issues.  The partner then pursued attorney’s fees and costs from TPI, which challenged the costs, including approximately $236,000.00 paid to “seven fact witnesses’ professional firms,” some of which helped prepare the settlement agreement in the original litigation.

The Second District Court of Appeal upheld most of the trial court’s award of costs and fees to the partner, but certified a question to the Supreme Court as to whether Bar Rule 4-3.4(b) allows payments to witnesses for case and discovery preparation.  The court slightly rephrased the certified question as: 

Whether under the Bar rule a fact witness could be paid for “case and discovery preparation that is not directly related to the witness preparing for, attending, or testifying at proceedings.” 

The opinion (written by Justice Charles Canady) answers that question in the negative and cautioned lawyers to be careful when compensating witnesses to avoid any perception they are trying to influence the testimony in violation of Florida Bar Rule 4-3.4(b).  That rule prohibits offering inducements to witnesses except for expenses related to testifying, a reasonable fee for expert witnesses, and the language in the pre-2014 version at issue in the case, “reasonable compensation to reimburse a witness for the loss of compensation incurred by reason of preparing for, attending, or testifying at proceedings…”.  Bar Rule 4-3.4 was amended in 2014 to remove “reimburse” and “loss of compensation” from the language since that language arguably prohibited lawyers from compensating witnesses who have no income.

The opinion states that Rule 4-3.4(b) involves the balancing of concerns over offering or paying inducements for testimony and recognizing the value of the time expended by the witness and providing an incentive to assist with the “truth-seeking function of the trial process.”

“Athough we conclude that ‘preparing for, attending, or testifying at proceedings’ can reasonably be interpreted to include certain ‘assistance with case and discovery preparation,’ we also reiterate the importance of rule 4-3.4(b) and the prohibition against improperly influencing witnesses…(o)ur disciplinary cases have repeatedly noted – both in the context of rule 4-3.4(b) and otherwise – the importance of avoiding even the appearance of improper influence. Although we do not find these disciplinary cases to be on point, we emphasize the narrow nature of the issue we address here.”

Further:

“permitting payments for any type of ‘assistance with case and discovery preparation’ would not only be inconsistent with the rule’s plain language but could open the door to purchasing testimony under the pretext of such ‘assistance’ and compromise the integrity of the fact-finding process – the very thing rule 4-3.4(b) is designed to prevent. We thus decline to broadly conclude that ‘assistance with case and discovery preparation’ is subsumed within ‘preparing for, attending, or testifying at proceedings…(h)owever, we also recognize – as this case demonstrates – that there is room for overlap between the two categories. We therefore also decline to adopt a view that effectively treats the two categories as mutually exclusive.

“We think the more appropriate inquiry is whether the witness’s ‘assistance with case and discovery preparation’ is directly related to the witness ‘preparing, attending, or testifying at proceedings.’ Although less than perfectly precise, viewing the payments through that narrower lens is consistent with the language of the rule and avoids prejudicing parties in highly complex cases such as this where they are dependent upon professionals.”

The opinion remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with the decision.

Bottom line:  This opinion attempts to clarify the rule regarding ethical payments to fact witnesses in litigation which are not improper inducements and concludes that payments to fact witnesses are permitted only when the assistance of the witness with the case and discovery preparation is directly related to the witness preparing, attending, or testifying at proceedings.

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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Florida Bar Board of Governors approves Ethics Opinion addressing lawyer fee arrangements with qualifying providers

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the Florida Bar Board of Governor’s (BOG) unanimous approval of Ethics Advisory Opinion 18-1 addressing fee arrangements between qualifying providers and participating lawyers to comply with amended Florida Bar Rule 4-7.22, which substantially revises the requirements for qualifying providers.  Ethics Opinion 18-1 is here: https://www-media.floridabar.org/uploads/2018/10/Proposed-Advisory-Op-18-1-website-10-12-18.pdf

At its December 14, 2018 meeting in Naples, the BOG approved Advisory Ethics Opinion 18-1, “Payments to Qualifying Providers/Lawyer Referral Services.” regarding for-profit qualifying providers, previously known as lawyer referral services, and related payment methods.  The BOG approved the Ethics Opinion unanimously without debate.

Under amended Bar Rule 4-7.22, which became effective in April 2018, a qualifying provider is, “any person, group, or persons, associations, organizations, or entities that receive any benefit or consideration, monetary or otherwise, for the direct or indirect referral of respective clients to the lawyers or law firm.”

The Comment to Rule 4-7.22 states:

“A lawyer may not participate with a qualifying provider that receives any legal fee that constitutes a division of legal fees with a non-lawyer unless the qualifying provider is The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service or a lawyer referral service approved by The Florida Bar pursuant to Chapter 8 of these rules,” the comment states. “A fee calculated as a percentage of the fee received by a lawyer, or based on the success or perceived value of the case, would be an improper division of legal fees…(a)dditionally, a fee that constitutes an improper division of fees occurs when the qualifying provider directs, regulates, or influences the lawyer’s professional judgement in rendering legal services to the client.”

Ethics Advisory Opinion 18-1 lists the following factors which “mitigate in favor of a conclusion that the charge is permissible”:

  1. The charge is reasonably based on the qualifying provider’s costs for marketing and administration plus a reasonable profit; and
  2. the charge is imposed regardless of whether the lawyer is hired by the prospective client.

The opinion lists the following factors which would “mitigate in favor of a conclusion that the charge is impermissible”:

  1. The charge is based on the perceived value of the individual matter.
  2. The qualifying provider collects the lawyers’ fees directly from the consumer, takes a portion of the fee as the charge for the referral or match, then remits the remainder to the lawyer.
  3. The qualifying provider interferes with the lawyer’s independent professional judgment in representing clients or directs the lawyer’s activities in representing clients.
  4. There is sufficient incentive for the qualifying provider to improperly solicit prospective clients or improperly market the service.

The opinion states that: “the board believes the following would be permissible:”

  1. A reasonable, pre-arranged fixed charge per time period such as weekly, monthly, or yearly;
  2. A reasonable, pre-arranged fixed charge for each time a consumer views information about a specific lawyer, commonly referred to as “pay-per-click.”
  3. A reasonable, pre-arranged fixed charge per matter referred to the lawyer that is not contingent on the outcome of the matter and does not vary based on the amount at issue in the matter.
  4. A reasonable, pre-arranged fixed charge per matter referred to the lawyer that varies based on the type of matter only if the varying charge is based on demonstrably different marketing and administrative costs rather than the perceived value of the case.

The opinion states that: “the board believes the following would generally be impermissible”:

  1. A charge calculated as a percentage of the fee received by a lawyer.
  2. A charge calculated as a percentage of the client’s recovery in the matter.
  3. A charge based on the perceived value of the case referred to or accepted by a participating lawyer.
  4. A flat charge that differs based on the perceived value of the case referred to or accepted by a participating lawyer.
  5. A flat charge per case accepted by a participating lawyer.
  6. A flat charge per case accepted by a participating lawyer that differs based on the type of matter (e.g., personal injury versus family law).

The opinion states that it is designed solely to address what constitutes impermissible fee splitting, and that lawyers should not “assume that a lawyer may participate with a particular qualifying provider solely because the qualifying provider’s method of charging for its services falls within one of the methods the board concludes generally would be found to be permissible.”

Bottom line:  The Ethics Opinion identifies various fee arrangements between lawyers and qualifying providers which may or may not comply with the new rule.  Any lawyers who participate in (or are considering participating in) referrals from a private entity should carefully review this ethics opinion and the amended rule, since lawyers can be disciplined if the referral service (qualifying provider) fails to comply with the Florida Bar rules.

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 2016 Lawyer referral rule revisions, Florida Bar Ethics Opinion 18-1 lawyer referral qualifying provider fees, Florida Bar ethics opinion qualifying provider- lawyer fees, Florida Bar lawyer referral rule revisions, Florida Bar matching services, Florida Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer Referral Services